How Driverless Vehicles Could Impact Parking

“We have significant parking demands today, but should we invest in a parking structure that may not be needed in a few years?” “Will we need all of the parking that we have today?”  “How can we make sure driverless vehicles aren’t parking 20 miles outside of our city center?”  Driverless vehicles will, indefinitely, have significant implications on a region’s existing and future parking requirements.  I hear questions like these all the time, so I figured it was worth a dedicated blog post.

Changes to parking requirements will largely depend upon the level of vehicle and ride sharing that occurs. If people continue to own cars similar to how they do today, this means that the number of vehicles will, generally, be the same and, consequently, the parking demand, will remain as-is. On the other hand, if the level of vehicle and ride sharing increases (and private vehicle ownership decreases), parking requirements would also decrease.

For the parking requirements that still exist – it has the potential to be re-located since vehicles can park themselves after dropping a passenger off. Urban parking could be re-located to remote locations so the expensive downtown real estate can be re-purposed. Homeowners could re-purpose their driveway and garage and pay for remote parking instead.  Remote parking will, of course, result in increased vehicle miles traveled, so government agencies will need to consider this trade-off, determine their desired outcomes, and establish pricing and policies that support them.

Other potential impacts:

  • Parking space size requirements may shrink because AV parking will be more precise
  • Buildings, transit stations, and other destinations will likely need more/better pick-up and drop-off locations due to increased ride sharing and/or vehicle pick-up/drop-offs
  • Traffic in areas with parking constraints could improve due to a reduction in vehicles circulating looking for parking.
  • Existing parking structures could be re-purposed due to reduced parking requirements.
  • Parking fees/taxes could increase or decrease depending on how much parking is still needed and how it is priced/taxed.

Driverless vehicles present an opportunity to free up a lot of valuable land; however, it’s up to the government to ensure that happens (by putting policies and pricing in place to encourage vehicle and ride sharing!). It’s also up to the government to make sure the land gets re-purposed appropriately.  Let’s start planning for that now!

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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5 Responses to How Driverless Vehicles Could Impact Parking

  1. Winson Ng says:

    I think that will take some dynamic modeling before any conclusions can be drawn. Parking is such a personal preference, some won’t want their autonomous cars to wait around and some will. Certain level of excess capacity might be needed to cater for peak demands based on people’s mobility pattern. And since autonomous cars/rides become an additional option for people who don’t normally go into urban cities to start doing so, the traffic/parking needs might not be the same pattern that we see/understand today too. Then there is an issue of ‘backward compatibility’. Would a parking structure developer want to build one just for autonomous cars? It’s like asking them to build one just for compact cars that won’t fit SUVs, etc. Would they want to limit themselves that way?


  2. Blair Schlecter says:

    Interesting. Will the free market itself result in a shared mobility model (if for example, it is much cheaper to share than own)? If not, how much interference should the government have in the marketplace?


  3. Lauren, what if parking is moved to less expensive areas and, as a result, traffic increases significantly? We will have to tear down the parking structures downtown and add traffic lanes in their place.


  4. pottah82 says:

    With respect to parking needs, the key point, which is addressed, is whether we end up with a personal or shared AV model. I tend to think we will get a personal model in most locations simply because of the level of status assumed by the car that people drive and intrinsic marketing that the car is a reflection of the personality of its user. I see this taking some shifting. There also seems to be limited appetite for governments to introduce the level of controls that may be necessary to develop the shared model.
    So considering parking under the primarily personal AV scenario. The idea that downtown parking will become redundant as AVs take themselves to suburban parking lots is reliant on the cost of making that trip being low, and certainly lower than the cost of parking. But if empty AVs running around performing errands or just conveying themselves to lower cost parking cause congestion, we know that this will start to have an adverse effect on those AVs that are occupied. But it may also impact on the cost of conveyance and reliability of journey time of those AVs that are empty. If the AV is summoned to come collect me from my meeting that ends earlier than expected how long will I have to wait? Even if I accurately predict when my meeting ends, will the AV predict how long it needs to allow for the journey correctly? If it gets into town too early, it has to circulate. If it gets in too late, I’m inconvenienced. But the main point I want to make is that if we have all this congestion from these empty AVs, the economic cost could be substantial. An efficient governmental response may then be to introduce a charge through fuel taxes and/or congestion charging that makes the saving from relocating the AV to an out of town parking lot marginal, since it will be charged on each journey in and out. Add to it the inconvenience mentioned above about not having my vehicle to hand when I want it, it may be that other than narrower parking aisles and stalls, there will be little change in downtown parking capacity needs.


  5. ERS says:

    One thing you don’t address is on-street parking. Removing the need for on-street parking opens up that space for other uses, like wider sidewalks and bike lanes. This could transform the street and the safety and livability of such areas. I don’t think it makes sense for most people to own their own driverless car. If you add driverless cars to the uber/lyft model, you get on demand cars whenever you want them. Unless you live way outside major or minor cities (in which case on demand cars won’t really work for you), it would be simpler and cheaper of course to now own your own driverless car. You wouldn’t have to worry about where to park it at home or at your destination, you could just release it to its next ride. It doesn’t really make sense to have those cars driving to some suburban lot when not in use, but they could be moving constantly, like today’s taxi cabs and ubers/lyfts, not requiring parking.


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