There is scope for British companies to join the smart parking race in China, which will reduce pollution and ease congestion, writes Jake Mendrik
Not long ago there were well over 1,000 new cars hitting the streets of Beijing every single day. Nationally, Chinese customers were buying nearly 1.5 million cars each month for the first years of this decade. The congestion and the pollution that these new cars caused eventually led to cities such as Beijing putting restrictions on the number of new cars sold.
Limiting the number of new license plates issued and restricting drivers to only driving on certain days, whilst aimed at easing congestion and pollution, hasn’t made much difference. Fundamentally, Chinese cities need to do two things. Firstly, more roads will help people move faster (the average travel speed in China is only 7.5 miles per hour, compared to 18 miles an hour in London) and sort out the terrible parking situation.
China’s largest cities have only 0.8 parking spaces for every car in the city. That drops to 0.5 when applied to small or medium-sized cities. So the Chinese government has called for an additional 50 million parking spaces to bump the ratio up to the internationally accepted rate of 1.3 spaces per car.
On average, it takes 18 minutes to park in China and this contributes to 30 minutes of traffic congestion. Worse still is that it is estimated that 45 percent of parking spaces in China’s large cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen) aren’t fully occupied.
Now, as well as simply creating more spaces, China is on a mission to create more smart parking spaces. Currently, only 7 percent of China’s parking spaces are smart but the demand for smart city applications within the parking sector is set to explode, with the market being valued at USD $1.5 billion by 2025 – an increase of over 350 percent from 2016.
Autonomous vehicles will be told where to park by the smart parking bays
Coming under the umbrella of “innovation” and “greening” – two of the governments focus areas – there will be a number of beneficial regulations designed to support the sector and maximise growth.
What is smart parking?
Whilst hardware solutions, such as robots that help park cars, have been trialled in various Chinese cities, it is more likely that more affordable wireless sensors will be the future of the parking industry. Fitted to individual parking bays, the sensors alert drivers to unoccupied bays.
As autonomous vehicles (AV) or self-driving vehicles become more prevalent, cars will be connected to other relevant technology. Known as the Internet of Things (IoT), one piece of technology will talk to another without having to go through a human. As an example, autonomous vehicles will be told where to park by smart parking bays.
As recently as December 2017, unmanned smart parking projects that utilised audio-visual technology were successfully trialled at the Auto-Innovation Park in Shanghai’s Jiading District with plans for commercial use in the new year.
It is also likely that the future smart bays will be equipped with charging stations to meet the new wave of electric vehicles (EV) that are expected to flood the Chinese market in the near future.
Much of the technology is already here. Tech companies already provide apps that alert drivers to areas of congestion, give real time accident information, and highlight toll areas. Companies such as Just Park provide real time information on private parking places in the UK and allow payments to be made online. Some Chinese start-ups offer perks for EV drivers, and others even provide valet services at VIP parking spots. For an urban population that has quickly adapted to the IoT and app-based services, tech firms are having to find new and original ways to stay ahead of the competition.
Key opportunities for British enterprises
Although there are a growing number of companies within the smart parking sector already established in China, problems regarding key issues still need to be solved.
Firstly, both Chinese municipal authorities and private enterprise lack the experience and expertise needed to set-up the efficient and cost-effective data collection networks that are needed to ensure drivers are given the best quality service. They are therefore looking outwards for help in smart system formation and management. Telensa, a British-based company, has already supplied its services to cities around the world such as Moscow and Shenzhen and is reflective of the kind of skills that British companies could usefully export.
Once these systems are in place, companies may also become inundated with vast quantities of data and struggle to use it effectively. This is another area in which UK companies can provide a service.
Guangdong State Traffic Association (GSTA) has specifically targeted the UK as a possible supplier for electric charging stations and wireless sensors. This demand will most likely continue to grow in the coming years with the continued government-backed development of smart city technology and EVs.
While the industry faces a number of obstacles, its position within the smart technology movement ensures a bright future. Through cooperation with either through the numerous innovation centres across China or in joint venture with suitable partners, the time is right for British enterprises to get involved.