The questions are becoming so common, I can see them coming before they’re even asked. Invariably, when I am speaking at a conference or meeting, someone raises their hand and begins to ask about the future of transportation. Questions like, what about autonomous vehicles? Won’t that render parking useless? Or, millenials don’t drive! Won’t that change the way we think about parking?
I love these questions because they represent an opportunity to wax philosophically about how and why our transportation system is evolving. Are we responding to the needs of new drivers? Or are new drivers responding to policies and practices that the transportation industry has put in place during the past decade? It’s almost like what came first: the chicken or the TDM strategy?
I like to believe that the positive directions of transportation planners, urban planners, and parking professionals have started to shift people’s mindsets from the automobile and toward alternative modes of transportation. Things like car share, bike share, and ride share haven’t become popular because of fads in society, but rather because today’s planners have been able to capitalize on rising costs associated with driving, automobile ownership, and fuel prices. And the emerging generation has seen the fallacy in the quest for a suburban auto-dominated life. Maybe a perfect storm is driving these changes.
What I do know is that the future of transportation will likely continue to capitalize on these trends. In particular, the sharing economy will continue to drive changes in the way we provide transportation services. I was recently at a conference in Germany where BMW was promoting its focus on car share throughout the world. And Toyota was discussing a concept that goes well beyond that, linking transit, car share, and a mobility network of ultra-compact electric vehicles. The program, called HaMo, is being pilot-tested now in Japan and France. For more information, check out the YouTube video here.
If a system like this could be realized in urban settings, it would revolutionize the way we move about. It helps to solve first- and last-mile problems that have limited the effectiveness of connecting transit nodes with those areas outside of comfortable walking distances. And it continues to disincentivize single-occupancy vehicle use, which has plagued both parking and transportation networks.
So what does this mean for parking? The honest answer is that no one really knows. Less parking? Probably, but that’s not a bad thing. Smarter parking? Most definitely, but we have been moving in that direction for some time. As we continue to evolve this industry, we are only going to continue to push for more meaningful shifts in mobility and transportation.