Parking is vital to the operation of our automobile-dominated transportation system.
There are more than 250 million passenger vehicles in the U.S., and many of them are
parked about 95 percent of the time. Tens of thousands of people drive into every major
city each day to work or shop. Some drivers have free or subsidized parking, but many
others will pay $200 a month in midsized cities, and more than $700 a month in major
urban areas like New York City.
With AVs that are owner-operated, people may be less likely to park in downtown
locations, given the higher parking costs, unless they are being subsidized. Under an
owner-operated model, the vehicle could drop off its owner at a destination and either
return home or to a less-expensive satellite parking facility. The owner could then re-
motely summon the vehicle for a pick-up at an appropriate time. Given this scenario, it
begs the question: Why would an AV vehicle owner pay for downtown parking if they
could save money by parking at a satellite location?
There also are alternative questions to ask when determining a parking location: How
far away does the user live from their destination? What does the user pay to operate
the vehicle? Does the user need the vehicle for other trips during the day? An AV user
may need flexibility in departure times, or lead time for summoning the vehicle. Addi-
tionally, a parking facility’s automation capabilities — how easily it interacts with driv-
erless vehicles in terms of navigation and payment — come into play. Parking garages
that cater to AVs should be able to accommodate more vehicles per square foot.
If the model of fleet ownership using ride-sharing or rental agreements dominates AV
technology, the need for all types of parking facilities in major cities becomes increas-
ingly unnecessary. Vehicle ownership per household could decrease and people may
become more dependent on alternative transportation modes like walking, biking and
public transit. An AV fleet vehicle would likely be in constant operation and might not
need a parking facility, although this could increase the need for maintenance and stor-
age facilities in locations with cheaper land values and more available space.
Parking facilities at transit stations also are likely to experience reductions in usage
with either the owner or fleet model. Most transit-station parking facilities cost users
a few dollars per day and, in the largest cities, most people who use them live within
AV technology is starting to permeate the transportation marketplace. All levels of
government are studying and planning for the advances in technology. The most no-
ticeable effects it will have on land usage are likely 20 years away, but as AV technology
becomes more widespread, it has the potential to drastically change the utility of cer-
tain land uses, such as parking structures.
AVs may force public and private entities to consider the economic viability of surface
lots and parking structures in urban settings. They may cause developers and inves-
tors to reassess investments in existing parking structures, and maybe prompt many
of them to explore new uses for the land these structures occupy. Investors will need
to examine the profitability of constructing new parking structures, with possibly less
demand in some locations.
Other land uses, such as commercial, residential and open space, should be considered
in place of parking structures in urban settings. The parking facilities that can interface
with AV technology are the ones that have the greatest potential to thrive when there is
sufficient, critical mass usage of this technology. As with any advances in any technolo-
gy, people will need to adapt to it, and land usage will need to adapt to the changes in
transportation behavior, as will commercial mortgage brokers who are serving clients
affected by the coming transportation transformation. n
Scott Peterson is a Boston-based urban planner focusing on how transpor-
tation and land uses respond to changes in technology. He has supported
multiple state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning orga-
nizations and private industry in short-term and long-term multimodal trans-
portation and land-use planning efforts. He is a member of the Transportation
Research Board Economics Committee. His interests are in transportation economics, land-use
planning, big-data analytics, travel-demand forecasting and autonomous-vehicle technologies.
Reach Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.