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Many of the 60 parking garages tested under the EuroTest consumer protection programme in 15 major European cities did not present themselves in a very good light. Bottom line: Not a single one was rated very good, only ten test candidates rated good, 39 achieved a meagre acceptable rating, nine were considered poor by the testers and two even very poor.

‘Youngster’ from Zurich best-in-test

The best-in-test with a good rating is a rather young car park: The well-designed Opéra underground car park in Zurich’s Schillerstraße went into operation in 2012. Open around the clock, our testers found it to be clean, well-lit and transparent due to its architecture using plenty of glass. The 299 parking bays on the two clearly laid-out parking levels were angled and unobstructed by columns. Their width of 2.61m was as comfortable as the vertical clearance of 2.10m. Clear signs and a dynamic parking guidance system with an occupied/vacant display facilitated orientation. Safety was ensured by on-site staff and video surveillance of sensitive areas. There was no hanging height restrictor bar at the entrance nor were there any marked walkways or extra-wide parking bays for parents with children. Parking bays for the disabled were few and far between. Moreover, the entrance and exit ramps were too narrow. All of this prevented an even better rating.

Vienna car park last-in-test

The last-in-test received a very poor rating: It is an underground car park called Technische Universität, situated in Vienna’s Operngasse and taken into operation in 1985. The testers already encountered the first problems at the entrance. Due to the steep entrance and exit ramps, they had to give it a rock-bottom rating. Moreover, entering the ramps was not always possible in one go. A particularly nasty detail: Sharp, twisted metal edges on the kerbs of the ramps posed a tyre damage risk, especially because they were rather inconspicuous. The 367 parking bays on the poorly structured parking levels were only 2.30m wide and 4.80m long, very weakly lit and not numbered. Large walls obstructed the view of the driveway. There were no walkways nor emergency phones or toilets. Hourly rates applied and there was only one pay machine. This may result in long queues, which may drive up the price. By the way: In a particularly narrow, 180° bend at the exit barrier, car drivers had to manoeuvre so much that the gate had closed in the meantime.

A total of ten parking garages failed the test

Apart from the last-in-test, the fail criterion was applied to another nine parking garages tested. The CarPark Cristal in Munich met the fail criteria even twice: firstly because of the ramp slope of over 15% and secondly because of the vertical clearance of less than 1.90m. Insufficient vertical clearance also resulted in the downgrading of the two Amsterdam parking garages De Bijenkorf and Stadhuis-Muziektheater. Parking bay widths of less than 2.30m led to the relegation of Amsterdam centre, El Born and Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona, Hauptwache in Frankfurt, Mont-Blanc in Geneva, and Langić in Zagreb.

Narrow parking bays present challenge for car drivers

A real nuisance for car drivers: narrow parking bays. They should be at least 2.50m wide and 5m long, or even wider next to columns and walls. However, in many cases regulations still allow parking bays 2.30m wide despite the increase in vehicle width over the past few years. Consequently, parking bays with a comfortable width were the exception in the test. Almost three in four parking garages tested were below the above recommendation. More than one third of the parking bays were only some 2.30m in width. This requires a bit of manoeuvring and makes both entering and exiting one’s car a challenge, especially because scratch guards on walls or columns were usually absent with the notable exceptions of Gare du Midi in Brussels, Hauptwache in Frankfurt/Main, and Hohe Promenade in Zurich. Parking is much more comfortable when there are no columns, at least towards the driveway. However, this applied only to about one third of the parking garages. Moreover, only 14 car parks tested had angled parking bays throughout for much easier parking. The testers found the combination of both only in nine of the parking garages. Narrow driveways as well as parking bays parallel to the driveway made manoeuvring even more difficult in nearly one fourth of the tested facilities.

Too much verve may cause multiple damage

Driving with gusto may cause damage not just on the parking levels. Some ramps require careful driving, too, and no parking garage had the perfect ramp layout. For one thing, half of the parking garages tested had no or insufficient scratch guards to protect cars from scraping against the walls. Numerous scrape marks are evidence of cars getting closer to an obstacle than the driver intended. This kind of close contact is undesirable, not just horizontally but also vertically. Nearly one third of the parking garages tested had no height restrictor bar above the car park entrance. Even for vertical clearances upwards of 2.10m, which all regular vehicles easily pass through, height restrictors are not superfluous: Sometimes it takes a sudden thud to remind drivers of the luggage boxes or bicycles mounted on the car roof. Definitely not the better choice are steel girders or similar types of rigid height restrictors of which there were surprisingly many in this test. They may provide structural protection, but are far from user-friendly.

