Autonomous driving Parking Sustainability

The role of parking in the EU green deal

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

The European Parking Association held its 20th International Congress and Exhibition in the City of Brussels in September of this year. This edition of the Congress addressed the role of parking in the future of the EU Green Deal. Transport has been identified as one of the key challenges and when we talk about any kind of transportation, parking can’t be far behind. The transport sector accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, and the EU will need to slash emissions by at least 90% by 2050, as compared to 1990. Achieving this goal is no easy feat, and an integrated approach in the mobility sector is the key to success.

In 2010, the European Commission published the Green Book with no mention of the role of parking in sustainability efforts. In the ensuing years, we have become more aware that integrated mobility with increased accessibility is essential to achieve the challenging sustainability goals of the EU Green Deal while maintaining healthy competition in the sector and providing quality services. Realistically, the parking sector will remain key for any sustainability measures in the mobility sector.

Furthermore, the parking sector is one of the important revenue streams for local administrations and businesses, enabling accessibility for a number of needs and promoting economic activities in urban areas. When investors or real estate managers think of sustainability goals, the focus is often solely on new buildings and properties. However, it’s just as important to make existing properties comply with sustainability goals at a time when urban space is becoming scarcer. This applies in particular to properties such as multi-storey car parks, underground garages, logistics areas, or older shopping malls. These spaces have massive potential to change how we think of accessibility, last-mile connectivity, and the creation of urban mobility hubs.

Considering pure or multi-use parking properties in existing buildings, this can be achieved through integrating intelligent parking management technology, which brings in more efficient use of space, less congestion, and less time wasted searching for parking. All these serve to keep vehicles off the road as much as possible, which would help reduce emissions. Parking platform has spurred on digital innovation in number plate recognition, advanced booking facilities, and dynamic pricing which add an additional layer of improved user experience while bringing in more customers for parking owners.

Electrification and Digitisation: A Two-Pronged Approach

In order to contribute to the achievement of climate protection goals, it is also essential to provide sufficient charging infrastructure for electric mobility in parking facilities. Electric vehicles (EVs) have surged in popularity in the last few years, after steady but slow growth throughout the 2010s. Incentives and subsidies that make EVs more affordable combined with fuel price inflation and increased social awareness around climate change can be attributed to this consumer shift towards EVs.

Electrification comes with numerous benefits: reducing dependence on oil, reducing emissions, improving air quality, and creating new jobs that boost economic growth. With these benefits come new business opportunities and challenges for parking owners and parking platforms. Boosting electrification is highly dependent on accessibility. This promotes taking a multi-modal approach to parking, where facilities double up as charging stations and shared mobility hubs. Energy-efficient lighting, green design, and photovoltaic battery storage systems, which need to be part of parking services for EVs, also make an important contribution to reducing carbon emissions.

Moreover, shared mobility such as sharing services for vehicles and e-bikes/scooters can be lucrative for businesses and help move them towards achieving their sustainability goals. This completes our vision for integrated mobility hubs that promote sustainability and accessibility. Parking garages can become focal points for movement through cities, facilitating not only efficient parking and smooth commuting but also becoming distribution hubs for online deliveries. For example, grocery delivery services using e-bikes for ultra-fast deliveries would flock to centrally located parking garages that provide EV compatibility and easy access to major urban areas.

Owners of multi-storey and underground car garages have a vital role to play in implementing these measures. As they are often the largest gross space users, implementing environmental sustainability goals into their daily operations has a trickle-down effect on the property as a whole. The value of the property increases, it becomes more efficient and sustainable to operate and they can contribute significantly towards the Green Deal goals to cut carbon emissions.

This electric and shared mobility revolution of the parking sector would not be possible without a concurrent digital revolution. Parking apps, platform management tools, big data, AI, and machine learning are key components for creating a smooth user experience. Additionally, data sharing between the public and private sectors (and academia) can promote a truer integrated mobility solution that benefits all. The European Parking Association plays a pivotal role in facilitating this collaboration.

Finally, as cities across the EU reduce on-street parking in favour of pedestrians and bike paths, we are witnessing a major revenue shift from municipality-controlled parking (on-street) to private parking owners (off-street). While this creates an easy revenue stream for parking owners, the effects on sustainability goals are still up in the air, especially if electrification and digitisation are not integrated into parking.

Other Key Takeaways: Paradigm Shifts, Car-Free Cities, and Beyond

If we are to implement electrification, digitisation, and the creation of mobility hubs, we also have to consider what kind of policy changes need to be implemented. Parking has historically had a negative image in the public policy and city planning sector but the role of parking in sustainability can no longer be ignored.

A paradigm shift in how we view parking needs to take place: the often dogmatic thinking of city planners and policymakers needs to shift towards thinking of parking as a solution, and not a problem in itself. Parking will always be a necessity in any urban setting, and any plans for improving air quality within cities and improving livability need to consider parking management.

Even with a shift towards car-free city centres, we still need to consider alternatives and accessibility for commuters and residents. A well-balanced transition requires cooperation between municipalities and parking operators. Banning cars is a knee-jerk response to congestion and emissions and an impulsive change without instating alternatives for workers, residents, customers, and delivery services will kill vibrant city centres. We don’t want people and businesses moving out of the city and leaving behind a ghost town.

Coming back to EVs and electrification, building charging stations become critical as on-street parking reduces. This area is extremely challenging in both the public and private sectors, requiring massive investments in energy infrastructure by municipalities, energy companies, and parking owners. Municipalities don’t always have the budget or political support to implement electrification strategies, and while this is changing, there’s a long way to go. Government support, through regulations requiring the installation of charging stations or through financial subsidies, can ensure increased adoption of EVs and equitable access to charging for communities and neighbourhoods. Facilitating the adoption of home charges in existing private parking spaces and mandating EV charging facilities in new constructions is important. At the same time, the installation of charging stations in existing garages and car parks can be undertaken by local governments in collaboration with parking operators.

To sum up, the key takeaways from the EPA Congress this year emphasise the role of parking in achieving the goals of the EU Green Deal. Reducing emissions through efficient technology-led parking services and mobility hubs can make city centres less congested while boosting the user experience of city residents. A combination of changes in public policy and digitisation of parking services sets us on a path towards cleaner, greener, and more livable cities.

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