First of all, building parking facilities costs, and so does maintaining them. In that sense, the term “free parking” is, in itself, already an oxymoron. In this post, though, we are looking at parking pricing from the perspective of city functionality. According to research, only smartly priced parking is a good idea – why? And how can that be achieved?

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You’ve probably heard of Donald Shoup, who is the main point of reference when it comes to urban planning research. He has done extensive work on contemporary parking policies, patterns and behavior. There’s that one famous book titled “The High Cost of Free Parking”, which we use in this blog post as a stepping stone. The point that he makes goes more or less like this: when parking is free, or priced wrong, everybody ends up paying way too much.

So what does that mean?

The problem with poorly priced parking

The point Shoup makes is basically this:

  1. Free parking spaces attract drivers to park for a loooong long time.

Result: no rotation, and lots of people cruising around looking for an empty space.

  1. Expensive parking stops people from parking in a given area.

Result: no income from parking, and lots of people cruising around looking for a cheaper space.

Essentially, the lack of a healthy rotation of parked cars combined with the excessive cruising end up costing for cities, a lot. The cruising causes blockages, time loss and environmental problems, all of which end up being expensive. In addition to that, when cars and their drivers don’t come and go at a good pace, businesses don’t get new customers and the economy suffers.

For cities, parking pricing is a small thing that can have big consequences if it’s not on track.

Pricing needs to be right for a healthy rotation of parked cards

In his research, Shoup has estimated that the optimal occupancy of curbside parking is 85 % – meaning that about one in eight parking spots should be available for a new driver at any given time. In that situation, there would always be a spot free for the next person coming to park, and drivers would park only for the time they need. A nice and steady flow of cars coming and leaving, coming and leaving.

This magic percentage can be reached only if parking is priced right. Figuring out what the optimal occupancy rate is is of course not the same as managing to actually achieve it. In order to define  what kind of a price makes for healthy rotation, there needs to be information, and there needs to be ways to interpret that information. In addition, there needs to be a way to set and change prices, and communicate those to drivers. Can you guess what I’m getting at?

Hello, smart parking technology!

That’s right, this is where technology comes into play, as it comes in each and every aspect of parking 2010s. In order to get comprehensive data on parking patterns, define the optimal pricing and execute that, tech needs to be used.

Nowadays we have algorithms that work relentlessly to calculate things humans could never (how humans made those algorithms happen is completely beyond me). By combining data from different outlets, it’s possible to determine what parking fees work the best, adjust them accordingly and thus reach an optimal situation. Parking apps are what brings the result of those calculations to the consumers.

Doing it with technology is not just a way to streamline the process, it opens up new possibilities to make cities function better – parking pricing is just one of them. It is literally smart parking.

Parking research combined with parking data is the way to achieve well-organized curbside parking

A seemingly small thing like parking prices can have a big impact on a city as a whole. When people can get something for free, they tend to take the most out of it, and in the case of parking just linger on for way too long a time. If something is too expensive, people avoid it like the plague and consequently, curbsides stand empty. That results in crowded streets and slowing down of business.

Pricing parking appropriately means that it functions as a working part of the city ecosystem. When it comes to parking and, more importantly, the future of urban planning, there is no underestimating the potential of technology to be able to solve these problems.

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Main photo by “Scott Blake” from Unsplash/CC