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Avoid parking search traffic: Strategies for cities & municipalities

On average, drivers in German cities spend 41 hours a year looking for a parking space. This is not only a burden for the drivers themselves, but also for local residents. Municipalities have various approaches to shorten the search for a parking space. Among other things, efficient, digitalized parking space management can help.

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How municipalities can effectively reduce parking search traffic: Solutions and measures

Parking search traffic has a negative impact on drivers and residents, especially in urban areas: Searching for a parking space costs time and money, and it also contributes to air pollution in municipalities. Cities and municipalities can reduce the time that road users spend looking for a parking space through various approaches. These include an attractive range of alternatives to private transport and optimized parking space management.

What does parking search traffic mean?

Parking search traffic refers to the proportion of total traffic caused solely by the search for available parking spaces. According to a 2017 study, drivers in German cities spend an average of 41 hours per year searching for a parking space, which results in additional costs of 896 euros per driver - taking into account the lost time, fuel consumption and additional exhaust pollution.

Causes of parking search traffic

According to the Federal Environment Agency, the number of motor vehicles in Germany has been rising continuously since 1991. On January 1, 2023, there were 48.8 million cars in Germany. Overall, the number of motor vehicles increased by 21.1 percent between 2008 and 2023. In addition, the number of larger cars has increased enormously: The number of smaller passenger cars has risen by two percent in the past ten years, while the number of vans, SUVs and the like has increased by 80 percent. The share of these vehicles in the total population has thus risen from 18 percent in 2013 to 29 percent in 2023. Overall, therefore, not only more, but in most cases also larger parking spaces are required. 

Inefficient or non-existent management of parking spaces can further exacerbate the situation and increase the proportion of people looking for parking even more. If parking on the roadside and in parking areas is possible for an unlimited period of time and free of charge, this creates incentives to park vehicles there permanently. For other visitors and residents, these parking spaces are then unavailable and they regularly have to spend more time looking for a free parking space.

Parking areas where a maximum parking time applies and drivers have to display a parking disc in their vehicle can also contribute to increased parking search traffic if compliance with the maximum parking time is only checked sporadically and the parking spaces are used permanently. A similar situation can arise if parking permits in residents' parking spaces are only checked sporadically and the spaces are also occupied by other parkers.

This also applies to managed parking areas where a parking ticket must be purchased in advance and displayed in the vehicle if there is no regular control and parkers then refrain from purchasing a parking ticket and park permanently free of charge.

In parking areas that are managed with barrier-based parking management systems, the probability that all parkers will pay for their stay is very high, but the barrier systems cause high costs. In addition to acquisition costs, maintenance, servicing and repair costs must also be factored in. If the barrier is defective, there is no income. Although such systems help to prevent parking spaces from being permanently over-occupied, the barrier systems can cause traffic jams due to the need to stop, pull out and push in tickets at the entrance and exit, which further prolongs the search for a parking space.

Effects of parking search traffic

In addition to unnecessary stress for the drivers themselves, searching for a parking space has other negative consequences. Constantly stopping and starting again in search of a free parking space increases the risk of rear-end collisions and traffic jams. The search for a free parking space pollutes the air, generates noise and thus reduces the quality of life of local residents. Overall, therefore, it is not only in the interests of drivers, but of all city residents and visitors if local authorities offer solutions to the problem of parking search traffic.

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Solutions for cities & municipalities

Local authorities can take action at various points to curb parking search traffic. Parking guidance systems and improved parking space management are part of this, but attractive alternatives to private motorized transport can also have a positive impact on the situation.

Improving parking space management

Cities and municipalities can reduce the amount of traffic searching for parking spaces by efficiently managing and signposting existing parking facilities. Visitors then drive directly to free parking spaces instead of wandering through the city in search of a parking space. 

The introduction of a digital, barrier-free parking system that works with license plate recognition is worthwhile in municipal parking lots, multi-storey parking lots and underground garages. By dispensing with barriers, there is no need to stop at the entrance and exit, which avoids tailbacks. License plate recognition allows non-payers to be tracked almost seamlessly. In contrast to parking areas where parking tickets have to be purchased in advance and are only checked sporadically, it is therefore no longer worthwhile to forgo paying for parking. For parkers who permanently occupy municipal parking spaces, these lose their attractiveness, freeing up more parking spaces and reducing the time spent searching for parking.

