Self-driving cars will lead to parking chaos

Study suggests autonomous vehicles will cruise around roads while waiting for their owners in order to avoid parking charges

Self-driving cars may cause parking complications in the future, according to a new study.

Unlike today’s cars, autonomous vehicles (AVs) will not need to park close to their destination. Instead, they may save on parking charges by dropping their owners off, then proceeding to seek out free on-street parking or returning home.

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It may even be cheaper for driverless cars to cruise around at lower speeds while waiting for their owners instead of parking, according to the Transport Policy paper.

The study used a traffic microsimulation model and data from downtown San Francisco to calculate that AVs could more than double vehicle travel to, from and within dense urban areas.

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The paper goes on to suggest cities may be required to see this as an opportunity to implement further congestion charges in order to mitigate the effects of AVs not parking at their destination.

Such a levy could be made up of two charges – a time-based charge for occupying public highways, whether parked or in motion, as well a distance or energy-based charge.

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The paper was written by Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Speaking to UC Santa Cruz Magazine, he said the problem he describes in the study could be exacerbated by AVs slowing down to a crawl in order to “kill time”.

He told the publication that, although parking charges “get people out of their cars and on to public transit”, AVs not needing to park could “create havoc”.

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Millard-Ball compared the situation to people driving slowly through airport arrivals areas to avoid paying for parking. “It just takes a minority to gum things up,” he said.

“Even when you factor in electricity, depreciation, wear and tear, and maintenance, cruising costs about 50 cents an hour – that’s cheaper than parking even in a small town,” he added. “Unless it’s free or cheaper than cruising, why would anyone use a remote lot?”

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