New spots opening up for parking

Enlighten • Pulse #1 • 5 min
By William Mengebier

It wasn’t so long ago that underground garages were seen as dark, dirty and dangerous places, a sinister setting favoured by Hollywood filmmakers. Gloomy and dimly lit, they were a place in which to park your car and leave quickly. The image of parking facilities has improved markedly over the past decades, with safer, better illuminated lots and garages that are more welcoming for consumers. In recent years, the pace of changed has accelerated, with the industry undergoing a veritable reinvention in response to an array of global forces.


Many of the same disruptive economic, technological and regulatory forces that have upended other industries and business models are being felt in parking. Markets in many developed economies are mature or even declining while consumer lifestyles and behaviours are continuing to rapidly evolve. Significant trends influencing the entire mobility sector are also shaking up the parking industry:

  • Automated cars, which could decrease demand for city parking by as much as 90%. Kara Kockelman, a transportation engineering professor at the University of Texas found that up to a dozen regular cars could be replaced by one autonomous ride-sharing vehicle, which could be parked remotely outside the city when not in use (Source).
  • Rising environmental concerns, reflected in consumer desires for more livable, walkable, sustainable communities and the rise of sustainable mobility solutions as alternatives to automobiles.
  • Changing consumer priorities, including the commuting/driving preferences of millennials – in the U.S., for example, people under 30 are 7.2 times more likely to take public transit than those over 60 (Source).
  • Increasing restrictions on vehicle traffic in city centres; from Paris to Seattle to Mexico City to Chengdu to Oslo, local governments are seeking to improve quality of life and ease congestion that is estimated to cost the EU €100 billion annually, or 1% of gross domestic product (Source).
  • Emergence of new sharing economy models including carsharing and carpooling, diminishing demand for individual vehicle ownership.


The combined effects have stirred the industry. Traditionally an arms-length, cash-only business, parking is increasingly a hotbed of technology advancements and innovations aimed at improving operational efficiency and customer service. In addition to transforming the industry itself, the long-overdue reinvention also is creating new opportunities for consumers, associated businesses and communities. Change is concentrated in three primary areas:


Digitally-enabled offers allow consumers to reserve parking spots remotely, make payments or request valet services – for example, since 2013, French startup Onepark enables drivers to compare, book and pay their parking space through an app on their smartphone, in more than 500 parking facilities in 70 cities across France, Belgium and Switzerland; private garages with surplus capacity are opening access to the public such as introduced in spring 2016 in Paris by office building company Gecina for 37 of its buildings, opening up 1,300 new parking spaces, easily bookable through a dedicated app; maintenance services such as vehicle cleaning or mechanical maintenance may be offered individually or in packages to both individual owners and car rental companies; concierges can help with package delivery, errands and shopping; book lending is becoming popular, particularly at facilities providing links to public transport.

Mobility links:

Integration with other forms of transportation is improving, including park-and-rides, combined pricing with public transit, availability of rental bicycles, electric cars and other multimodal applications, as well as providing facilities for two-wheeled vehicles. The city of Edmonton (Canada) is currently conducting a survey to understand commuters’ expectations around parkand- ride (P+R) facilities. The information collected will help in planning potential locations, pricing and services for future P+Rs.

Sustainable facilities:

Parking facilities are adopting and promoting sustainable mobility solutions such as solar panels, lots with water permeable surfaces, eco-friendly car washes, reserved spaces and preferential pricing policies. A parking structure at California’s Pomona College, for example, provides sustainable parking for more than 1,600 campus users and a rooftop lacrosse field as well as energy-efficient lighting, a solar canopy and a fully automated lighting system to offset its energy use. These and other measures have enabled the college to reclaim four acres of open space, decrease energy usage by 20% and save 50,000 gallons of water per week. Electric mobility offers an additional promising new role for parking facilities as recharging stations. In the U.S., Park Smart – formerly Green Garage Certification – certifies sustainable garages.

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Arange of innovations are revolutionising the parking sector. These include technologies for access control and payment automation, electronic cashless payment such as the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm where Automatic License Plate Recognition technology creates a cashless, barrier-free and user-friendly solution for parking, mobile apps, transmission to smartphones of realtime pricing and availability information and wireless sensing devices for traffic management. Coming soon: dynamic pricing that incentivises drivers to park cheaper at specific locations to incentivises capacity and parking garages communicating with nearby stoplights after a big event to adjust traffic. In San Francisco (USA), SF Park is developing a solution to expand its on-street dynamic pricing approach for the city’s lots and garages.

In the parking sector, small steps add up to big impacts. All of these changes are creating new opportunities for both the industry and its stakeholders. Consumers are benefiting from greater ease-of-use, flexibility and efficiency. Local businesses benefit from improved parking availability and real-time information saves on both fuel use and car emissions to the environment. Communities have additional tools to address pollution, noise and congestion issues while increasing transport connectivity. From their days as dark and frightening places to today playing a key role in the mobility chain, parking facilities have come a long way.


More than just a place to deposit one’s car, parking facilities are becoming urban mobility hubs, serving as charging stations for electric cars, drop-off zones for ride-sharing companies, hubs for connecting to bikes, rail and buses to get consumers from point A to B to C or even a storage site for drones. But as communities reconsider the space allotted to parking, today’s lots and garages are being designed and used for an increasing number of roles. An art gallery like “The Z” in Detroit; a cultural events centre such as Tokyo’s Daikoku Futo, host to night-time classic car club parties; a café and campari bar in London; an outdoor movie theater in Los Angeles; the “Eleven Eleven” concert venue in Miami; sites for street hockey matches in Winnipeg, Canada, farmers’ markets and food trucks…parking facilities are being reinvented to become full social living spaces!


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