Transforming City Traffic: Managing Parking Spaces with Roman Benedetto
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Michael: Roman, thank you for your time, could you quickly tell us a little bit about yourself?

Roman: I’ve been working in various fields of the automotive industry in Europe and China for more than a decade now. During this time the idea developed that mobility has to be seen as more than a metal construction with 4 wheels and a combustion engine that brings you from an origin to a destination. Mobility has to be seen as a holistic approach including various modes of transportation connected by new technologies and digitalization, if we want to face upcoming challenges of the future in terms of sustainability and economic prosperity. Therefore, I founded a Smart Mobility think tank within EFS Consulting and a business development field, so that we at EFS consulting can bring our experience and knowledge to the table.

Michael: This is impressive, now we discussed prior to our talk, that mobility transformation is not an easy thing to do as it requires a lot of ingredients in order to be successful. What is your view on the current happenings in urban mobility and is it right, that you are currently working on a whitepaper about public parking?

Roman:I can agree with that 100%. Especially in individual mobility, i.e. as a private person traveling from A to B, it can currently be seen that the focus is on the drive of tomorrow's mobility. Will the mobility of tomorrow be characterized by electric, or hydrogen, or other forms? Personally, however, this discussion is too short-sighted for me. Regardless of which form of drive will move us in the future, the mobility of the future will need space. If you look at most of the world's road networks, many have grown in response to demand; they were rarely planned. If you compare the city of Vienna with New York, for example, I think it becomes very clear what I mean. New York, characterized by a planned grid pattern of main and cross streets and Vienna in comparison with small, winding alleys, or main streets, which 100 years ago connected different places. Along with the street grid came parking lots. 100 years ago, no one thought about where to park their car. They just parked where they wanted to stop. There is no doubt that we are on the verge of a mobility revolution, which at the same time is an opportunity to revolutionize parking – obviously this is an important part of the transformation of mobility.

This approach was the main reason why my team and I started to write the whitepaper "Parking - an intermediate good of modern economy". As the title suggests, the paper deals with the question of who can use public parking space, what regulations restrict this and how can its use be made more efficient in the long term, given the transformation of mobility.

Michael: That sounds very interesting. I think, you will agree, the search for a parking space is inextricably linked with vehicle use. For example, German drivers spend almost 41 hours a year looking for a parking space alone, in the city of Frankfurt more than 65 hours a year are used by drivers to find a spot for their car. Why is this a problem?

Roman: You're right, looking for a parking space is part of our mobility, but it doesn't serve any purpose in the true sense of the word- That's why we talk about the so-called "negative effects". The search for a parking space increases CO2 emissions, noise pollution and the risk of accidents and traffic jams. These negative effects must be avoided.

How can this be achieved? There are various levers. One is regulatory measures. One can limit parking space to certain groups, or set time limits for the public, for example. In Vienna, a short-term parking zone has been in effect in all districts since March 1, 2022. This means that one cannot park his vehicle for more than 2 hours between 09:00 am and 10:00 pm. Not only a time regulation exists, but additionally parking the vehicle is associated with costs, in Vienna € 1,10 per 30 minutes. In theory a great concept, on the one hand consider if it is worth the money. On the other hand, a maximum fluctuation of parking after 2 hours exists. However, in practice we see that this concept does not work. First, local authorities need to check the parking time. In fact, this does not happen in Vienna. Actually, you are only fined if you have no parking ticket. This leaves me with only the monetary component, and as we all know, that is a question of money.

Alternative concepts are more in demand than ever. Car-sharing models offer great potential for creating more parking space. At first glance, this sounds like a paradox. Why should "even more cars" help to create more parking space. A study by the MA18 – Municipal Department for Urban Planning - in Vienna has shown that in areas where the infrastructure is well developed, car sharing offers an alternative to the private car. Why is this the case? Many people want to be able to decide individually when and how they travel. They want to be as independent as possible. Public transportation is one way to travel "individually" in Vienna. But who does not know the situation, it rains, the wind blows the cold in the face and the car is in front of the door - it is tempting not to walk 5 minutes to the next station, but to decide for the car. And that's exactly where a car-sharing offer helps to part with a car as property. It offers the possibility to take a car in such weather even without ownership. I guess we could say that people are not attached to ownership (anymore), but to the individuality of getting around. Of course, this is just an example. In our whitepaper “Parking – an intermediate good of modern economy”, we continue to show adjusting screws that help us reduce parking search traffic. But I think I've gone a bit too far now (grin).

