Mention autonomous vehicles to those within the parking industry and you’ll find it’s a hot topic that can bring both excitement and disgust to a conversation.
What is generally debated is the currently available research and how to use it to plan transit environments accordingly.
There is no doubt that autonomous vehicles will become prevalent; the real question is a matter of when and how much it will impact parking. The conclusion can be derived from empirical research and statistics.
Automated Functions Already in Cars Driven Today
Combined function automation cars at level 2 (on a scale of 1-5), where the driver turns over one or more driving functions, already exist.
For example, vehicles with adapted cruise control in combination with lane changing features are available in cars today. With level 3 cars, the car can drive a complete trip on its own, but the driver has to be ready to take control at any moment.
Most of the autonomous vehicles (AV) being tested today by Waymo and others are level 3. Level 4 cars can be driverless—literally no driver in the car, within limited areas.
"While AVs will come with some advantages, it’s not to say that an AV future will be free of impediments. Cybersecurity, affordability, insurance and liability could be dark clouds for an AV future."
For example, the car would have to stay within a downtown or within the city limits. There are level 4 shuttles that stay on a limited specific route operating today in a number of cities.
It is expected to be 2021 before level 4 cars can travel anywhere within a defined area, and even then, it is not expected that they can operate in certain conditions, such as snow or heavy rain.
Level 5 is full automation, capable of being driverless and is expected sometime between 2025 and 2030, although some think it will be much longer before these vehicles could travel anywhere in the U.S.
Safety is Major AV Benefit
Fully automated vehicles will have many benefits, the chief of which will be safety. Various vehicle crash studies point to the number of human error-related vehicle accidents. Here are just a few:
- In crashes with fatalities, 31 percent included at least one driver driving under the influence
- 94 percent of all crashes are caused by human error
- 16 percent of all crashes are caused by distracted driving.
These statistics point to the advantage AVs can provide.
Unlike human drivers, AVs won’t drive drunk, distracted or intentionally run red lights. The other major benefit is the potential for the reduced cost of many things: Trucking and deliveries, taxis, transit and ride-hailing (Uber/Lyft). Without a driver, the costs of those types of transportation will reduce as much as 30 to 50 percent per mile.
While AVs will come with some advantages, it’s not to say that an AV future will be free of impediments.
Cybersecurity, affordability, insurance and liability, and other issues could be dark clouds for an AV future.
Proven safety will be the key issue in consumer acceptance and could significantly impact the timeline. However, it may not take as long to jump that hurdle as people may think.
As more people see more autonomous features integrated in cars in the near future, the easier it will become to accept level 5 cars on the horizon.
Ride-Hailing Services to be First to Adopt AV
It is generally expected that the first use of level 4 AVs will be by ride-hailing subscription services, similar to Uber and Lyft, which are known as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). The rides may be either be “private” (UberX) or shared/pooled (Uberpool), where passengers get in and out of the vehicle along the way.
The Immediate Concern
TNCs, a precursor to AVs, have impacted parking and will likely continue to be affected by an AV future. Restaurants, hotels, entertainment centers and airport parking numbers have already experienced a decline.
Many of the rides take away customers from taxis and rental cars, but many riders, even those who have cars, choose to use TNCs even for local trips where it is convenient.
Some studies have suggested that the conversion of TNC rides to driverless will make the cost of using TNCs, possibly with transit for commuting, significantly less than owning a car.
In turn, some suggest that parking as a whole will see significant decline—as much as 90 percent drop in parking business in some studies.
Parking Reduction Numbers Make Great Headlines
All too often, however, the dramatic reduction in parking makes a great headline that doesn’t actually reflect the research study. The 90 percent figures were based on vehicles that stay within a defined limited area (e.g. within a 10 mile by 10 mile area) and assumes that all trips within that area will be pooled TNC rides.
Further, the 90 percent figure most often refers to a percentage drop in car ownership, rather than parking needs. We believe that it is unlikely that 90 percent of Americans will give up their cars and choose pooled TNC rides.
Population Growth to Offset Decrease in Demand
For instance, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas. We estimate that the maximum reduction in parking nationwide will be no more than 40 percent, leaving 60 percent of parking demand. The reductions will be greatest in the urban cores, and lessens as density reduces in concentric rings outward.
Another reason not to panic is that population growth will offset a potential parking demand decrease, particularly in downtowns, airports and campuses where parking demand typically grows over time with population growth and economic development.
Parking Impact Timeline
Even if AVs reach 15 percent of new car sales by 2030, and 90 percent by 2040, there are still 256 million passenger vehicles on the road today, with an average age of 11.5 years.
There are millions more non-AVs that will be sold between 2018 through 2040 that have to be scrapped before the maximum impact on parking will be achieved.
Even if the overall parking demand reduction of 40 percent is achieved, it won’t be until 2050 or 2060. Above all, because the timeframe for ultimate penetration of AVs is so long, the parking market will absorb the shifts over time.
Change Is Certain
No one scenario is 100 percent correct. One cannot ignore the shift that there is a staggering investment being made in AVs, not only by TNCs and technology companies, but by auto manufacturers as well. The necessity to adjust and plan accordingly is required.
TNCs have already paved the way for one shift that will only increase the need to convert more parking real estate into pick-up and drop-off zones.
A number of cities are already converting on-street spaces to passenger loading zones, and airports have run out of “curb” and are moving TNC operations inside parking structures.
For those who don’t operate short-term lots, there are a few conversion tips to consider:
- Avoid overbuilding parking facilities
- Employ more shared parking uses
- Provide flexibility in design strategies that allow for increase or decrease in usage
Autonomous Parking Has Great Growth Potential
Perhaps even sooner than cars are driving around empty on public streets, vehicles will have autonomous parking functions that allows the driver and occupants to be dropped at the door and the vehicle will go find a parking space and park itself. Autonomous parking won’t need the space that takes door opening into account. Translation: four AVs will fit nicely into three parking spaces.
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As parking demand declines in an area, the first thing that will happen is that surface parking lots can be redeveloped with little or no parking.
Then older garages that cost too much to be maintained can be torn down and redeveloped with new office, retail or residences; again, using existing area parking resources rather than new parking on-site.
Although some argue that all new garages will become dinosaurs that need to be designed for eventual complete conversion to other uses, that is more expensive than you might think.
Few owners are willing to pay for the incremental cost up front, when there is significant risk that building design will change and the space will never really be marketable for other uses.
The best thing parking owners can do now is to not resist the change. Instead, find out how your operation is most likely going to experience change, and develop an actionable plan to start change now.