In most cities, there are parking areas that are completely empty at certain times, such as supermarket parking lots at night and on Sundays and public holidays, as well as underground parking lots in office buildings that are only needed by employees during the day from Monday to Friday. With a digital parking management system, these parking spaces can be rented out at night and at weekends to residents who do not need a parking space during the day, for example because they drive to work themselves and park their car there.

If a municipality has several parking lots and garages, the utilization of these - and thus also the parking search traffic - can be controlled via the tariffs: the fewer parking spaces are available in a parking lot, the more expensive it is to park there. In an underground garage, where there is still plenty of space, correspondingly lower rates apply. A digital parking management system provides information on the utilization of parking spaces. This means that prices can not only be set based on average occupancy, but tariffs can also be adjusted dynamically.

Through integration with a parking guidance system, parkers can then be guided to less busy parking spaces without detours and unnecessary searches. 

Promotion of alternatives to private transportation

In addition to the introduction of digital, barrier-free parking management solutions and parking guidance systems, municipalities can reduce parking search traffic by promoting alternative means of transportation. To this end, it is worth converting parking spaces into so-called mobility hubs. Various mobility options come together at these hubs, making it possible to switch to more sustainable forms of mobility and reducing traffic congestion.

This goes hand in hand with the promotion of cycling. It may also be worthwhile establishing car-sharing services and designating special parking facilities for these vehicles. Finally, the expansion of the public transport network can help to curb the search for parking spaces. Park-and-ride facilities in mobility hubs enable citizens and visitors to switch between modes of transportation.

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Best practice examples

The municipality of Bodman-Ludwigshafen on Lake Constance provides an example of where a digital, barrier-free parking management system has been successfully introduced to reduce parking search traffic. In August 2022, the municipality introduced a barrier-free digital parking system in four parking lots to make parking as quick and easy as possible and relieve the burden on local residents. The solution is part of a comprehensive traffic digitization project. It was particularly important to the tourist municipality to reduce search traffic, which was causing congested roads and noise in the village because people arriving in the area did not know where parking spaces were located, how many parking spaces were still available and at what price they could park there. 

Signs at the town entrances now indicate the various parking options in the town. Interested parties can also find the current utilization of the parking spaces on the municipality's website, in the navigation device and they can use their smartphone to find out where parking spaces are still available.

With the introduction of the digital parking management system, the municipality has also adapted its tour program to make the cheaper, off-street parking spaces more attractive. Previously, all tours started in the town center; now they start at the less central parking spaces, which also helps to equalize search traffic.

The municipality is satisfied with the result: The new parking guidance system and the ability to check availability in advance reduces search traffic and thus reduces the resulting CO2 emissions. Drivers can now drive directly to the parking spaces without having to wait in front of barriers. 

In the town of Miltenberg in Bavaria, a digital parking management system is also being used in four parking areas, preventing backlogs at the parking spaces and saving paper, waste and costs.


Search-and-park traffic costs drivers a lot of time, increases the risk of accidents in city centers and creates environmental pollution that has a negative impact on residents' quality of life. Avoiding this is therefore a goal of many local authorities. There are various approaches they can take. For example, they can strengthen alternatives to motorized private transport, such as expanding cycle paths and local public transport. The promotion of car-sharing services in conjunction with mobility hubs, which serve as central transfer points between different modes of transport, can also avoid traffic searching for parking spaces. Another key tool is the introduction of a digital, barrier-free parking management system to make efficient use of existing parking spaces. For example, parking spaces in supermarkets or shopping centers and office buildings that are vacant at night when the stores are closed and the offices are deserted can be rented by residents.

The integration of such smart parking space management systems into traffic guidance systems, which display the utilization of the spaces, can help people looking for a parking space to navigate directly to free parking spaces, as the examples from Bodman-Ludwigshafen and Miltenberg show.

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