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Will parking spaces in cities become more, or less, valuable in the future?

Parking Garage by Nuno Silva on 500px.com

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Lately I’ve been having discussions around the future value of parking spaces in urban centers. So yesterday I tweeted out this poll:

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The sample size is very small, but for what it’s worth, there are some/many people who believe that urban parking spaces will become more valuable in the future.

This is a reasonable assumption. 

Over the last couple of decades here in Toronto, I would guess that parking ratios for new multi-family developments have probably fallen by more than half. It used to be that you had to build 1 to 1.5 parking stalls for each unit and now we seem to be sitting somewhere close to 0.5. Although, there are also exceptions and some projects today are getting built with no parking.

So given that the supply side of urban parking spaces seems to be getting constrained and many cities are actively trying to encourage other forms of mobility, it’s not unreasonable to believe that parking stalls will only become more valuable. That’s why a new underground spot in Toronto might cost you $60,000 today and why some spots in New York can even fetch a $1 million

But this assumes that the demand for parking will remain more or less the same. What if it doesn’t stay the same? What if we were to experience a tipping point that rearranged urban mobility? What if the cost of driving became so high that people stopped driving at scale? In these scenarios, the demand side of the equation would change.

If you’re a regular of this blog, you probably know what I’m going to say next. But already I can think of two innovations that would contribute to the above scenarios: Uber and driverless cars.

Uber’s goal is to continually drive down the cost of transportation and eventually get you to no longer own a car. They know very clearly that the demand for transportation services is highly elastic and that the cheaper they get the more you will use them. And the way they get cheaper is by continually increasing the utilization rate of their drivers/cars. An idle driver/car is the enemy.

Of course, the other way to drive down fares is to remove the driver all together. And once you’ve done that, there is, in theory, no reason that a car should ever sit idle – like they do today. (The utilization rate for my car is around 2%.) And if a car is never sitting idle, then why would you ever need to park it? Certainly you wouldn’t need to park it as often as you do today.

All of this isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but I believe – despite the supply constraints – that we are going to end up with excess parking spaces in our cities. And that will mean that they are going to be perceived as less valuable than they are today. I also believe that it will eventually seem silly to drive your own car. 

What do you think?

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