January 18, 2017
How Technology Is Changing How We Park
Time for some brutal honesty: parking is an absolute mess. Not just when you need to find a spot, but also when you have to build one. Every year, drivers spend countless hours searching for spots, and parking striping companies spend countless hours creating safe, user-friendly parking lots. The system’s still far from perfect, but the good news is that cities, technology and startups are beginning to change the way we look for, pay, and manage parking.
What’s Wrong with Free Parking?
Let’s start with tackling everyone’s favorite aspect of parking: the free kind.
We all love it when it’s free on the weekends or off-peak hours, but as The Atlantic’s Citylab blog points out, free parking is bad for everyone. That’s because parking is about much more than price: it’s about achieving optimal usage.
Optimal usage means that, during peak times, the times when the most people want parking, you want between 20% and 40% of parking spots free. This dramatically cuts down on the time it takes each person to circle around looking for a spot, meaning everyone who wants a spot is able to find one relatively quickly. That’s the sweet spot. But it’s only achievable if parking is regulated.
When this demand/supply balance is achieved with parking fees, the city or municipality can bring in higher revenue, and drivers save valuable time. In addition, this further optimized parking for businesses leads to better economic output.
The downside? Well, nobody likes paying for parking spots. Thankfully, fees aren’t the only way institutions are trying to improve parking.
How Citywide Systems Are Trying to Fix Parking
Nearly every major city in the world is doing something to tackle parking issues.
One of the most basic techniques is making it easier to pay. Many cities allow you to pay via SMS or an phone app, and some are even offering more electric car parking spaces. Cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are combining these technologies with dynamic pricing to further control parking and ensure that they stay in the ideal range mentioned above.
Other cities are moving backward though. The Atlantic article cited above discussed how San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee attempted to end Sunday metered parking. Granted, Sunday parking was free in San Francisco before 2014. The initial idea behind the movement was that, because most businesses used to be closed on Sunday, there was no reason to charge for parking.
That, however, hasn’t been the case in San Francisco for years. The city decided that charging for Sunday parking would be a great way to increase earnings. By raising revenue for the city and consistently keeping parking levels within the ideal ranges, “The City by the Bay” has stuck with its profitable decision.
So why the backlash? There’s currently a battle to keep San Francisco affordable, and many view the targeting of parking fees as a symbol of the high cost of living in the city.
Of course, if San Francisco is going to move backwards when handling parking, there are plenty of startups in the area ready to step in to fix it.
How Startups Are Searching for a High Tech Parking Future
Without a doubt, prominent startups are doing their best to tackle the business of parking. SpotHero, for instance, not only lists curbside and garage parking options, but allows people to list private spaces like personal driveways. The best part of this service is that it provides more parking options than a city or municipality can.
This takes the current dynamic pricing being implemented by many cities and expands on it. By listing more places and making it easier to directly compare rates, apps like this introduce even more competition for the best spots at the best prices, at the right times. Along with governmental plans, technology like this promises a future with far less time spent driving around and around and around.
Even though technology continues to change the world every day, we still have an enormous need for clearly-drawn, optimally-placed parking spaces. In fact, all the fancy technology in the world doesn’t mean much without proper parking signage.