The Next Big Car App
What if you could use your smartphone to make your car trip safer and faster, increase road capacity, and pave the way for autonomous vehicles?
A prototype already exists on our phones; it’s the app that helps drivers locate off-street parking. Some familiar names are Spot Hero, Parking Panda, WhereiPark, BestParking, ParkMe and ParkWhiz, but there are more.
Prior to apps, economists led by Donald Shoup shook up the staid parking business with real-time applications of supply and demand pricing. Programs like SF Park, reduce both search time and congestion. Pricing algorithms are based on inputs such as the past occupancy level, block size, time, day of week, and so forth.
Now there is an opportunity to bring a new wave of improvements through smartphones and location-aware sensors.
GUIDED PARKING GROWS:
Guided parking apps are still evolving. Simply put, a driver enters her destination before starting the vehicle trip, and is then routed to proximate parking places, based on preferences for cost and convenience.Upscale car manufacturers, like BMW, are already integrating Parkmobile functions into some of their dashboards . Or, the driver simply reserves a parking space before they get on the road.
These apps are important because they change the behavior of drivers and make each trip they take more like rideshare. Drivers do not circle aimlessly hoping to find street parking, they have an upfront knowledge of the full trip cost, and many times they are able to shorten the travel time, even allowing for the last leg on foot. It sounds like a lot, but the changes are subtle…. they sum to a more efficient use of road-travel. An IBM study estimated that up to 30 percent of traffic in a city may be caused by drivers searching for a parking spot and Imrix estimates that American drivers waste 17 hours per year in search of a space.
CHANGING EVEN MORE SPACES:
Meanwhile, the parking apps also begin to prepare the public for autonomous vehicles. When the guided parking app is programmed to use surface lots and indoor structures, it frees up meters and curb space. Public policy needs to follow suit, and slowly reduce or eliminate street parking. This is vital because curb space is the essential enabler for future transportation: rideshare, demand based transit, and autonomous vehicles.
It may be a while before older drivers, like Baby Boomers, embrace parking apps that guide them to a surface lot or structure. But, there are plentiful reasons why younger people may enjoy them. First, the apps blend transportation with connectivity….just like an extension of the smartphones they live by. Second, being guided to a parking spot is sustainable….it helps to reduce congestion and carbon emissions. And, like rideshare, it can alleviate some of the stress and unpredictability of driving alone.
REDISCOVERING URBAN SPACE
The parking innovation is favored by two additional factors:
The first is the growing surplus of retail space and commercial frontage. As online shopping expands, the need for store-fronts shrinks. Before smartphones, commercial development sprawled along urban strips that encouraged drivers to park for free. Excess store-fronts may bring a return to denser, multi-use shopping centers that favor a more contemporary, leisurely outing centered around foot traffic, bicycles and scooters. The parking structure might have stores at ground-level, and for those needing special assistance, pickup and drop-off by a dedicated shuttle vehicle.
A second trend is also a positive: the app can free up street-side parking and help foster open lanes. The right most travel lane could then be re-purposed for other modes of transportation, like scooters, bicycles, and motorized wheelchairs, as well as reclaiming the all-important travel curb. For many cities, the real policy issue will not be the supply and demand of parking spaces but rather, the loss of revenue from street side meters and pay-by-space.
While it may seem futuristic, smart mobile applications have already become a standard in the car. Drivers now depend on Waze and Google Maps for navigation and traffic updates. They use pre-billed transponders to speed through toll booths. And, when they choose not to drive, the smartphone is the enabler for Uber or Lyft.
The growing use of smartphone apps for guided parking will add to this list. They are squarely built upon people’s familiarity and trust that telecommunications improves trip taking.