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The changing face of the retail car park

Over the next decade we will see a seismic shift in the way we travel from A-B. Widespread automation, together with electrification and the increased connectivity of transport and society will not only shake-up the automotive industry, but it will also bring the imminent need for change. Driven by government policies around air quality and the rise of urban living, private trips into city centres are declining. This distinct change in how we transport ourselves presents retailers, car park operators and planners with a real opportunity to put themselves ahead of the curve. 

Whilst fully electric vehicles (EVs) may only make up 2% of the global market right now, the shift to alternative fuels will encourage a price drop below that of petrol cars and by the mid-2020s their market share is set to balloon. Not only that, but the way that transport is operated will shift dramatically and we won’t be the ones driving anymore. As the sharing economy and mobility as a service (MaaS) models become the norm, the consumer need for private parking will dramatically reduce. But what do these changes mean for retailers and how can the industry adapt?

The need for collaboration in future-proofing the city centre car park

We can already see ridesharing is on the rise as part of a wider shift towards the sharing economy. In Moscow, 9 million of these journeys are already made on a daily basis, 30 times higher than at the start of 2018 and – in a bid to make the end-to-end transport experience as seamless as possible – Uber has added a ‘Transit’ feature to the app in some locations to show users public transport options for their journey as well as offering its traditional ride-sharing service. 

Looking forward to 2050, it is anticipated that 80% of journeys will be ride-hailed connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs). Not only is this a chance for retailers and car park managers to profit by building destinations that cater for the evolving MaaS model, but they could also learn a thing or two from a brand that has forged its own path by reinventing the traditional taxi service to meet the evolving need of the consumer. 

Smart cityscapes are designed to be people-centric and enhance the human experience of urban life – not only by alleviating negative environmental impacts but by also improving the way people navigate the urban environment. Instead of being bystanders to the changing landscape, there is a huge opportunity for retailers, operators and planners to collaborate and maximise the technology at their fingertips. 

Critical to this is repurposing with added value, like using multi-storey car parks as part of wider developments, from building student accommodation to creating multi-use leisure sites.

The issue is the number of car parks that currently exist as a simple design and build, without the infrastructure to support re-development. Car parks, by their very nature, have space to their advantage, but this space will amount to nothing if it can’t be filled or successfully transformed for alternate uses. 

Remodeling car parks to support the rising demand of battery electric vehicles

Many countries have announced upcoming bans on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and whilst older cars will still be on the road, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will be a viable choice for a wide range of drivers by 2030. But for the uptake to be sustainable, the onus is on both the private and public sectors to work together to deliver the infrastructure that’s needed to meet the rise in charging demand. 

In addition to a network of EV charging points, the UK’s Department for Transport has unveiled a £40m plan to invest in the development of several different charging methods, including wireless charging systems to be embedded in car parks and along major highways to power up vehicles without the need for drivers to plug in.

While these kind of Scalextric-style solutions may seem far off, Sweden has already installed the world’s first e-road and a similar system is being tested in China. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to EV charging methods and we are likely to see a range of solutions implemented over time.

It is, however, all very well making huge strides and solving air pollution and congestion, but how will cities and towns cope with the ever-increasing demand on the electricity grid? An essential precursor to the widespread uptake of BEV and CAVs innovations will be to decentralise energy; allowing energy to be generated and distributed where it is needed. 

We should not assume that the existing grid can cope with the demand of thousands of battery-powered cars being plugged in at the same time, nor should retailers and car park operators assume that their infrastructure can meet the growing demand without change. The pace of change means the retail industry is playing catch-up with new technology. 

What’s definite is that they must strive to satisfy the needs of their customers, who, whether driving themselves or ride-hailing, often prioritise location and convenience above all else. As with all aspects of the consumer retail experience, it’s critical to make the journey from A-B as convenient and seamless as possible. 


Chris Evans, deputy managing director of Rolton Group

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