Michael: By the way, do you have any stats for Vienna about parking?

Roman: 2019 statistics showed that there are about 890,000 cars registered in Vienna. In the same year about 270,000 private parking spaces could be found. In 2020, about 300,000 paid public parking spaces could be identified. Different sources estimate that approx. 5 - 5.5% of the garages have a vacancy, also a vacancy up to 30% we have already heard.

Michael: Isn’t the importance of parking itself changing these days too?

Roman: A very good point that you raise here. Especially in urban areas we can observe a strong change, for example in the parking space obligation in new constructions. In cities such as Vienna, but also Munich or Berlin, fewer and fewer parking spaces have to be provided by the property developer. One reason for this handling on the part of the legislator is the large vacancy rate in garages. However, here we are talking about a parking space, which is assigned to a certain person. The existing housing often has no, or only a small possibility of individual parking space. In addition, the car is normally used to get from point A to B. Ergo, you need a parking space at the destination. If you don't find one immediately, the negative effects of parking search traffic that you mentioned above arise. So yes, parking space is changing, but not to the same extent everywhere, which in turn can contribute to a shortage.

Michael: What are the instruments to combat these parking challenges?

Roman: We have already talked about a few instruments. Following on from this, the expansion of public transport is of course an obvious step. But the best public infrastructure will not help if the last-mile issue is not solved. Earlier, we talked about the vacancy in private garages. These can also be made available to the public. A parking study by EFS Consulting, which was conducted in the 5th district in Vienna, shows very clearly that further regulation, for example in the form of resident parking, does not always make sense. (Further information you find in our whitepaper.) This is not to say that regulation by the legislature is not a valid measure. As already mentioned, since March 1, 2022 a Vienna-wide short-stay parking zone exists, especially in the outskirts can be seen that this provides more parking space, due to lack of commuters. A further measure is the complete exclusion of traffic. To reduce parking search traffic, currently, work is being done on displaying free parking spaces through the multimedia systems in the vehicles, or on intelligent parking garages, which make utilization plannable and offer more parking lots.

There are enough instruments, but “only” using them will not solve the issue. We can often observe that concepts are used across a whole city. In my opinion, this is not correct. Each area or district has different requirements and its own specifics that need to be considered. To be aware of the characteristic, to take them into account and to use measures wisely is the strongest instrument to regulate parking space efficiently and sustainably.  

Michael: Thank you Roman, we really appreciate these insights into the dilemma we are facing in most urban spaces, worldwide. Do you have a positive ending for us, maybe a change that you have seen happen in a particular town?

Roman: Definitely, I think we have already left “rock bottom" behind us. In many cities it is almost no longer possible and regardless of whether I am a supporter or an opponent of individual mobility, it is clear to everyone that it cannot continue like this. EFS Consulting is also, thank God, not the only company that deals with the issue. In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of talks, papers and think tanks on this topic. That's a good start.

Because you asked me for examples, in Barcelona there are the so-called super blocks. These are clusters of individual residential buildings, within which there is no individual traffic. I am pleased to report that Vienna has taken up this idea and is launching a pilot project along the same lines – the so called “Supergrätzl”. In Pontevedra, individual traffic was excluded in the entire city center. But individual traffic does not always have to be excluded. In Vienna, the MA18 study has shown that Car-Sharing has led to a reduction in the number of private cars. For me, these are lighthouse projects, as they show what is possible for example at the municipal level. Nevertheless, it makes no sense to apply these solutions to all cities in the world. Parking space is a living thing, and the requirements for it have to be solved individually.  

Photos courtesy of EFS Consulting & Schewig Fotodesign.