Japan's Proof-of-Parking rule (shako shomeisho)
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Brief summary of this reform
To register a car in Japan, prospective owners need to obtain a "garage certificate" from local police to prove that they have access to an off-street parking space.
It is not tempting to corruptly obtain or fake a certificate because overnight on-street parking is banned across Japan. So there is no point cheating on proof-of-parking.
Why should you care?
Many other places consider emulating this policy, including several states in India. However, there is low awareness that the policy works well mainly by being twinned with the ban on overnight on-street parking. Nevertheless, there may be ways to succeed with such a policy by twinning it with a robust on-street parking permit system.
Key actor type
orderly parking (usually for wider benefits too)
Government of Japan
Is it a model or a warning?
Main parking category
Main parking paradigm shift
Promotes all three Adaptive Parking paradigm shifts
Adaptive Parking thrust
R: Relax about parking supply and stop boosting it
Goals of the reform
The intention in Japan has always been to make sure its narrow streets are not clogged with parked vehicles. The policy was NOT explicitly aimed at restricting car ownership.
Impetus (what problem, campaign, opportunity or event prompted action?)
As car-ownership started to take off in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Japan's very narrow residential streets faced becoming hopelessly clogged with parked cars.
Detailed description of the reform
Under the 1962 Garage Act, motorists in Japan need to obtain a "garage certificate" (or "Shako shomei sho") from local police in order to register a car (or when changing address as a car owner). The certificate is to prove that they have access to an off-street parking space.
Japan's proof-of-parking rule does not require ownership of a parking space. Permission to lease the space is good enough.
If you are renting in a building with no parking you are not prevented from buying a car. You would just have to find a parking space to lease nearby and prove this to the local police.
The rule initially applied only to the large cities, according to a footnote on page 243 of "Local Government in Japan" by Kurt Steine (1965). However, it now seems to apply much more widely.
Japan's proof-of-parking rule has an essential twin policy, the ban on overnight parking, which effectively bans on-street residential parking. This ban on all-night parking makes it futile to cheat on the proof-of-parking rule. Suppose a motorist did cheat or bribe to somehow get a fake proof-of-parking certificate, where will you put your car? You still can't park overnight in the streets. Try it and the car would still be towed away within a day or two.
Conversely, the proof-of-parking rule makes the overnight on-street parking ban more politically feasible by undermining claims from motorists that they have no choice but to park in the street.
This synergy with the overnight parking ban also explains why it is no big deal that an exception is made (in some areas) for tiny cars or "kei" cars, which have yellow license plates. Owners of these little cars do not need to prove access to a parking space but they still can't park in the streets overnight.
Results or impacts
The policy created a demand for leased parking near homes, which the market has generally managed to meet, at a market price.
The proof-of-parking regulation eliminated the need to have high, American style parking requirements for residential buildings. There are parking minimums but they are low and small buildings are exempted.
The regulation also removes the need to have residential parking permits.
It has also probably had the indirect effect of avoiding the pressure to increase street width standards for residential areas to accommodate parking.
This was not the goal but the policy probably slowed the growth of car ownership in Japan’s cities. This impact must be greatest in places with high property prices, where leased parking prices are also high. This deters car ownership in precisely the highly accessible, densely-developed, transit-rich contexts where car ownership is least necessary.
Along with strong public transport and other road pricing policies, the proof-of-parking regulation must have helped foster low car ownership in the urban cores of Japan’s large cities, where high real estate prices translate into expensive overnight parking. For example, leased residential parking prices of more than $300 per month were seen advertised in inner-city Tokyo during late 2009 fieldwork for this study.
Sources and acknowledgements
Barter, P.A. (2011) Parking Policy in Asian Cities. Asian Development Bank (ADB), Manila. Available in hard copy or on-line via https://www.adb.org/publications/parking-policy-asian-cities.
15 Mar 2021