A digital network spread across an image of a birds’-eye view of a parking space

The search for a parking space made easy through digitalization

How smart parking solutions and in-car sensors can make the search for a parking space more efficient

January 26 2022Philipp Meinel

Using parking data management to make the search for a parking space more efficient

We all know this problem. You have just arrived at your destination, but now have to find somewhere to park. Where can you put the car? The search for a parking space in German cities is often a test of patience: on average, drivers must plan to spend 10 minutes to find a vacant parking space. This not only costs time and money, but is also frustrating and damages the environment – our living space. Can we make this more efficient?

The well-known problem of looking for a parking space

A man walking through a parking garage

Finding a parking space initially sounds like an easy task. But the reality is that it can be a real challenge in German cities. Drivers not only require a lot of time, but also a considerable amount of patience and concentration to find a vacant parking space. On average, those looking for a space drive 4.5 kilometers before they find a suitable place to leave their car. This is costly. People not only lose an average of 10 minutes, but also 1.35 euros in additional costs each time they search for a parking space. According to the market research company Inrix, the average time spent searching for a parking space in Germany amounts to 41 hours and the additional costs incurred to 900 euros per head per year. This means that in total, the additional cost of traffic created by the search for parking spaces in the country comes to over 40 billion euros each year. Money that could be much better spent elsewhere.

Traffic created by the search for parking spaces is a significant issue

The most popular mode of transport in Germany is the car. A study from the DLR Institute of Transport Research from 2021 shows that car use in Germany is consistently high and currently even higher than before the coronavirus pandemic. A trend that appears to be growing. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority, as of January 1, 2021, 66.9 million vehicles were registered in Germany, the majority of which being cars (around 48.2 million). A number that has increased in the last few years. On a global scale, Germany has one of the highest degrees of motorization and the largest vehicle densities. It is therefore no wonder that during rush hour , the search for a parking space accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of inner-city traffic. This has consequences for people and the environment. In addition, Dekra discovered in a study that 40 percent of all car accidents in Germany were associated with parking and maneuvering. Making the search for a parking space more efficient and reducing traffic associated with this is therefore worthwhile for numerous reasons.

If we calculate all the costs associated with looking for a parking space through overpayments and parking tickets, we come to a figure of almost 45 billion euros per year.

 Dr. Graham Cookson, Chief Economist at INRIX

The status quo in parking space management

Birds’-eye view of a city showing the route from a car to a parking space

Statista calculated that parking spaces and car parks in Germany generated a turnover of around 1.47 billion euros in 2019. A figure that has continually risen since surveys began in 2009. However, smart parking space management is still in the early stages of development. But the initial results are promising. The smart parking project “SFpark” from San Francisco managed to reduce traffic created by the search for a parking space by 43 percent and the whole traffic volume in the survey area by 30 percent through 7,000 sensors installed into the infrastructure and the parking data collected from them. It is also becoming increasingly clear in Germany that smart parking is a win-win situation for all involved. Drivers can find a free space more quickly, have the convenience of paying parking fees through a smartphone app, and can individually adjust parking times in the app as well. The city gains an effective management tool through intelligent parking space management and can therefore significantly increase its appeal to residents, businesses, and tourists. In the long term, traffic can be reduced using such measures, which is equally beneficial for the environment, drivers, and local residents. In Cologne, for example, an intelligent parking guidance system was successfully used to reduce the traffic created by the search for a parking space in the survey area by up to 45 percent. With such positive results, the inevitable question is: what will a comprehensive, smart parking space management system look like in the future?

The car as an all-rounder

Modern cars have already become true wonders of technology; driving assistance systems and automated parking are just a couple of innovations that have come about in recent years. The basis for such convenient functions is in-car sensors. These sensors continuously record the environment around the car, evaluate data, determine actions, warn drivers, and intervene where necessary. Some cars can even park on their own. But what happens with all of the environmental data that has been recorded? Nothing. This existing digital information is left unused. Why is that? Is that not a lost opportunity?

The future vision for simplifying the search for a parking space

The task remains the same: to find a vacant parking space as quickly as possible. Would it not be even better if the car knew exactly where to find the next parking space? And could direct the driver straight to it? As a convenient bonus, parking fees could be paid, using the precise parking time, from the comfort of the car. The idea of searching for a parking space as a service comparable to online products like Spotify, Netflix, etc. is very appealing. Never having to experience the long search for a parking space or waste time and money again, whilst also helping to improve air quality, and protect the environment. To achieve this, all cars would need to share the environmental data collected through cloud systems. This means each modern car would become a parking space sensor, wherever it is across Germany.

In-car sensors to help find parking spaces

A range of systems and components are required to create a comprehensive parking space management system and smart parking solutions. It’s like one big puzzle: from sensor technology and vehicle architecture, down to telecommunications technology for data transfer, GIS systems to check plausibility, and a back end solution for data processing and analysis. Many of these components are already being used for other applications. Data from in-car sensors are also already being transferred and used for things like black ice warnings. Nevertheless, the interactions between all of these systems are highly complex, as are the real-time transfer and analysis of data from the high-resolution lidar and ultrasound systems in modern cars. Everything depends on what happens in the next few years. Using in-car sensors for parking space management could be the key to autonomous driving, because environmental perception in real-time is essential for this. There is already a vision that communicative cars could simplify the search for a parking space.

About the author

Philipp Meinel

Former Chief Tomorrow Officer, T-Systems International GmbH

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