Reclaiming space in the autonomous vehicle era | KPMG Global
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Reclaiming space in the autonomous vehicle era

Reclaiming space in the autonomous vehicle era

An overlooked benefit of autonomous cars is the possibility of reclaiming parking space | 🕒 5-min read.



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Single car on a parking lot

The mass adoption of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) - often called automated, self-driving, or driverless vehicles - could radically change the way we travel and have a significant influence on the evolution of the urban and non-urban landscape. Without the need for human supervision or operation, every person will be a passenger, and cars will be able to drive with no occupants at all. This will give drivers more leisure time, widen mobility to citizens currently unable to drive, and improve road safety. One often overlooked, yet promising, benefit is the possibility of reclaimed parking space.

In reality, the automation of vehicles will be a gradual process involving a mix of autonomous, semi-autonomous, and manual vehicles over a period of time. Partial automation, e.g., cruise control, and traffic and parking assist, is already widely available. The speed of AV deployment on our roads is subject to much debate, which makes accurate predictions for mass adoption difficult. However, even if the precise timing remains uncertain, the automation of vehicles is inevitable.

Imagine this scenario: every two weeks, your grandmother orders an autonomous vehicle service which drives her from her suburban home to the downtown core to get her hair styled. After she is dropped off at the hair salon, the vehicle continues next door to pick up an individual from the local coffee shop and drives them across town – no parking necessary.

Or an alternative scenario where you use your own private autonomous vehicle to travel to work in the downtown core. While you’re at work, your vehicle drives to a less expensive parking lot on the outer edges of the city. Since it’s easily moved, vehicles are closely packed together, many blocking one another, fitting a large volume of vehicles into a smaller parking space – resulting in the relocation of parking and leading to potentially cheaper parking fees.

While a lot has been written about AVs, the impact on parking has received relatively little attention. KPMG and Steer Davies Gleave have teamed up for this three-part series in order to better understand the potential impacts of AVs on parking demand, location, operation and revenues. This series includes an in-depth review of potential outcomes, timings, and alternative futures.

Why does this matter? Understanding the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on parking assets is important for planners, private and public sector car park owners, as well as emerging AV fleet operators - all of whom can begin to identify future opportunities and threats to their current business models now.

How will parking change?

With the uptake of AVs, the need to park near one’s destination will no longer be necessary, potentially re-shaping land-use on a massive scale:

  • There may no longer be a need for businesses, residential buildings, or any other facility to provide adjacent parking.
  • Parking lots could be relocated to cheaper spots on the edge of town.
  • The capacity of parking lots will increase, cars will be able to park efficiently nose to tail, side by side or stacked closely on top of each other.
  • AVs may not even need to park, simply driving around until they are needed, or parking on the edge of roads, taking advantage of AVs needing less road width to pass safely.
  • Parking lots may evolve from their current form into servicing centers, where AVs are recharged, valeted, and maintained.

What are the opportunities?

With less requirements for parking, local governments should have the opportunity to design shared community spaces or cities and towns with more green space and space devoted to cyclists and pedestrians. On the other side of this coin is the fear that AVs carrying greater numbers of non-drivers will lead to higher levels of demand, add to traffic congestion and exacerbate the problems already caused by non-AV vehicles.

Owners and investors of parking lots may be able to increase revenues by leveraging the additional capacity that AVs create. Relocation of parking lots to the suburbs could release valuable real estate in the city core. As parking lots potentially evolve into servicing centers, there may be opportunities to negotiate deals with AV fleet operators, providing a welcome alternative revenue stream.

What will influence the future?

The degree of impact that AVs will have on mobility and the urban landscape will depend on a number of influencing factors:

  • Ownership Model – the parking needs of privately-owned AVs will differ from shared AV fleets. Currently, the average privately owned vehicle in the United States is only 5% utilized while shared vehicles are estimated to have a utilization rate closer to 40%.1 The private ownership model is likely to prevail during the early stages of AV take-up resulting in relatively minor changes to parking demand. But if shared ownership takes off, or private vehicles are leased to others while not in use, it’s likely that parking demand will significantly decline as AVs spend more time on the highways than parked in garages.
  • Public Policy – has the potential to restrict or promote AV development. It might be the case that restrictions could be introduced that prevent AVs from operating in the city core, or vice versa, only AVs might be allowed in the core for reasons such as reducing emissions, improving pedestrian safety, or managing traffic congestion. Promotion will accelerate take-up of AVs and, with complementary planning policies, improve the urban realm.
  • Market Acceptance – the attitudes of different customers and the marketing strategies of the major manufacturers will have a large impact on overall market acceptance. We would expect to see millennials embrace AVs more quickly than older generations, especially in regard to shared services and valuing the convenience, time, and money that an affordable rental system of self-driving cars will bring.

Concluding Remarks

Autonomous Vehicle trials have already taken place on the streets of the UK, Sweden, USA, Japan, and Singapore. It’s simply a matter of time until AVs start to radically change the way we travel – and the way we park (or don’t park). The size and timing of the impact will be directly related to the ownership of these vehicles, how public authorities chose to promote or restrict AVs, and their acceptance by the general public. Article 2: Autonomous Vehicles & Parking – Alternative Futures digs a little deeper into these influencing factors and presents three alternative scenarios.


Anita Mauchan, Director, Steer Davies Gleave
James Long, Principal Consultant, Steer Davies Gleave

About Steer Davies Gleave

Steer Davies Gleave is a leading independent international transport consultancy. We believe that transport can change the world. That's why we've spent over thirty years investing in pioneering transport planning techniques and developing the skills of our specialist staff. Big business, public sector, new technologies and changing markets; we believe in long-term solutions. We help our clients plan for the future’.


1Fortune Magazine. Today’s Cars Are Parked 95% of the Time.

Autonomous vehicles and parking article series

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