Luddites, Self-Parking Cars, Zero Emissions, Trivial Tickets


Luddites, Self-Parking Cars, Zero Emissions, Trivial Tickets

JVH said to write about technology, because this is the Parking Technology Today issue. I’m very much a Luddite, a “black box” guy. I’m interested in what the box does rather than how.

I also find that the simple question “why?” can result in hours of fun as wild-eyed techies try to explain that they really have just made everyone’s life better – not spent a small nation’s GDP in doing something that we can already do perfectly well with a stick and piece of string.

Also, we have stuff that doesn’t work and never could. Who remembers the self-enforcing parking meter? Anyway Lord Van Horn commands, and I obey … not.

The biggest and fastest evolving piece of technology that we deal with is, of course, the car. Parking technology gets cleverer, but pretty much all of this goes on inside the box with little change to the human interface.

Meanwhile, parking structures are built with a 50-year life for cars that get re-made, every 10 years, by designers who spend zero time thinking about carparks. Think “gull wing” doors.

Recently, cars have taken two giant evolutionary steps that will impact future carpark design and have implications for the long-term utility of existing structures.

First, cars are getting “smarter” with greater and greater autonomy. The fully autonomous car is a done deal. The unresolved issue is public perception. When Google’s test vehicle has a bump, the reality is that, if a human had been driving, it would have been many times less safe.

Today, an increasing number of cars self-park. The car identifies a slot and backs in, which is a problem in parking facilities with angled parking, designed for cars that drive in forward. This is, on the face of it, an intractable problem, a total mismatch between the design philosophy of the car and the carpark.

However, the future is more interesting. Many of you will have seen the video of the self-parking Audi. The driver gets out, presses a button and the car bumbles off and parks itself. Press the button again and the car returns. The implications of this for parking garage design are significant.

For decades, cars have been getting wider, and carpark designers have had to respond with wider slots so that we humans can get in and out. We have a future where door- opening space is no longer needed. Since autonomous cars can park with inch-perfect precision, spaces can get narrower.

In the last 20 years, widths have gone up by about 14%; so, cut out the opening-door space, and construction costs can fall by 10% or more. That’s not to be sniffed at. Sure, robotic carparks would claim that they do this already, but with an autonomous car, you don’t need the robot.

The second issue with cars is their engine. Electric cars have yet to convince, despite the excellent products of Tesla and others. However, claims about “greenness” are often based on bad science. Producing zero emissions at the curb is about as useful as a chocolate teapot if the power is being generated by a coal-burning power station down the road.

Much of the analysis that I have seen also forgets the end-of-life disposal of the highly toxic battery packs. Power generation speaks to national policy and philosophy about the future and is soluble. Depending on your perspective, the battery issue is a long-term problem, or an opportunity for an emergent industry. Ten years ago, we put our old “torch” batteries in the trash; now they are a valuable recyclable commodity collected at every store.

For carparks, the issue is the electric vehicle’s increased weight. It seems that batteries increase its weight by about 24%, and this has clear implications for future structural design, as does the increasing need for on-site charging facilities.

That weight also creates other problems. The EV mob decries the diesel/petrol car as the work of Satan; however, a recent study has shown that electric cars can produce up to 28% more particulates than a combustion-engined equivalent model. The particulates result from higher tire and road-surface wear, rather than engine exhausts, but are just as dangerous.

Otherwise, so-called smart technology is beginning to poke its head above the parapet, but, so far, not too far. For example, parking space sensors are slowly getting traction. Here in the UK, only Westminster in London has gone for a big installation, but a few more places are testing the technology.

Linked to this is the growth of parking apps offering an “integrated online portal directing drivers to the nearest or cheapest space in a matter of seconds.”

My perception is that, although the product is becoming better, the actual benefits are quite tenuous. Yes, you can get “data,” and these can be used to inform. However, the mechanisms to disseminate that data in any meaningful way still look dubious. I can download data to my smartphone app, but to look at my smartphone while driving is a total no-no.

Of course, linked to the autonomous vehicle, it becomes a “doddle”; I say where I want to go, and the smartcar and smart-parking black boxes do the rest.

We have had a false dawn with ticketless PARC systems. The theory is good: The parking access and control system reads your license plate, and you enter the number at the paystation, no ticket required. The reality is OK, but somehow it just doesn’t seem to have caught on. At the paystation, it’s interesting to watch just how many drivers have their smartphone in their hand because they can’t remember their license plate.


Meanwhile, and finally, in the great scheme of things, a parking ticket is rather trivial. Break the rules, and you get a $50 to $100 fine. Our government councils here in the UK even give you 50% off if you pay quickly, without an argument.

Most people shrug their shoulders, swear a bit and pay up, with bad grace. A very small number cheat and lie. Here in “Brexitlandia,” if you cheat and lie, the parking fine gets parked (sorry about that), and you talk to the judge about fraud and forgery.

Last fall, Dr. Vincent Leaper didn’t want to pay seven tickets, totalling about $500, so he produced some fake “letters” that he gave to the police, which he expected would get him off the fines. The only trouble was, the supposed signatory died in 2010!

Dr. L got convicted of fraud, forgery and “using a false instrument” (isn’t that a lovely olde English term?). Things then got a whole lot worse for Dr. L.

The General Medical Council takes a pretty dim view of doctors who lie, cheat and steal (he “stole” the parking) and suspended him for a year.

I don’t know what kind of doctor he is, but in the UK, a General Practitioner gets an average of about $150K a year. So, pay the parking tickets, cost, $500; don’t pay the parking tickets, cost $150K, plus loss of reputation. Silly man. PTT

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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