Will Ride-hailing Kill The Parking Lot

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The unappreciated parking lot is a staple of driving. A necessary evil, some might say. Once you arrive at your destination, you’ve got to put your car somewhere. But it’s not always so easy or convenient. Hunting for parking can add significant minutes and frustration onto your travel time. After winning that coveted spot, the monetary cost of victory can be staggering. It’s one of the reasons ride-hailing is on the rise. So what will happen to parking lots and garages in the future?

Parking Causes Stress

The rise of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft take away the need for at least some of the parking lots. A study out of the University of Colorado Denver and published in the “Journal of Transportation and Land Use” found that people who use ride-hailing services don’t mind paying the premium for someone else to drive them. In this way, they get rid of the hassle of driving, the cost of parking and the stress of finding a space.

The study revealed that parking stress was the second most cited reason to hitch a ride instead of driving yourself. Even if the true cost of time and money to park was negligible when compared to calling upon an Uber or Lyft.

“We found that the stress of the uncertainty of finding a parking spot downtown was enough to discourage people from driving themselves and made them willing to pay more to avoid it,” said researcher Wes Marshall, PhD, PE, associate professor in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing at the university, one of the authors of the study.

It’s crazy to think that Uber and Lyft have the power to change the shape of our cities, but they do. They are.

“We wanted to understand how these new services, Uber and Lyft, are impacting a city in regards to how people shift travel behavior, overall congestion and changes in landscape,” said lead author Alejandro Henao, former CU Denver PhD student and current mobility researcher with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Ride-Hailing Services Reduce Parking Demand

The decrease in demand for parking mostly occurs around restaurants and bars, airports and event venues. As a result, parking lots in the near vicinity remain rather empty. To put it politely, parking lots as a pretty solid rule don’t add aesthetic value to an area. And, when they don’t fill up, cities lose a source of revenue, which makes their purpose questionable.

“Historically, cities have relied upon parking minimums,” said Marshall. “But too much parking is just as bad as — if not worse than — too little parking. Parking lots don’t make for great places. If you are a city, you’d see more bang for the buck from another land use, and having options like ride-hailing available should make doing so easier.”

With a lot of unused empty space on its hands, cities will have to decide how to repurpose parking infrastructure for public use. This forced reconsideration offers some exciting options to make the city more hospitable and livable. The city could focus on expanding and improving walking and biking areas and public transportation, resulting in less cars. Maybe we’ll see more parks or natural areas in urban centers, most likely, they’ll build more Starbucks.

There’s a Downside

Ride-hailing services also have a downside. Henao and Marshall published a study in the “Journal of Transportation” last fall examining how rideshare services impact the transportation system. Their research found ride-hailing increased deadheading (drivers circulating around without passengers), congestion and vehicle miles traveled while luring passengers away from more sustainable travel options like walking, biking and public transportation.

Since Uber and Lyft are notoriously less than cooperative in providing their information, Henao decided to collect his own for the study.  He became a driver for both Uber and Lyft and drove a 2015 Honda Civic around Metro Denver for 14 weeks in 2016. From hundreds of rides and 311 surveys, Henao put together a “driver dataset” containing the GPS tracking of date, time of day, travel times, and travel distance of the rides; and a “passenger dataset,” containing information gathered by surveying his passengers during the ride about car ownership, reason for travel and if parking was a reason for leaving their cars at home.

After figuring in all the variables, researchers assessed the changes in parking demand and the percentage reduction related to stress.  Results suggest that 26.4 percent of Uber/Lyft riders would have driven and needed a parking space if the ride-hailing services did not exist. While the same service replaced more sustainable forms of transportation by a third, a third of respondents stated that they are driving less when asked about general travel behavior.

Insights for City Planners

By using the findings from this study, researchers believe cities would have some valuable insight to set parking rates and manage supply and demand. They could make smarter allocations of curb space for walking, biking, and transit. In addition, cities could reap revenue from private cars and ride-hailing services by charging a fee. Those drivers will surely kick and scream about that, but it will help meet sustainable transportation goals. Some airports have already monetized their space, charging a pick-up and drop-off fee for the curb space allotted to ride-hailing companies, which allows them to collect revenue lost to parking.

Is the parking lot completely doomed? Not by a longshot. Uber and Lyft are challenging the parking lot to adapt to the times. When we eventually have fully autonomous cars, they will need a place to go to recharge as well as wait for a passenger to summon them. And they need someplace without being in the way. We will need those parking garages. At some point, they will eventually be fully automated, with cars stacked one upon the other to maximize space. Perhaps they’ll even provide wireless charging.

One other benefit comes to mind as parking structures become the new warehouses for autonomous cars. You won’t have to provide a space at home or in the garage. Use the garage instead as a party room, mancave or she-shed. Or, dispense with the garage altogether and add an extra room or patio onto the house.  We could always use more room–at least that’s the thinking.

So, as parking lots shift their function, they will  become a more attractive proposition. One day soon, the sight of a parking structure might not raise your stress level, but instead put a smile on your face as just your car drives in.


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