Originally published in the January 2021 edition of IPMI’s Parking & Mobility magazine
In pre-Covid times, cities faced significant congestion and over-crowding challenges that had a negative effect on the environment. Even as the global pandemic has temporarily altered this dynamic, once we are on the other side of it, cities should expect these struggles to come roaring back.
Urban congestion may intensify from the change in consumer mobility behavior from COVID. Let’s think back to the pre-COVID world for a moment. In cities, you had large groups of people who would rely on public transportation to get where they were going. This took a lot of cars off the road, but traffic was still horrible.
In our recent research studies, we’ve seen a significant shift in consumer preference away from public transit and toward the personal vehicle. As a result of COVID, consumers told us they expect to use public transportation 46 percent less often and drive a personal vehicle 29 percent more often in the next year. So as commuters start heading back into urban centers, the data suggests they are more likely to drive their own cars rather than take the train or bus, potentially creating even more significant congestion and environmental problems than ever before.
The Cost of Congestion
We know congestion has a very high cost for cities. For example, in the top four most congested U.S. cities (Boston; Chicago; Washington D.C.; and New York), the total economic cost from congestion is more than $24 billion every year.
The big question is, can the parking industry be part of the solution? Well, the answer is yes. This may seem counterintuitive. Parking is all about the personal vehicle. The more people are driving, the more demand there will be for the limited number of parking spots in cities. But it’s not just about getting people parked. It’s about getting them parked efficiently and in a way that will help minimize congestion.
Studies show that the average person spends 17 hours per year searching for parking, costing an estimated $345 in wasted time, fuel, and emissions, which means that the mere exercise of looking for a parking spot contributes to congestion and pollution.
To solve the problem, innovative city leaders are looking for ways to show people where the open parking spots are around them. The City of El Paso uses sensor data in its Park 915 app to show users which spaces are available and which spaces are taken. The City of Columbus has a similar feature, which uses aggregated historical data from their meters and the Park Columbus app to show the likelihood that a spot is open at a specific day and time.
While these parking availability solutions are relatively new to the market, they have the potential to reduce the time spent circling the block looking for parking, which can significantly affect congestion and vehicle emissions.
Another way cities and operators are working to reduce congestion is related to stadium and event venues. In the past, if you were going to a game or concert at the local stadium, you’d just drive down to the venue and then look for parking nearby. Inevitably, when tens of thousands of people are going to the same place at the same time, there’s significant congestion.
This is a big problem for cities dealing with the traffic jams that always occur on game day. This usually includes the use of additional police officers to direct traffic before and after the event. It’s also a problem for the stadium venues with angry fans who don’t make it to the game or concert on time due to traffic and parking issues. Plus, the venue misses out on opportunities to sell concessions and merchandise before the event.
Many venues are starting to offer pre-paid parking reservations at lots and garages around the venue to solve this problem, enabling a fan to book a spot in a specific location. That person drives directly to the lot where they have a reservation rather than driving into the crush of traffic near the stadium, saving time and frustration.
A great example of reducing traffic around a venue is Mercedes-Benz Stadium, located right in the busy downtown area of Atlanta, a city well known for its congestion challenges. When the stadium was built several years ago, the team knew traffic would be a major issue for game day. So, they aggressively promoted parking reservations to their fans as a smarter way to attend the game. Once fans discovered the convenience of making a parking reservation, they never looked back. Today, 70 percent of people who go to an event at the stadium book parking in advance, making the gameday experience much better for the fans.
These kinds of programs are not just creating a better parking experience, but having a real impact on environmental effects related to congestion. Fewer cars circling the block or idling in traffic means less automotive emissions pumped into the air. As smart cities start planning for a post-COVID world, they need to look to some of these innovative new parking solutions that will reduce congestion, help the environment, and make cities more livable.
Jeff Perkins is CMO and head of product with ParkMobile. He can be reached at jeff.perkins@ parkmobile.io.