How smart parking is tackling China’s parking crisis

In 2018 that the number of cars on China’s roads exceeds 385 million, revealed a study published by Tsinghua University. With only an estimated 800,000 parking lots and 30 million of-street parking spaces, China is facing a parking crisis. There is also a strong uneven distribution of those parking spaces. On average first and second tier cities have 0.8 parking spaces available per car, with the availability in small and medium-sized city dropping as low as 0.5 parking spaces per car.

Furthermore, simply finding a parking space where it is needed is nearly impossible. Parking in those spaces can also be difficult for novice drivers, with many being extremely small. Once a parking space is found, drivers are faced with fees that are not transparent and very high.

Inefficient parking also significantly impacts traffic flow. Statistics show that 30% of traffic congestion problems are caused by parking difficulties, and 48% of vehicles need to wait in line when entering and leaving the parking lot.

With the number of cars on China’s roads steadily increasing, parking is becoming a top priority.

Smart parking is becoming the “new favourite” industry

The commercial value of the parking industry is enormous. China has an estimated parking gap of 60 million. The China Industrial Research Institute predicts that the smart parking industry will reach a market size of RMB 10 trillion in the future. In addition, there are data showing that the market size of smart parking in the first half of 2018 has exceeded 10 billion globally. Currently the smart parking industry has a scale of USD 26 billion, growing at a rate of 18%.

Smart parking can use parking data in various regions, and allocate parking spaces based on availability, thus improving parking space utilisation.  The system allows users to reserve and find parking spaces with the ease of their mobile phones. Furthermore smart parking creates a more transparent and fair pricing system. Payments can be made online based on a clear pricing structure. The system is self-managing, therefore further reducing parking costs.

Smart parking – still not that smart

Work on smart parking systems started in early 2014. Although the market reached a global scale of 10 billion, the system has not been applied on a large scale. In China coverage currently reaches only around 7%.

The reason that smart parking is not developing as fast as initially hoped for is because smart parking is not yet smart enough. The industry is currently highly fragmented with 38 different enterprises developing systems independent from each other. Currently no public data sharing platform exists. Furthermore, developing the necessary infrastructure is incurring high costs. Smart parking requires the use of wireless communication technology, mobile technology, GPS positioning technology, etc. In addition, engineering integration costs are high.

China Report Network data shows that 800,000 parking lots nationwide can be considered for smart parking in the next 5 years. The cost of converting a single parking lot is about RMB 100,000, making the overall expected costs at RMB 160 billion.

According to data released by Zhiyan Consulting Network, the number of car ownership in China is expected to reach 280 million by 2020 and 360 million by 2025. In 2017, the demand for parking spaces reached 270 million. In 2018, the demand for parking spaces will be nearly 300 million, with an annual growth rate of 11%. By 2025, parking demand will reach 600 million. Currently only 250 million parking spaces exist. Although smart parking can significantly increase utilisation rate of existing parking spaces, it will not be able to resolve the fundamental issue – insufficient parking spaces for increasing numbers of cars.

Germany’s Chinatown in Duisburg – How the Ruhr Area wants to benefit from the Silk Road 2.0

In Duisburg ends an 11,000-kilometer rail line – China’s new Silk Road. The trains from the Far East not only bring goods, they change the Ruhr metropolis.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has become a changing point for the German city Duisburg. Increasing numbers of Chinese companies are now becoming interested in the Duisburg location. German newspaper Das Handelsblatt followed a delegation on their tour through the Duisburg industrial area.

The black minibus stops. All passengers pull out their smartphones. The man in the passenger seat says a few words. The rest take photos. Then they drive on. A woman is constantly filming through the tinted windows because she does not want to miss anything: warehouses, tank silos and containers. Sightseeing in the Duisburg industrial area.

The five passengers are not tourists, but business people from Chengdu, China. The man in the passenger seat is not a tour guide, but project manager of the port company Duisport. Instead of planning a project, today he is selling a product; the Duisburg location.

The Duisport project manager explains to the delegation that the industrial wasteland will be transformed into a state of the art industrial port. Siemens, Audi and other companies have already settled here. A traffic control system that reduces waiting times for trucks had also been installed. The women and men do what they will do the rest of the day; they nod and take pictures.

Shortly afterwards the bus waits in front of a barrier. The Chinese delegates point their smartphone cameras at the railroad crossing. A train rolls in front of their camera. It is loaded with containers bearing the logos of the Chinese shipping company Cosco and the state-owned railway company China Railway. A hundred meters away, three cranes are waiting to unload the train. The cargo consists mainly of electronics and textiles.

The Duisburg inland port is the end of an 11,000-kilometer railway line. It leads from China via Kazakhstan, Russia and Poland to Germany. Up to 35 trains run weekly on the route, three to five from Chengdu. On the way back the trains bring German cars and consumer goods to China.

