Much traffic congestion in urban areas is caused by cruising for a parking spot. Shoup (2005) suggested charging market-clearing prices for parking and leaving 15 per cent of parking spots vacant so that people can always park if they pay the requisite fee.
A small US technology firm Streetline Networks has added a twist to this that is being trialled in 6,000 of San Francisco’s 24,000 metered on street parking spots and in 11,500 of its off-street car parks. This uses a wireless sensor network that announces either by displays on street signs or on maps on screens of mobile phones which parking spots are vacant at any time. Drivers can also pay for parking using their phone and can top up the parking meter remotely using their phones without returning to their car. This minimises parking search costs. The San Francisco trial, costing $23m, is an attempt to find an alternative to congestion pricing of roads although a modification whereby congestion is also priced would be of interest. Either way the scheme uses pricing signals along with data on available parking spots to eliminate socially-wasteful searches for parking spots.
Another Firm, VehicleSense, is testing its wireless-sensor networks in parking areas along Interstate 95 in south-eastern Massachusetts. The idea is to give fatigued truckers better information on where they can pull off the road to get some sleep.
These innovative technologies could be put into practise in Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney. Either as an accompaniment to congestion pricing or a substitute for it such schemes would dramatically reduce parking search costs and consequent traffic congestion
John Markoff, ‘Can’t Find a Parking Spot? Check Smartphone’, New York Times, July 12, 2008.
The Economist, ‘Spot Prices’, The Economist, September 17, 2008.
D. Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking, Planners Press, Washington 2005.