Parking Guru on Apps


What role, if any, can wireless technology and smart phone applications play in helping drivers locate parking spots?

Earlier this month, the New York Times carried this blog post about the topic:

TTLA checked in with Professor Don Shoup, UCLA's "parking rock star," for his response. "I guess that I'm skeptical about all these apps," Shoup said, "in part because I think the main problem is mispricing of curb parking rather than any lack of information."

With the professor's kind permission, here's a related extract from his classic book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

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"Many cities are turning to various forms of parking guidance systems that alert drivers to parking availability. One of the most sophisticated is the Stadtinfolköln (CityInfoCologne) in Cologne, Germany, which sends travel information to personal computers, in-car displays, and variable message signs at strategic places on approaches to the city. Here is how it works:

"Individual parking garages are equipped with "add-and-subtract" loop detectors which record the exact number of spaces left vacant in each facility. This data is transmitted to a central computer, which displays the information on variable message signs. The software analyzing the data takes into account the rate at which a given parking facility fills up (based on historical data), and displays the predicted occupancy status at the time the motorist is expected to reach the facility. When available space at a facility falls below a certain minimum, the message sign changes to flashing, thus warning motorists that they run the risk of being turned away at the garage of their choice for lack of space.
Stadtinfolköln also plans to provide forecasts of available metered on-street parking. These forecasts of available metered on-street parking will be based on algorithms derived from historical occupancy data of metered parking spaces on any given day of the week and at any given time. The forecasts of available on-street parking will be combined with data from the instrumented parking garages to provide a comprehensive status of parking availability in Cologne's city center at any given time.

"The European Union is also sponsoring a test of an internet-based system (called e-PARKING) that enables drivers to make advance parking reservations. When reserving a parking space, the driver is given an access code that allows the parking garage to recognize the driver's identity on arrival, and the driver is then given access to the garage "at the touch of a mobile phone button."

"Better information is always valuable, but the need for information about parking availability stems in part from distorted prices. If mispriced parking creates shortages in some places and surpluses in others, cities can provide better information on these shortages and surpluses to help motorists find vacant spaces, but research on the effects of parking guidance systems rarely mentions the price of parking. An alternative approach is to charge the right price for parking at each site so that parking lots never need to put out the "full" sign, and everyone can park anywhere they want if they are willing to pay the fair market price. The European Union's e-PARKING initiative shows the absurd (and expensive) lengths to which governments will go to solve a problem that would disappear if cities simply charged market prices for parking spaces.

"Charging the right prices for parking and providing information on the resulting geography of prices will help motorists to find the combination of price and location that suits them best. In-vehicle navigation systems that now provide digital maps and audio directions for drivers may eventually provide real-time information on the pattern of curb and off-street parking prices at the drivers' destinations. If you plug in how long you want to park and the value you place on reducing the walking time to your destination, the navigation system may ultimately be able to tell you exactly where to park.

"If I had to choose between better prices and better information as the way to solve the parking problem, I would choose better prices. The two together are better than either alone, but it is a mistake to neglect price reform and instead deploy advanced technology to disseminate information about the shortages and surpluses caused by distorted prices. Should the Soviet Union have dealt with price-induced shortages for everything by developing elaborate and expensive technology to broadcast realtime information about the length of all queues for all products? Market prices contain an immense amount of information about fluctuations in supply and demand, and these prices are a simple way to convey information to motorists. Demand-responsive parking prices can make vacant parking spaces available everywhere, and the parking guidance systems can advise motorists about the different prices at different locations."

Photo Credit: The image accompanying this post was taken by Flickr user nate steiner. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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