Parking sensors can lower greenhouse gas emissions

To the public, parking sensors are most commonly associated with their role in data collection and in supporting parking officers. But their use in smart cities projects for wayfinding can materially reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with parking behaviour.

Across major Australian cities it’s not uncommon to spend more than fifteen minutes trying to find a car park. We know this to be true because many of us live through it daily, but our experiences were also backed up by a recent media release from the NSW state government, which cited studies showing that people spend up to 3,120 hours of their lives—on average—driving to find a place to park their cars. Some surveys suggest that in the greater Melbourne and Sydney areas particularly, the number is actually closer to twenty minutes on average.

While it depends on what city you’re in and what time of day you might be visiting (2AM traffic has nothing on peak hour, after all), a lot of the traffic in a given congestion zone might be looking for an elusive parking space. The industry figure usually cited is that about 30% of traffic in a congestion zone is comprised of people looking for a free vehicle bay—this figure was originally given to us in a 2007publication regarding parking behaviour across time in multiple continents.

That’s a long, winding, circling queue of vehicles, with each motorist unaware of their place in the queue and how many other drivers are in front of them. And, unfortunately, it seems that congestion, at least on Australian roads, is tending towards increasing, not decreasing, over time.

The convenience cost of finding a car park is significant but self-evident, but the environmental cost may represent a bigger problem—or at least one that’s more significant to our collective conscience.

The greenhouse gas emissions of any given passenger vehicle are tricky to calculate. They depend on fuel efficiency, the vehicle’s age, and how fast you were going versus how often you stopped and started, among other considerations. Vehicles are not made equal, and some “green” passenger vehicles produce half the greenhouse gasses of other models. However, among even the newest, light vehicles, the Green Vehicle Guide estimates that every kilometre driven accounts for about 182 grams of combined C02 emissions.

Even those of us who are crawling through the city in a relatively new car are likely to be creating about a kilogram of combined C02 emissions when we go looking for that car park. With that in mind, those of us who have to look for a car park during the weekday peak hours could be producing 250kg combined C02 emissions each year—just looking for a car park.

However, the good news is that embracing a data-driven, smart approach can reduce emissions — not to mention inconvenience and frustration — dramatically.

This is one of the areas in which parking sensors shine. For a sensor to know if a vehicle has been parked for a certain length of time, it has to be able to detect whether or not there’s a vehicle there at all—and that means that sensors can provide reliable data on whether or not a vehicle bay is empty, too. That information can be used to provide real-time, accurate information about which bays are available for parking and where they are.

Whether via app or by physical sign or both, the use of parking sensors can alert motorists to the locations of available parking bays. Motorists who can look up exactly where to find a free car space don’t have to spend twenty minutes looking for one. And whether motorists are more interested in the obligations we share to be ethical environmental stewards, or just in spending those 3,120 hours of your life doing anything except looking for a car park, that has to be a win.

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