Scarce parking guidance

Dynamic parking guidance systems, ideally with vacant/occupied displays, make it easier to find vacant parking spaces. However, they were absent in about one fourth of the tested parking garages. To make things even worse, one third had suboptimal signage. Or none at all, as the tests revealed at Parking 58 in Brussels, America Plads in Copenhagen and at CarPark Cristal in Munich. Numbered parking bays help drivers find their cars again, but nearly half of the parking garages did not have them. Marked walkways increase pedestrian safety. Yet, around two thirds of the garages had no walkways. Emergency phones, which offer another kind of protection, were absent in 70 percent of the garages. At a mere 19 percent, parking bays with a minimum width of 3m, which makes it easier for parents with kids to exit and enter their vehicles, were also a scarce commodity. A final point we must mention is that one fourth of the parking garages were in a poor state of repair, which is a question of maintenance in many cases.

Parking bays for the disabled rarely served their purpose

Sad, but true: None of the tested parking garages were wheelchair-friendly throughout, and about one fourth were not wheelchair-friendly at all. Two thirds had no or too few parking bays for the disabled. Most of those that did have them provided no barrier-free access. In 50 percent of the cases, lifts were too small for wheelchair users to move around in and the control panels were too high up for the wheelchair users to operate them without help. There were hardly any pay machines with sufficiently low control panels.

Vast price differences

Eurotest_Parking Fees in 15 Cities

Let’s talk about money now. Only the Gare de Luxembourg (30 minutes) and the two Swiss parking garages Cornavin and Saint-Antoine (ten minutes each) clearly indicated free periods before charges apply. 45 percent of the parking garages tested charged at 60-minute intervals (hardly customer-friendly), while most applied 30-minute intervals. A Spanish car park even charged by the minute. Whether this is advantageous depends on the actual parking period. Additional charges, differing according to the length of one’s stay, can make the price difficult to calculate. Simple flat rates as applied by the Kulturbrauerei in Berlin are a desirable alternative: €1.50 for up to one hour, then a total of €2 for the rest of the day until 16:00h, or €5 after 16:00h/at night. Prices actually payable were calculated for the first 60 minutes and for a parking period of 240 minutes, respectively. The resulting averages were €3.12/€12.82. Not surprisingly, prices differed considerably across Europe, not least due to exchange rates and buying power. In the city comparison, Oslo in Norway had the highest average prices – an incredible €8.36/€33.43 – and Zagreb in Croatia the lowest (€0.97/€3.89).

Rather inexpensive refurbishments possible

Car drivers can put up with quite a lot. If there is a parking garage near their destination that is not too expensive, they will use it – regardless of its potential deficiencies. This circumstance will not exactly persuade operators to make parking garages more user-friendly. It certainly explains why even poorly built parking garages can be filled to capacity. Mind you, not even the tested car parks with positive ratings had everything a good parking garage should have. That goes for rather new ones, too. In some cases, small investments would suffice to achieve perfection. There is still a lot of work to be done.

Recommendations to Operators: Focus more on user-friendliness

Paint floors, ceilings and walls in light colours to ensure more brightness and convey an improved sense of security
Ensure good illumination, employing state-of-the-art, energy-efficient systems
Keep signing to the necessary, useful minimum and use easy-to-remember signs, e.g. pictograms
Implement a consistent end-to-end guidance system for motorists and pedestrians
Ensure video surveillance of all sensitive areas
Provide clearly marked parking bays with a minimum width of 3m for parents with children / perambulators
Provide clearly marked parking bays for the disabled with a minimum width of 3.5m near exits and with barrier-free access, i.e. automatic doors, paths without stairs, and sufficiently wide lifts with low-placed control panels. Also place the control panels of at least two pay machines at a wheelchair-friendly height
Provide easy-to-understand rates and user-friendly charging intervals (ideally on a per-minute basis)
Enable cashless payment
Ensure personal availability of staff, preferably by employing on-site staff and placing them in a clearly identifiable location
Implement facility maintenance management to proactively prevent structural deterioration 
Ensure that all parking bays are at least 2.50m wide so that motorists can exit/enter their vehicles easily
When building new car parks, ensure a minimum vertical clearance of 2m at the entrances to meet the requirements of modern vehicles

Also ensure a maximum ramp inclination of 15% so that cars which have stopped can comfortably pull away again without any risk