Self-driving cars vs parking lots

Self driving cars made a splash at CES 2015. As people debate the precise market size, they enumerate the use cases of self-driving cars, mostly from the perspective of accessibility for those who ordinarily would not be able to drive (e.g. the disabled). The counter argument is that people generally do love driving and would not want to give up the steering wheel.

In my mind there is a clear killer application that would make it all worthwhile: parking. A car that can drop me off at my destination then drive off to park itself is such a huge win;

  • As a driver, I won’t have to look for a parking spot. But more importantly…
  • As a property developer I don’t have to co-locate parking spaces close to destinations.

Business districts, public transport hubs, entertainment venues etc. won’t need dedicated parking spaces; there can be one huge lot serving all locations within some (say, 5km) area – too far to park and walk, but close enough to be recalled via a mobile app within a reasonable amount of time. The premium property that frees up will be worth a fortune.

Parking spaces are an economic waste, and self-driving cars can unlock the value trapped within their grey, uninspiring, soon-to-be-no-longer-necessary walls.

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2 Responses to Self-driving cars vs parking lots

  1. Vasilis Vasaitis says:

    Correct, but I think you’re not thinking this through to its logical conclusion. Once I get out of the self-driving car having arrived to my destination, isn’t it a waste of resources (and space, no matter how far it’s located) if the car just goes and sits in a parking lot? It might as well go and pick up another passenger. And in the same vein, there’s no reason why I should need to get in the exact same car when I need it next.

    The killer application is essentially the driverless equivalent of taxis/uber/lyft. Instead of having as many cars on the streets and parking lots as there are people who need to use them, you have as many on the streets as there are people who need them at any given moment. And then you can do away with parking lots altogether, except the ones needed for these cars to go during the hours that there isn’t much demand (and which could be highly vertical and mechanized).

    • Tirath says:

      Hi Vasilis,

      Do self-driving cars strengthen the sharing model? Taxis are around, and are being improved by mobile/real-time data. Maybe the self-driving aspect can make taxis cheaper in some jurisdictions.

      The vision you’ve described works for me, but then I’ve never personally owned a car, and my lifestyle (I have very few location-centric obligations) is pretty atypical.

      Lately I’ve realised that for many people, cars, like their phones, are extensions of themselves. First there’s the simple issue of storage; folks (ladies especially) stash their shoes in the trunk, personal care products in the glove compartment, gym gear, work items here and there, and if they have kids there’s a whole heap of other stuff. For the time-poor, availability is an issue. Then there are safety and personal liberty factors. Uber may have been the first to be caught doing unsavoury things with travel data of their customers, though they won’t be the last. But more important than that are familiar personal comforts.

      I suppose it’s a cultural/lifestyle issue – some segments have very low car ownership as is, but for many there’s no place like home and their car is their home away from home.

      Though as homely as it may be, nobody likes looking for parking, and self-driving cars can get around the need for close-proximity parking (and valets).

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