As cities are more likely to bear the brunt of this traffic growth, the only way to handle more people, more cars, more trips, more deliveries, and more congestion is to be smart
The recent but sustained decline in car use in developed cities and countries has become such an accepted fact among most transport professionals that it even has a name – ‘peak car theory’. This theory states that car use has reached a peak and will slowly decline as people switch to alternative transport modes. Yet this is contradicted, for example, by the UK’s Department for Transport’s “Road Forecast” that predicts road traffic growth of up to 55 per cent by 2040, driven by rising incomes, low fuel prices and rising public transport fares.
Population and economic growth are key drivers of traffic growth. By 2050 there will be an additional 2.7 billion people in the world, 90 per cent of whom will live in cities. Over the same period, the global economy is expected to triple in size. The OECD’s ITF predicts that this will lead to more than a doubling in road and rail travel, and more than three times the amount of road and rail freight, even in their most conservative estimates. So, as the return of the car could be a global not just a UK phenomenon, it looks like a false peak.
As cities are more likely to bear the brunt of this traffic growth, the only way to handle more people, more cars, more trips, more deliveries, and more congestion is to be smart. We need our cars, our parking and our cities to be smart and connected in the same way that our phones are. For example, our cars should use real time road and weather information to determine our destination time and route, whilst automatically optimising the safety and efficiency of every journey. As well as this, our parking should be reserved and paid for before we depart. And in the not too distant future, our vehicles should be able to drive themselves by cooperating in real time with every other vehicle on the road, thus optimising everybody’s journeys.
But where should cities start? Smart parking offers a quick win for cities because it can have a dramatic impact on congestion, it can be implemented relatively quickly and cheaply, and it can actually drive revenue growth, ultimately paying for itself.
The rise in car ownership and a corresponding increase in the distance driven means that parking problems in major cities will continue to grow. According to a recent survey, drivers spend an average of 20 minutes searching for parking, and 60 percent of drivers abandoned their search at least once in the past year. It’s no secret that parking poses daily challenges to drivers, but what’s not so well-known is the impact it has on urban mobility in our cities: up to 30 per cent of urban congestion is parking related.
However, finding a parking space shouldn’t be this difficult as there are three to three-and-a-half parking spaces per car, and in some countries this figure rises to eight spaces per vehicle. There is an information problem, not a parking problem. The Internet of Things has empowered a smart parking revolution, and advancements in technology and the growing availability of data have introduced a new era of smart parking. By connecting parking lot gates, parking meters and payment booths, and the introduction of sensors in parking bays it is now possible to collect real-time parking space occupancy for both on-street and off-street parking spaces.
Leveraging the power of big data and data science mean it is even possible to predict occupancy where there are no live data streams. By linking real-time occupancy with smart payment systems, drivers should be able to reserve and even pay for parking in advance.
Parking is the second largest source of revenue for cities and experts believe that smart parking has the ability to reduce traffic congestion while increasing compliance and revenue through better inventory utilisation. Through smart parking data, urban planners can gain valuable insights to improve parking conditions and locations, and better locate special purpose lanes for bicycles and public transit on city streets. On another level, knowing real-time demand and supply can allow parking inventory owners to vary the price by time and place to manage demand and maximise or maintain revenue. Researchers in the US have shown that by increasing the price of parking during a busy period, demand can be reduced by between 3-10 per cent.
Finding new opportunities to incorporate technology into urban planning should be a priority, and providing more options for parking is just one way that planners can free up parking spaces for drivers. This needs to go beyond one-time snapshots of parking availability, allowing cities to see how parking inventory changes based on time of day, day of week, price, and during special events or holidays.
The next step in the smart parking revolution is to embed these services into connected cars to reduce the hassle for drivers, decrease urban congestions and ultimately save money and time. With analysts expecting the smart parking market to grow at 28 per cent annually with it cited to be worth more than $3 billion over the next decade, cities and urban planners are already making great strides here.
I’m not worried by the predictions for growing car use. What it shows is more people doing more things. It represents a challenge to be solved and I’m excited to be working in a company that is at the forefront of this industry.
Professor Graham Cookson is the Chief Economist (EMEA) of INRIX and a visiting professor of economics at Surrey Business School, University of Surrey.
He joined Inrix in 2016 and leads the company’s industry-leading economic research team in Europe, a recognised voice of impartial, data-driven analysis of transportation and connected car services.
Graham and the INRIX Research team leverages INRIX’s 500 Terabytes of data from 275 million different sources covering over 5 million miles of road to produce valuable and actionable insights for policy makers, transport professionals and drivers.
In addition, he leads on the development of INRIX’s industry-leading annual Traffic Scorecard, and the newly developed Parking Scorecard. Graham has presented to various government agencies and at numerous industry conferences, and has been widely quoted in national and local media.
Prior to joining INRIX, Graham was Chair of Department and Professor of Economic & Public Policy at the University of Surrey (UK).
Graham has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics & Economics from the University of Oxford, a Postgraduate Certificate from King’s College London and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Econometrics from Imperial College London. He is fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and a member of the Royal Economic Society. Follow Graham on Twitter @grahamcookson and on LinkedIN at www.linkedin.com/in/gcookson
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In the end, the aggregation of multiple modes of transport that ensure accessibility for everyone will win