How more efficient parking builds smarter cities

By simply parking more efficiently, we’ll help our cities become cleaner, green, and smarter.

Like many cities around the world, Sydney struggles with an over-reliance on cars for personal transport. Despite a highly trafficked public transport network, walkability outside the inner city is low and car ownership is high. Despite some early talk of human-centred cities, Sydney is still built around cars and motorways. Over the past few years, my co-founder and I have been working on solving one small part of that problem, through a more efficient use of parking space. Our product connects drivers with the owners of spare parking space, for short or long term parking needs. We regularly engage fellow enthusiasts of less car-dependent cities. From time to time, we’re challenged by those who believe we’re feeding into the machinery of car dependency at the expense of building healthier transportation systems. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Efficiency city, sustainable city

When it comes to sustainable transport, our cities are imperfect. Thanks to the way Australian cities are built public transport is not always viable. Parts of the suburbs and the gaps between mass transit lines are only accessible by car, without the demand for a viable bus service. To fix this fundamentally, we’d need to rebuild swathes of our cities from the ground up. Forgoing a scorched earth approach, using existing infrastructure more efficiently is our best approach. For Share with Oscar, that means activating unused parking space. We don’t aim to increase parking supply to increase demand for it. Rather, we hope to shift parking supply from new commercial car parks and street parking to space that already exists, but sits vacant. In the specific case of parking, a pre-booked marketplace approach has other benefits. Urban planner Donald Shoup estimates around 30 percent of CBD traffic is down to cars searching for a parking space.

A solution of many colours

As tempting as it is to look for a single transport panacea, our over-reliance on private cars is a complex issue that requires a complex solution. Greater provision and utilisation of public transport infrastructure should be a priority. So too should be increasing walking and cycling for transport, especially as part of a multi-modal approach. However, there is no one answer. Even cities with world class public transport like Paris, Tokyo, and Montreal still rely on cars for some trips. Tradies, freight, and emergency services still need car-centric infrastructure, as do many elderly and disabled people. By being highly efficient with our resources we limit the impact of these trips on the overall transport mix. That means minimising wasted parking, supporting shared mobility schemes like car and bike share, and investing in small scale on-demand transport, from shuttle services to Uber pool.

Power to the policy makers

When we are more efficient in our use of available parking, we’re giving policy makers the space to build more sustainable cities, figuratively and literally. By giving drivers access to unused parking in driveways and garages, demand for on-street goes down. Over time, a lane of parking can be given to buses, cyclists, pedestrians, or converted into green space. It’s the same outcome achieved by car share, active and public transport. By removing cars from the road, city builders are freed from the need to give cars top priority, and can instead design for people first.