The VICE Channels

    The Future Is Never Looking for a Parking Spot Again

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: Flickr

    By 2020, there will be nearly a million "smart" parking spaces around the world, according to Navigant Research. More municipalities and corporations are adopting the technology, for a variety of reasons. Chiefly, municipalities are turning to the tech, which typically consists of sensors installed in parking lots that alert drivers with compatible interfaces when they open up—but can also send signals to cops when a car has overstayed its meter share—to clear up congestion.

    As Navigant notes, some 30% of a given city's traffic gridlock is caused by drivers circling the blocks, looking for a spot. Smart parking aims to eliminate both the unpleasantness and the arterial clog in the city's traffic flows. 

    IEEE Spectrum's report on the smart system installed at the Baltimore/Washington International airport, the first to utilize smart parking tech, offers a good look at how these systems work in a parking garage-type setting:

    "The airport installed a smart parking system for its hourly and daily garages, which combine to offer 13, 200 parking spaces. Sensors embedded in each parking space at BWI detect whether the space is occupied, with that information fed into a central parking management system." But in this case, the system operates under the assumption that the driver doesn't have an app or installed tech to guide them to the spaces. Instead, the garage itself shepherds drivers towards open spots.

    "As drivers approach BWI on their way to departing flights, they see signs showing the availability of parking at the airport’s garages," the report explains. "As a passenger enters a garage, signs indicate the total number of parking spaces available and the number on each level. At the levels, there are additional signs that tell the passenger how many spaces are available per row. A light over each space indicates whether it is available: green for open, red for occupied."

    It's not only convenient, it's efficient. Jonathan Dean, who works for the Maryland Aviation Administration, told IEEE that ”Surface lots and other parking facilities must close at 75 percent to 80 percent of capacity, because at that point they essentially become full. At BWI, we can run to virtually 100 percent capacity.”

    So that's how smart parking works in a garage—it's great for airports or other locales that require mass parking, like museums, stadiums, or exhibition centers. Where the real improvement stands to be made, however, is in on-street parking. Unfortunately, that's trickier business. 

    The New York Times recently rounded up some of the ongoing efforts in the arena:

    "Smart-parking technology for on-street spaces is expensive, and still in its early stages. The largest examples are pilot projects with costs covered primarily by grants from the federal Department of Transportation. In San Francisco, the SFpark pilot project uses sensors from StreetSmart Technology for 7,000 of the city’s 28,000 meters. In Los Angeles, LA Express Park has installed sensors from Streetline for 6,000 parking spots on downtown streets."

    These programs are linked to smart phone apps, and the city encourages drivers to tune in. And while the Times is right that these efforts are expensive right now, parking is actually a huge industry: it employs 1 million people and rakes in $27 billion a year. There's room for real competition in who can provide the smartest, and least painful services. Not to mention an incentive for cities to install the smartest tech to squeeze to maximize ticket fee revenues. 

    All of this shows we're moving towards a world where scavenging for a parking place will increasingly be a thing of the past—both because smart parking tech is improving and becoming more ubiquitous, and because car ownership itself is finally stalling out. Navigant says we may have hit "peak car ownership." All of which is good news; it means a shrinking carbon footprint (driving is the second biggest emitter worldwide) and less wasted time. If there's one thing we can all agree on about the future, it's that we don't want to spend it looking for places to park.