Becoming a Smart City:
Should Cities be Nervous About the Future of Parking?
Many cities around the world panic at the thought of dealing with what the future holds. They aren’t prepared for an eventual takeover of transportation by autonomous vehicles. Indeed, they’re concerned that autonomous vehicles and ride sharing will result in lost revenue and strain on outdated infrastructure. In fact, some are even concerned about how they should legislate electric scooters!
The most likely reality for autonomous vehicles is that they will soon be mostly owned and operated by fleets.
In this series of articles, I will dive into some of the issues cities have expressed concern about. With the help of industry experts, we’ll cover many of the events cities are preparing for, like autonomous vehicles, ride sharing, vehicle fleets, curb management, and perhaps even scooters. I want to talk about the reality of these, and why cities shouldn’t be so afraid. It’s going to take some hard work and adaptation, but with the right preparation, every city will be better off after these changes take place.
Cities like Pittsburgh have a right to be concerned about the future of mobility. Major changes are on the way in the areas of parking, curb management, infrastructure, public transportation, and mobility in general. According to Pittsburgh’s 2017 annual financial report, parking tax revenue makes up over 12 percent of the city’s total yearly revenue. Thus, any decline in parking demand could have serious repercussions to the city since it’s such a large source of income.
With that in mind, they’ve decided to do something about it. Pittsburgh, Miami, and Grand Rapids have teamed up with Ford to put on a City of Tomorrow challenge. In this, residents are encouraged to speak about their plans for the future of mobility in their cities. Meanwhile, other cities are hunkering down and attempting to cling onto traditional ways of city and parking management. Countless other municipalities are simply too small to fully embrace the rising technology, so they’re waiting to see what will happen to these larger cities.
What should these smaller communities do while they wait? I wrote an article for Parking Today discussing this. They should embrace their communities and make everyday parking easier for them. In addition, they should reach out to private companies which can offer curb space solutions. This is a growing industry, with lots of private companies that can work together to craft personalized solutions for the needs of each city. We’ll further explore these solutions in future articles of this series.
Maintaining Revenue in an Autonomous Age
One of the most common arguments against autonomous vehicles is that they will kill the parking industry. Critics claim that they will completely replace regular drivers, and no one will ever have to park their car again. This is a bit dramatic, but it’s true that the source of parking revenue is going to change. I’ve spoken to Wes Pollard, former Director of Enforcement and Meter Services for the City of Pittsburgh Parking Authority, about how cities should handle changes in revenue caused by new modes of transportation.
The most likely reality for autonomous vehicles is that they will soon be mostly owned and operated by fleets. Autonomous vehicles are expensive, and many people will not be able to afford them right away. That’s why fleets will be the first major adopters of the technology for use in near-24/7 services, such as deliveries and ride sharing. These fleets will likely be on the road for most of the day, only needing to stop somewhere to refuel or recharge. They can’t refuel themselves at a public gas station, so they will have to go to autonomous vehicle serving lots owned by the company.
Pollard explained that “During slow parts of the day, these vehicles are going to need to stop to conserve energy or find a place to recharge. When the city of Pittsburgh thought about how to handle these fleets, we considered selling permits to supplement lost parking revenue, or creating special lots or hubs where they can recharge and queue up—for a fee.”
The city should work directly with autonomous vehicle fleets to service them throughout the day. It should provide these lots and garages in more convenient locations throughout downtown areas so that the fleets have less daily travel time. This way, they can still maintain revenue while supporting technology and business in the city. A few ways to monitor fleet parking habits recommended by Pollard are pay-by-plate systems, or Meter Feeder’s Pay-by-Vehicle system.
Pollard concluded that “When adding bike lanes removed parking, we adapted. It was the same thing with the scooters. We lost some parking spaces, but we made people happy. And even if we did take a loss, we made up for it in other ways, like long-term garage reservations. That parking revenue didn’t disappear, it just moved with the parking spaces.” This is just one of the ways that cities need to think ahead for the future. Instead of avoiding the fact that parking needs will change, they need to embrace it.
People have a multitude of ways to get around today. Car, bike, scooter, Uber, and public transportation are all options for urban areas. But these different modes of transportation have both positive and negative effects on curb space and traffic lanes. To learn more about these pros and cons, I spoke to Kevin White, a transportation planner and project manager for Kimley-Horn, about what planners should consider going forward to alleviate traffic stress and find a perfect balance of mobility in their cities.
Scooters and transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft are important parts of the new mobility future, thanks to the great alternatives to vehicle ownership that they provide. However, they also present some challenges to city planners. Some people find the presence of e-scooters and shareable bikes on the sidewalk dangerous or disturbing, and it can be argued that TNCs have a negative impact on traffic.
White clarified these concerns and offered some solutions. “I believe cities must set curb space management, operations, data sharing, and other policies to manage these new modes of transportation. They need to provide adequate infrastructure for these dockless bikes and scooters, as well as work with TNCs to optimize and designate curb use for pick-ups and drop offs, ensuring that these services equitably serve city residents and visitors alike. Cities like Chicago charge TNCs a per ride fee, and the earnings go back into supporting public transportation.”
Further concerns stem from new autonomous vehicle services such as the ones recently launched by Waymo, which may one day result in a large portion of the population not owning a vehicle. This is still a long way off, with lots of cultural and regulatory changes needing to happen before autonomous vehicles rule the streets but it’s never too early to start preparing.
White recommended cities consider the creation of flex zones on their curbs, saying, “Cities must set up their policy and infrastructure framework to prioritize access by the different travel modes. I believe pedestrians and transit use should always be the priority, but TNCs, dockless devices, and other new shared mobility solutions are all going to be part of the equation”.
For example, during rush hour in the morning and evening, a parking spot could change to a drop-off zone. Then during midday, it would switch back to paid parking or a delivery space.
White continued, “I keep telling cities—don’t forget about the pedestrian. There are great cities out there where it is great to be a pedestrian. I would hate to see a world where we remove sidewalks to make queuing lanes. Autonomous vehicles are a part of the future, so planners should create flex zones, mobility hubs, and charging stations to keep these vehicles contained to an area where people know to look for them.”
Striving for better mobility and to become a smarter city is not an easy task. Planners must consider how every piece of a city’s infrastructure fits together. Changing even one thing, such as the number of cars on the road or number of scooters on a sidewalk can have great changes overall. Constantly adapting and remaining flexible will result in a smoother mobility experience for everyone.
Corey McDonough is Marketing Coordinator, Meter Feeder Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org