Self-driving cars are the next big unknown in the parking industry. Will they reduce the number of cars on the road? Where will they live? How does parking fit into the driverless future of the world?

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There are a lot of things that will become apparent only when the actual moment is upon us when we automatically take shotgun in the car instead of the driver’s seat. We can, however, already discuss the potential scenarios that autonomous vehicles will create in cities.

Will parking still be needed?

In short, yes. Self-driving cars are cars just as well, and while they might not be off the road 95 % of the time like cars nowadays, they will by no means be on the move 100 % of the time.

For people who own their very own self-driving vehicles, parking will remain a need just like it is right now. The fact whether or not there’s someone behind the wheel when you’re on the move plays no significance as to whether the car needs a place to stay overnight.

Cars that cater to the shared mobility – so basically drive around picking people up and dropping them off – still need to do something in between “gigs”, and that something can’t be driving around aimlessly, because that messes up the concept of the effectiveness of self-driving cars. Of course, the goal can be that everything is optimized so well that virtually every car is always needed somewhere, but those logistics are still pretty far ahead in the future.

Will parking facilities change?

Self-driving vehicles that are privately owned will presumably need parking spots as they are now. When a person leaves their home, they need to have the space to step into the car, and the same at the end destination for exiting the car. The difference in demand is therefore small.

As for taxi-type self-driving cars, the prospects could be more space efficient, like storing cars closer to each other (I’m thinking of those capsule hotels, but for cars). Another scenario is that parking facilities could be used not just for storing the cars, but also for maintenance, washing and the likes. To continue on the hotel analogue, that would be like an all-inclusive car hotel.

There will for sure be some developments required from parking facilities, but then again, they have changed a lot over the years anyway as technological innovations have become available. They will thus be just a continuum to the parking industry’s everlasting development.

Will business change?

Like established above, parking is a need that won’t be disappearing for a while. Therefore, the business of parking will also remain. While parking facilities may need to accommodate cars in new ways and perhaps introduce new technology – which they would eventually need to do anyway – those are precisely the things that mean the business has lots of potential to evolve. Technology brings with it automation, optimization and streamlining, all of which are things that can cut costs and increase revenues.

The other thing is, no matter how much we turn toward self-driving cars, there will still be regular cars, and they will need to be parked just like before. Even if self-driving cars will become a household item, it will take a very long time, and there will still be those people who want to resort to the “good old days” (just think about those people who still prefer to drive a stick even though automatic is available – like myself for example).

With change come new opportunities

The arrival of autonomous vehicles can for sure change the housing numbers and composition of parking facilities, as well as the overall number of cars around looking for parking (how much, remains to be seen).

But no matter what, those cars will still need to have a place to chill after they retire from the road. And while tech advances for cars, so it does for parking. So let us not be worried, but wait excitedly for the first time a driverless cars picks us up.

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Main photo by “Marc van der Chijs” from Flickr/CC