Like many, I take keen interest in what the future holds. That’s why it’s been so interesting to watch the about-face in how futurists view transportation policy. In February 2020, futurists were pretty much united in their support for transportation policies that make little room for cars. Nearly three years and a major global pandemic later, I think it’s become clear that the personal automobile still has an important role to play in the business of “getting people around.”
It’s not just risk of airborne disease transmission that led to this reevaluation. Public transportation is hardly ideal for many disabled people, overnight shift workers, or people whose commutes fall outside established patterns. The upshot of all this is that the car is experiencing a second wind. But while policymakers and innovators are tackling problems like emissions and safety, there’s one problem that hasn’t gone anywhere. I’m referring, of course, to parking.
Not enough spots in your city? Park that thought.
One part of the pandemic no one missed was the street theater of circling for or fighting over limited spots. (The experience has been immortalized for future generations in a classic Seinfeld bit). But with most of North America’s reopening well underway, parking should be near the top of local governments’ agendas.
Traditionally, city governments see parking mainly as an income generator. But cities have other reasons to take an interest in parking. Retailers and restaurants in heavily congested areas rely on business not from locals and out-of-towners alike to turn a profit. A shortage of parking artificially limits the profits that businesses can bring in. This brings down rents and taxable income along with it. That’s income that city governments could be spending on funding services and improving quality of life in the community.
Consumer frustration and significant economic costs are further consequences of status quo parking policies. These are concerns to which governments are ultimately accountable and in which they have a duty to make progress. In fact, a recent Deloitte report finds that drivers in New York spend 107 hours searching for parking. That works it to over $2,200 in wasted time, fuel and emissions.
The issue as a whole can seem pretty intimidating. But solving cities’ parking woes begins with a correct understanding of the problem. And in many cases, the cause of parking difficulties isn’t a shortage of spaces, but a lack of access to them. On a given day, a city’s commercial and residential parking inventory is far from maxed out. Instead, whether it’s due to security concerns, inefficient allocation of spaces between day and monthly parkers, or simply poor signage, a significant chunk of parking inventory sits unused.
This is true even in the most urbanized places. Even by a conservative estimate, there are over 87,000 unused spaces on an average weekday in San Francisco. That represents over $287 million in annual untapped revenue.
Spotting a solution
Online parking marketplaces — which connect property owners with spot seekers — continue to grow in popularity. This should help reduce some parking inefficiencies, even without government intervention. However, proactive city governments ought to be thinking about how they might leverage parking data to create a more customer-centric experience for residents and visitors alike.
Long-term solutions to parking issues will likely need to involve public-private partnerships. For instance, between online parking spot marketplaces, public and private parking operator data, and smart parking vendors, local governments could create an accurate digital representation of an area’s parking ecosystem. Containing an inventory of every accessible space in the city as well as its real-time status (i.e., empty or in-use), this parking hub could be used to power a portal that allows visitors to easily book a space from their phone. It could also facilitate planning and logistics for large events like concerts, parades, or farmers’ markets. City governments could coordinate with private operators to help make the appropriate number of spaces available on certain days.
A parking data hub would be useful not only for real-time parking operations, but also determining future parking policy. Applying data analytics to historical parking usage patterns could help cities determine, for instance, how many spots they should require for new developments or whether that proposed new parking garage near Main Street is really necessary. In this way, cities could potentially save both taxpayers and developers significant sums and avoid paving over land unnecessarily.
Advances in automobile technology and changed personal risk evaluation dynamics in the wake of a global pandemic suggest that cars aren’t going anywhere. And as long as people are taking cars to get places, those cars will need parking. City leaders must keep parking high on their list of priorities to set businesses up for success and ensure that cars are not left out in the “future of mobility”. Leveraging today’s digital “smart city” technologies in combination with smart parking solutions and the right public-private framework, city leaders can help create the conditions for a robust local economy and avoid losing out to competing districts over something as mundane as parking.
Edward Moon is a Growth Marketer at Spacer Technologies, a technology company that enables property owners and managers to discover new revenue sources through innovative solutions that leverage unused parking spaces. After graduating the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Commerce, he joined Spacer Technologies on their quest to help businesses and individuals monetize space and minimize waste. For the last 5 years, he’s developed partnerships with income-seeking property owners and connected them to businesses and individuals in need of space. Spacer Technologies operates as Spacer.com and WhereiPark.com in North America.