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Could Parking Garages Be Phased Out by Autonomous Cars?

Texas  + Weekender  | 

With the arrival of viable private autonomous vehicles on the horizon, some industries are preparing for changes that may come from a reduced need for parking personal vehicles.

“It is no longer a matter of if driverless cars will be on the road, it’s a matter of when,” said Rand Stephens, Avison Young Principal and Managing Director of the company’s Houston office. “And, that when is sooner than most people think.”

In Houston, certain grocery stores are already delivering groceries to homes using autonomous vehicles, according to Stephens, and the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority, in partnership with Texas Southern University (TSU), will begin phase one of their first autonomous vehicle pilot this June for use in shuttles at TSU during the Summer semester.

Elsewhere, rideshare giants Uber and Lyft are banking on the rise of autonomous vehicles to finally turn a profit.

Since theoretically a driverless car would rarely need to park because it would drop off passengers at a destination, then continue to pick up another passenger, the need for parking surface lots and garages would be greatly reduced.

“Street parking could be replaced with drop-off/pick-up zones, and parking garages could become urban mobility hubs where autonomous vehicles will refuel, recharge and undergo cleaning and maintenance,” writes Stephens. “All this is still dependent on how many will actually use this new technology. We know it’s coming, but it will be a while before it becomes an actual way of life.”

In Downtown Houston, there are approximately 100,000 parking spaces in 42 existing properties classified as parking garages, according to DowntownHouston.org. About 160,000 people work in Downtown Houston and roughly 60% drive to work.

But with the population in many urban centers continuing to rise, Stephens says it’s not a slam dunk that parking garages will become obsolete anytime soon. And since adaptive re-use can be costly – as much as $100-per-square-foot – it would make more sense to tear them down.

“It will be a gradual transition,” he writes. “It is likely to start with transforming street parking into mobility drop-off/pick-up spots and delivery zones. Perhaps that will be the next ‘must have’ amenity that tenants will be looking for. Parking lease clauses will be augmented with language providing for mobility usage that ensures building and garage access by autonomous electric vehicles. It will be interesting to see how developers, landlords, tenants and brokers will respond to this transportation revolution, and what innovative solutions will emerge.”

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About David Cohen

David Cohen is Southeast Editorial Director at Connect Commercial Real Estate. David is a media veteran with more than 10 years of experience in journalism, copywriting and communications across a variety of roles. He is responsible for covering commercial real estate news and trends in the Southeast, Florida, Washington D.C. and Boston at Connect CRE as well as specializing in the Student Housing sector. Prior to joining Connect, David was the editor of Northeast Real Estate Business magazine and Student Housing Business magazine at France Media as well as spending time freelancing for ESPN and the Associated Press in the fast-paced field of live sports event production. He is also an owner and investor in multifamily real estate in Atlanta, GA. David currently resides in Atlanta and graduated from the College of Communication & Information at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.