Autonomous cars could take parking bonds for a ride

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WASHINGTON - Urban areas may have to turn to other resources to secure parking funds if autonomous vehicles take hold in the near future.

In a recent Fitch Ratings report, “The Effect of Autonomous Vehicles on Parking Assets,” the agency predicted that self-driving cars could have a negative effect on toll roads and urban parking.

However, Fitch Ratings Associate Director Anne Tricerri stressed that the timing and extent of the effect of autonomous vehicles on ratings remains uncertain.

In the report, analysts studied parking structures from Philadelphia to Miami to Colorado to access vulnerability to declines in demand for parking.

Parking assets in cities, which include on-street and off-street parking are expected to be the most vulnerable, Tricerri said. When cars are fully autonomous, they will most likely be restricted to a geo-fenced area.

Tricerri added some parking credits have double-barreled bonds, backed by parking revenues and taxes, which provides additional funding if there is a decline in revenue.

The effect would be a case by case basis depending on if cities plan to be innovative as autonomous vehicles come into focus, said Tricerri. Cities could have a more difficult time if technology catches on quickly, or have time to adapt if autonomous vehicles are slower to take effect, Tricerri said.

“We haven’t taken action on ratings,” Fitch Senior Director Chad Lewis said. “But we are closely monitoring the situation.”

Fitch analysts believe urban parking is most at risk because autonomous cars could drop off passengers and travel to cheaper parking on the outskirts of cities.

Currently, infrastructure is lacking for autonomous vehicles and would need radars and cameras to digitally map out roads, according to the report.

So far, autonomous vehicle developers are progressively taking initiative of new technology to outfit the remote cars, but some roads have started making infrastructure improvements. The Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes have plans to install fiber-optic cables by adding wireless sensors, installing charging stations and constructing electronic tolls.

In 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration reported parking and ground transportation made up 42% of airport revenue from sources including airline fees. Some airports charge a fee for companies such as Uber and Lyft to drop off and pick up customers, said Fitch analysts.

Brooks Rainwater, senior executive director of the National League of Cities Center for City Solutions, said urban areas will find other ways to find funding besides parking.

Cities could find additional funding sources by switching to vehicle mile traveled taxes — in which a transponder is placed in the car and driver would be charged a fee per mile, Rainwater said.

Autonomous vehicles could drastically impact land uses by shrinking roadways and creating new opportunities for development that would collect additional property taxes through denser construction.

He added autonomous vehicles could be a part of everyday use within the next five years.

As for parking’s future in urban areas, Rainwater doesn’t see it diminishing completely, but he does see the increasing focus in cities beingto help people rather than cars.

“Cities are first and foremost about people, and with the advent of autonomous vehicles, it will be up to policymakers to effectively shepherd in a future that is less dependent on individually owned vehicles and more dependent on public transportation, walking, biking and shared autonomous vehicles,” he said.

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