Autonomy and Me
Lately, it seems like I am getting asked more and more about autonomous vehicles and what their potential impact will be on the parking industry. And when asked, I’m giving the same answer – “I’m not sure.”
There’s little doubt that autonomous vehicles, in some form, are coming. Based on what I am reading and hearing, autonomous vehicles for passenger and single-owner cars is a LONG way out.
For example, a report published by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) in April 2018 assessed how self-driving vehicles are likely to impact travel demands and infrastructure planning decisions in the future and predicted that they are more likely to be adapted by affluent, non-drivers beginning in the 2020s or 2030s, but will not become affordable and common across all drivers until the 2040s or even the 2050s. However, seeing this technology used by commercial vehicles and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, may be closer than we think – maybe.
I just purchased a new Volkswagen that came with Adaptive Cruise Control. “Man is this cool”, I thought. When I engage the cruise control, the sensors detect the car in front of me and my VW travels at the same rate of speed of that car. Unfortunately, what these sensors also do is slow my car down when a car enters my lane, or as I approach a car in my lane.
This “autonomous feature” is literally driving me crazy as I am constantly slowing down and speeding up as I make my way down I-75 through the southeast. By the way, when my car slows down, the brake lights don’t come on, so the person behind me gives me the stink eye or the one finger salute as he or she flies past me.
Great. But, here’s the real concern, and the primary reason why I am a bit skeptical about jumping into an autonomous Uber: The sensors have gone out on my brand-new car three times since I bought it. When the beeping that informs me that the Adaptive Cruise Control (which I now refer to as “Grandma Mode”) goes out, it’s like hearing the alarm that goes off when your smoke detector batteries go bad. Lovely.
So, anytime in the near future, the idea of relying on sensors to control my car as I sit in the back-seat napping, doing my crossword, or texting, isn’t in the cards. I would rather have “control” of my car and not become statistic. By the way, my car is at the dealership, and I’m begging them to turn this silly “feature” off.
I love driving. I love the freedom. I love tooling around town, around the region. I’ve been driving for almost five decades and really have no desire to turn the wheel over to someone I can’t yell at. Plus, I plan on owning my current car (unless they can’t turn off the Grandma Mode) for at least another 10 years or so.
And there are a lot of people like me; they bought a car and plan on driving it for a long time, especially if it’s paid off. This idea is proven by a 2016 report by IHS Markit (a leading provider of business information and analysis for the global automotive industry) which found that the average vehicle in operation (VIO) in the United States is 11.6 years.
Cars today have so much cool “stuff” on them already, it’s amazing. And, I suspect, that our friends at BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Honda, Toyota, et al, will continue adding really cool features to make “driving” even more fun than it is today. Now, if I lived in a city like San Francisco, New York, Miami and maybe even Chicago, I might think differently.
But, I live in the sunny south, where driving is “the thing”. The people I speak with in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, and Memphisshare the same belief as I do, vehicle autonomy is NOT me. I’m kind of thinking this mindset won’t change for a very, very long time.
Most importantly, I believe that those of us in the parking business couldn’t be in this industry at a better time. We are planning and designing more parking decks than at any time in our history. I am constantly reminded by business and community leaders that parking is integral to their success.
Will we, as an industry, adapt to mobility changes? Yes, of course. But our industry is accustomed to adapting and will successfully do so in step with technological advances.
A great example of this is how parking management firms have adapted to the use of the latest technology improvements in parking access and revenue control. Today, paying for parking at pay stations or using one’s mobile phone is the norm, versus paying someone sitting in a booth as we did in years past.
I suspect that gates will be a thing of the past as more and more parking lots and garages use cameras and LPR to manage, process payments and control parking. So, even with these technology advancements, parking management firms have flourished and are busier than ever.
In short, even with all of the hype surrounding autonomous vehicles, I’m more confident than ever that our industry will continue to thrive as we adapt to the changes in technology, as we have done since our industry started.
Mike Martindill serves as Vice President for Timothy Haahs & Associates, Inc. (TimHaahs). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.