Smart parking solutions in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of Europe’s greenest cities, with its compact size, ample bike paths and wide pavements making it a haven for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Parking a car, however, can be a bit of a nightmare. It’s expensive, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to find a parking space. By 2025, the city will remove between 7,000 to 10,000 of them.
Frustrating perhaps, but there is a reason. “The city is booming, and we want to make space for bikers, pedestrians and public transport,” says city spokesperson Margreet Hoedjes. “To stay in control of the livability of the city, that means less space for cars."
Parking-free streets and reduced traffic in the city centre are all part of the equation. “The increase in tourism, city migration and a building boom has made the pressure on public space in the city so huge,” says Rob Ebbing, a partner at the parking consultancy firm Spark, which advises the City of Amsterdam. “The local government says it has to increase rates and take other measures to take back more space.”
The numbers are staggering: Most cars sit idle for six out of seven days a week. Some 30 per cent of a driver’s time in Amsterdam is spent looking for parking. And one-third of the city’s traffic is caused by people looking for spots. This “search traffic” leads to congestion, pollution and increased fuel consumption, not to mention a good deal of frustration.
Reducing the number of vehicles in Amsterdam
Everyone – from car-sharing services to city officials, businesses, startups and residents – seems to share the same goal of reducing the number of vehicles in the city. It’s how to get there that’s in play.
“We’re not big fans of cars in cities,” says Juriaan Karsten, co-founder of Parkeagle, a smart parking app that helps drivers find spots by using wireless sensors. The sensors provide real-time parking data on available spaces that users can access on their car’s dashboards. “But this is an interim solution for the coming years. We’ll be successful if we can nudge cities to be greener and more efficient and automated.” Parkeagle also helps local businesses manage their crowded parking lots, including Amstelveen insurance company Vivant.
Upping the intelligence quotient of Amsterdam parking is the soon-to-be-rolled out Peazy, the AI-based parking discovery platform. It forgoes expensive sensors by using a machine learning model to help drivers find the nearest vacant parking lot.
Mobypark, the Airbnb of parking, links up people seeking spots with those who want to rent theirs out, while Dutch startup ParkBee converts unused private car parks – think office lots on nights and weekends – into income-generating paid parking spaces via the Parkmobile and Park-line apps. “Like Booking.com does with the hotel market, these parking brokers are making the market more transparent,” says Spark’s Ebbing. “As drivers are better informed, there will be a disruption of the parking market.”
But while such parking apps lead to better use of shared space, Ebbing says they also make planning more complex for the City. “Many different stakeholders claim the scarce valuable public space. With all the upcoming developments – electric cars with “exclusive” parking spaces, shared vehicles and bikes – making policy is complex.”
Car sharing is on the rise in Amsterdam
Car sharing, which the city promotes, is a prime example. Companies like car2go and the new Renault-backed Fetch Car Sharing service need free-floating spots to park their cars. “Parking is one of the most important parts of our proposition,” says Robert Bosman, Location Manager of car2go Amsterdam. “People won’t use car sharing services if they can’t park.” While the number of free-floating cars allowed to a single provider will increase from 350 to 500 next year, Bosman says the city needs to provide new parking solutions for them, too, including car sharing hubs outside the centre and more free-floating spaces incorporated into newer areas. The Zuidas, he says, is doing a good job.
Photo: Amsterdam's Zuidas business district
New schemes to help reduce on-street parking
The city is investing heavily in underground – and even underwater – garages. There’s the recently opened underwater garage with space for 600 in the Frans Halsbuurt, where on-street parking has literally vanished. There’s another new garage sandwiched in between the new metro station at the Rokin and street level. “It’s best to hide cars in the inner city,” says Ebbing. “For every two spaces we create underground, one is off the pavement. But it’s expensive.”
The city is encouraging drivers instead to make use of its eight Park and Ride (P+R) lots outside the centre, where people can park for a fraction of the cost of parking spots in the city centre and then use public transport to travel into the city. The City of Amsterdam’s website shows how many spaces are available and is updated by the minute.
There’s also Park & Call, which lets drivers pay for parking via apps including Park-line, Parkmobile, City Parking and Yellowbrick. And next year, the City will start building a fully-automated underground garage on the Vijzelstraat in the city centre. When completed people will be able to drop off their car and let the garage take care of the rest, with motion sensors making sure the vehicle is empty before parking it automatically.
Smart parking solutions are also being used at the Port of Amsterdam, where The Things Network uses wireless Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) technology and smart parking sensors to guide trucks to available spaces. By controlling mobility through the port, The Things Network helps “decrease haphazard searching, pollution and overcrowding, while improving safety,” says Alexander Overtoom, The Things Network’s head of business development.
As the city shifts away from car ownership and reclaims its public spaces, it’s a balancing act of competing interests. “It’s all about choices,” says the city’s Margreet Hoedjes of Amsterdam’s changing landscape. “If we make space for bikers, pedestrians and public transport, there will be less space for cars. But we will keep Amsterdam a livable city.”