As Australia’s urban population surges and its major cities become host to more high-rises and increasing density, car parks will become an increasingly scarce and expensive commodity for commuters.
Nick Austin of car park app company Divvy points to the potential for smart city technologies to dramatically raise the efficiency of car park usage, thus reducing the need for the construction of large-scale parking facilities in constrained urban areas where space commands a heavy premium.
"There aren't a whole lot more car parks being built in cities, so they're set to become a more rare and expensive resource. That's why it's very important to improve their utilisation," said Austin. "To waste an important, increasingly rare resource in our urban environments is just negligent."
The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, along with the enhanced connectivity of modern urban centres, has paved the way for technologies that permit the flexible leasing of idle car parks. Drivers can learn of available spaces via smartphone apps.
"We have commuters coming into areas like the Melbourne CBD, where there are traditionally very limited options when it comes to parking," said Austin. "What this new technology essentially does is create a great deal more affordable parking by granting people access to spaces that would otherwise just sit idle.
"If I have a car space sitting vacant, I can lease it to you via an app, and you’ve now got a place to park where you need at an affordable rate. You can search for parking with the app, you can book it, pay for it, as well as use your phone as an access device for a building.
"It’s about creating form of smart city technology, which actually connects someone to the city, as opposed to just information and payments for a specific service."
In addition to releasing a huge volume of car bays that would otherwise sit idle to an urban parking market in which demand severely outstrips supply, Austin points to the potential of the technology to reap massive untapped benefits for leading property companies.
"A major issue that the big property firms have with their parking is that when a tenant moves out of their building, the car space will remain vacant until another tenant moves back in," he said. "When you look at that across a large portfolio of as many as 60 odd buildings, that's a huge amount of revenue that's being lost every day."
Austin believes the more efficient utilisation of car parks that new apps can foster is part of a broader transition toward smart cities that will enhance the usage of scarce resources in urban environments.
"In any of those cases where an asset is becoming more expensive to build or use, we should be encouraged use technology to make it more efficient, to drive down costs. Technology can now achieve this," he said.
"Once you’ve got the technology to search for, pay and access things in the city, as well as obtain real time data around inventory, then that really starts to change the way the whole city works."
He noted the enhanced usage of scarce resources in our cities will confer major economic benefits, chief amongst them the reduced need for superfluous infrastructure and facilities in constrained urban spaces.
"By providing a broader footprint of parking, and providing access to parking that sat behind closed doors and just wasn’t being used, we tackle the problem directly without any cost to the taxpayer, while the benefits go back to the community," he said.
"It avoids the need to build a bunch of car parks in one area, for example, and then have it used at just 50 per cent, and subsequently have to use the money of council rate payers to build another car park near a train station.
"The worst thing is building something and then not using it efficiently – whether it's a shopping centre or a car park. We should be improving the utilisation of these things in the urban environment. When there are plenty of car spaces just sitting around there, it’s just a waste of money, and a waste of scarce resources."