How to Save Time Hunting for a Parking Spot, South Korea Edition

Our recent podcast “Parking Is Hell” explored the high costs of free parking. Transportation scholar Donald Shoup described one study, from L.A.:

We made 240 observations. When you add it up, the average time it took to space was only three minutes, that’s two and a half times around the block, which doesn’t seem like very much. It’s about half a mile hunting for parking. But when you add up all the people who are parking in Westwood Village, if they had the same average that we had, that adds up to 3,600 vehicle miles of travel a day. That’s the distance across the U.S., and that’s just in the 15-block area of Westwood. If you add it up for a year, that’s equal to 36 trips around the Earth or four trips to the moon hunting for underpriced curb parking in a little 15-block area. 

In South Korea, an oil company has started a campaign to reduce parking search time. The HERE campaign states that South Korean drivers wander 500 meters everyday for parking spots; by cleverly installing a balloon that indicates exactly where open spots are, it reduces search time for drivers. The balloon dips down when a car is parked, and floats back up when the spot is free. The video is worth watching:

(HT: Dan Gibson)

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  1. j says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • bob says:

      If a municipality wanted to enact similar policy in their downtown parking, or a big department store wanted to implement this in their parking, there’s nothing the oil companies can do about that short of bribing said stores/municipalities to not do it.

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    • J1 says:

      I’m interested in how oil companies could or would stop this. Thoughts?

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  2. andrea says:

    We do have something similar in the US actuallyactually. In a parking structure in LA they had lights above the parking spots. Green if it was free, red if it was taken. Easy enough haha. It was awesome because you new to skip a row by looking down and seeing all red :) The balloon idea would be great to save money but you would waste time daily replacing balloons.

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    • Jeremiah Stanghini says:

      Looks like we were on the same wavelength.

      I opened this tab, but didn’t read it right away so my comment seems unnecessarily duplicative. Ah well.

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    • bob says:

      This is what I want to see, light posts telling you whether a spot is free or not. It’s a much better idea than balloons. I wonder why the Koreans didn’t come up with it for their situation. Do they not have traffic lights in Korea or something?

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      • JT Batchelor says:

        Yea, but if you used red and green lights, it would use more electricity, thus wasting more energy. And yes there are traffic lights in Korea. Not to mention more traffic than you’ve ever seen or probably will see in the US.

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    • ted says:

      Andrea, the video showed an open-space (under the sky) parking lot.
      you were pertaining to a multi-story parking lot where red & green led lights can be mounted.

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  3. Benjamin says:

    Using balloons is cute, but floating balloons will contribute the helium shortage.

    Don’t use helium balloons: Save the helium for research and cooling MRI machines instead!

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  4. Jeremiah Stanghini says:

    I’ll piggyback on the less cynical point that J makes — popping.

    While the idea in principle is great, I worry about the “maintenance” for the balloons. That is, will heavy precipitation pop them? What happens when they lose their air and are no longer buoyant?

    A better idea that builds on this principle be some sort of electronic system that you see in parking garages these days. The series of green/red lights tell you whether there are parking spaces down certain aisles. I realize that the cost of this system requires a greater upfront cost, but it’d probably be more successful.

    Then again, there’s probably only one place for “S Oil” to put there name (upon exiting/entering) whereas with this balloon idea, they can put it in every parking space.

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  5. Nicole G. says:

    I’m just wondering why the balloons are written in English?

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  6. Elliot Krane says:

    It may save oil but it consumes a lot of helium! The idea is obviously a clever marketing ploy for a cynical oil company, but is not scalable, or even feasible in limited areas considering the attrition rates for strings and balloons.

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  7. bob says:

    I like it, though I think a better idea would be to have posts next to each spot that light up when the spot is free.

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  8. Sam says:

    Labor rates influence the country’s system for dealing with parking. In China, parking attendant is a sought after job. Every block, or at least Chinese equivalent of a block, has 24-hour parking attendants, who efficiently control the whole process including collection of parking fees. With bloated labor force in a state controlled economy, the Chinese solution works. The use distinctive traffic cones to signal open spots. The traffic cones double as visual ques for a parking driver when the attendant is engaged elsewhere.

    In Mexico, every block is “owned” by a car-parker. The person is homeless and lives on the block. The parking fees is their income. In addition to parking the car owner gets security. Anyone parking a car on an unattended block will likely not find their car upon returning. The car-parker also is the de-facto community bulletin board. He, I have never seen a female car-parker, has all the information, including gossip, for any house or business on his block. The distinctive twirling red towel highlights the car-parker for the driver.

    South Korea needs balloons only because of the lack on an excess labor pool.

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