Oftentimes, public transportation is seen as a separate entity – and we all know that this simply is not true. Public transportation is part of a mobility ecosystem, and for the whole ecosystem to thrive, all its parts must thrive. But it is easier to focus on specific elements and ignore the bigger picture. For one thing, it is far cheaper. While we can talk all we want about transit as a cure-all for the mobility nightmare that we collectively created in the past decades, this is a narrow-minded approach that will not get us anywhere near the future we want to build. Part of our discussions here at the Modeshift office and with customers is how we can integrate all available parts of a mobility system and lay the foundations of a true, sustainable MaaS platform. One of the first things that come up is parking – a service that has already been linked to public transit in numerous cities via park & ride initiatives. Let’s explore this connection between public transit and parking further and get to know what are the solutions, the benefits and the stoppers.
The current state of parking affairs
In our overly suburbanized and poorly connected public transit present, the need for a personal car may seem intuitive. People often need to drive even to get to the nearest store, let alone enjoy some evening entertainment in the nearest city center. For decades, US legislation and investment heavily subsidized the building of new, larger roads at the expense of creating better transit systems. City dwellers find themselves unable to survive without a car because there is simply no adequate service near them.
And where there are cars, there must be parking lots. And lots of them. While the US generally has a vast reserve of underutilized space, we would not say that cities are lucky to have an overabundance of space to build new parking lots. Cars are taking up not only a disproportionate amount of space when they move, but also when they are idle.
While some urbanists imagine the future of cities to be carless, this might take decades (if it happens at all). For the time being, we need to find better ways to utilize space in cities and even reduce the number of parking spots in a bid to curb personal vehicle usage and with it – carbon emissions. Noble as this quest is, it is no piece of cake.
Let’s start with the obvious fact – we can now get data in real time. This is a true game-changer and mobility services of all modes and sizes are racing to get their hands on as much data as possible. Parking is no different. With the use of modern smart sensors, we can measure usage, define peak times and distribute available resources better than ever before. This is done via platforms that connect available parking spaces in a single system and navigate drivers to choose the nearest one with the help of a mobile application. The mobile application can also be used for secure payments and opening gates.
What PaaS (Parking-as-a-Service) systems deliver is a better balance between supply and demand. The obvious benefit is that drivers who might be clueless about the availability of parking spaces near them will most likely find one thanks to the mobile app. But the benefits go way beyond this simple observation.
Benefits of PaaS
- Ease of access to all available parking spots at any given moment.
- Time saved from cruising around the block in search of a spot = carbon emissions saved
- The ability to build a mobile app that also supports payments and validations
- Better allocation of enforcement staff only whenever and wherever it is needed
- Data collection in real time
- The ability to incorporate not only municipal parking lots but also privately owned parking spots, and even introduce a ‘rent-your-garage’ scheme for individuals when they are not using them
The PaaS mobile application is connected to a robust back end that anonymizes the data and feeds it to processing algorithms. Sounds familiar? It is the same concept as mobile ticketing for public transport, and yes – the two can be integrated into a single solution under the MaaS umbrella.
Overall, PaaS systems provide a better way to manage all available parking spots in a city, thus removing many cars from the curbside and reducing the time and stress related to finding a place to leave your car.
Public Transit and Parking: PaaS as part of MaaS
Parking is an inextricable part of urban mobility, so it is only natural that we include it in a larger Mobility-as-a-Service infrastructure. This will allow municipal leaders to define and allocate better their resources and achieve their sustainability goals. But how?
One scheme that has a long history and can become the basis for a larger MaaS infrastructure is Park & Ride. Under this scheme, drivers leave their vehicles at designated parking lots in areas surrounding the city center and take readily-available public transit to reach their destination. It has been successfully implemented across Europe and in many US cities. For Park & Ride to work, drivers should be clearly incentivized to leave their cars and not contribute to downtown congestion. Discounted combined tickets that allow them to both park their car and board a public transit vehicle have proven to work in some instances, but wider adoption is certainly needed. Dynamic pricing can also be implemented to ‘nudge’ drivers to park in less used areas.
How about we expand this scheme to include micromobility, carpooling and other mobility services? As people are different, their needs differ widely, even the same person might need different solutions on different days. MaaS mobile applications provide this much-needed flexibility. With an integrated, uncomplicated user experience, people can get from A to B without much effort even if they must change modes of transportation.
MaaS has already embraced PaaS in Europe and we cannot wait to see the results of this alliance.
What stands in the way?
As with many other initiatives, bureaucracy and business interests often stand in the way of adoption. In the case of PaaS, municipal leaders are trying to find solutions to better manage available parking spots. In some cities, they are even looking for solutions on how to properly reduce them to meet carbon reduction goals without stirring up much havoc. We are moving in the right direction, but efforts often stall at the mention of data sharing and interoperability in a sustainable MaaS ecosystem.
Unfortunately, little can be done without a holistic framework that governs the move towards MaaS (if there is a will to do so). The MaaS operator needs to be an authoritative local figure that can make investment decisions and create anticipation for the implementation of the service. It should also be trustworthy so that data security is not an issue on riders’ minds. Finally, local mobility services (often part of a bigger structure) need to be willing to fully cooperate so that all pieces of the puzzle can fit together to bring an outstanding mobility experience – route planning, integrated payments and validations.
Parking in the future
We are living in tumultuous times, but also ones that offer us an unprecedented opportunity to be part of a technological revolution. Autonomous vehicles are a promising way to deal with many problems we are facing with modern transit systems. Apart from being stunning props in sci-fi movies, they have the potential to change our streetscapes for good. But they will also need to park sometimes (for recharging or whenever demand drops). What we now use for communal parking lots may gradually be transformed to pick-up/drop-off zones, and parking spots in the streets might disappear altogether.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – whatever the future holds, we need to think of ways to make the present better. If you are ready, contact us today!