Since the smelters and collieries have closed, Duisburg has become one of Germany’s economically most disadvantaged cities. The unemployment rate of 11.5 percent is more than twice as high as the national average. The city has high hopes that the train connection to China will change that. It wants to convince Chinese business people to send more trains to Duisburg.

Hope in the structural change

That’s why second mayor Volker Mosblech is waiting for the black minibus in the town hall. The suit of Duisburg’s second mayor carries two pins, one of a German flag, one of a Chinese flag. He proudly presents them as he welcomes the members of the Chinese business delegation.

The City of Duisburg has printed Chinese business cards for its employees. For every card Mosblech gets from the Chinese delegates, he gives them one of his own. He hands them over with both hands – as is customary in China.

The mayor and his colleagues tell the Chinese about the advantages of the location: 300,000 companies are located within a radius of 150 kilometres, 30 million consumers live in the region and the existing Chinese network that has made Duisburg known as Germany’s Chinatown.

The city has even appointed a China commissioner to oversee relations with the China and has established a China Business Network to attract Chinese companies to the city. Meanwhile the Confucius Institute invites the people of Duisburig to tea ceremonies and calligraphy courses to introduce them to the Far Eastern culture.

The cityscape changes

The Duisburg University Library is full, despite the term break. Mainly Chinese students are studying here. They sit in groups of four or five people. One has put a pillow under his head and takes a nap. The rest are staring at their laptops.

Over 2,000 Chinese students are enrolled at the University of Duisburg-Essen, most of them at the Faculty of Engineering in Duisburg. The majority will return home after graduation. But that could change.

If you go from the university to the main train station, you pass Chinese supermarkets and tailors. From time to time, the smell of peanut oil from Chinese restaurants mixes with the scent of Turkish food stalls.

Bangni also has its headquarters here. The start-up helps Chinese people in Duisburg to find a job and a flat. It also advises German companies on China issues and Chinese companies settling in the city.

There are currently only 100 Chinese companies in the city. However, the number could quadruple within a few years. Duisburg based Chinese company, Starhai wants to invest €260 million into a new trading centre, where previously has been industrial waste land. Starhai has already raised the money with the help of Chinese investors.

Offices, hotels and function rooms are to be built on 60,000 square meters for 300 Chinese companies, who will organise their Central European sales from there – and bring 2000 jobs to Duisburg.

Five kilometres south of the site, the black minibus stops at the spot where China’s President Xi Jinping made a speech in 2014. You can see one thing above all: asphalt. The delegation still photographs.

On the way back to the hotel, the Chinese go through the pictures on their smartphones. They have a good impression from Duisburg, they say. The next day the delegation is expected in Nuremberg. Regular trains from China also stop there.

(Photo: picture alliance/Tang ke – Imaginechina)

1.76 million cars but no traffic jam? In the metropolis of Wuxi, China is testing connected driving

The city of Wuxi shows how China plays a leading role in autonomous traffic – thanks to government support and international technology.

Connected driving is already part of everyday life in Wuxi.

A drive through most Chinese city centres consists of blocked roads, concerts of honking motorists and long queues, yet in the new centre of Wuxi none of this can be seen. Traffic is running smoothly.

This is a minor miracle. The number of cars in the metropolis northwest of Shanghai has doubled since 2011 to more than 1.76 million. However, the Chinese are testing the networked driving of the future in this part of the city centre. Unhindered traffic flow, improved safety and efficiency are the main goals of the highly-equipped traffic technology.

Cars, buses, traffic lights and electronic signs are networked, share traffic information and warn of potential hazards. The cars are connected to the infrastructure and the other road users via the LTE mobile network. In Wuxi, the world can marvel at how China wants to get involved in connected driving at the top of the world.

The project has the backing of the Chinese government. Also involved are German companies that contribute important technological know-how. Last Monday (10 July), China and Germany signed an agreement during their intergovernmental consultations to expand cooperation and exchange in autonomous driving.

Audi technology for better traffic flow

Audi brought “Traffic Light Information” traffic technology to Wuxi, allowing data exchange between cars and traffic lights. By knowing how long the green light will last, drivers can adjust their speed accordingly.

The traffic lights use information forwarded by vehicles to calculate whether it should switch faster or slower in order to improve traffic flow. According to Audi’s calculations, such a system could reduce CO2 emissions by 15%.

The first trial for Wuxi began last September at six intersections. Now Wuxi is in the second testing phase. By the end of July, one sixth of the city will be equipped with the special LTE and 220 traffic lights with radio modules.

By 2019, the technology should work nationwide and be installed in about 100,000 cars.

In addition to Audi, the city, the network operator China Mobile and the network equipment supplier Huawei are involved in the project. It is promoted and supervised by the Ministry of Security, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Cooperation between public and private sector is exemplary

“In terms of cooperation between government and private sector, Germany is far ahead,” says Michael Adick, head of the Chinese car division at Accenture. Kevin Li of Strategy Analytic, sees this as the strength of the Chinese project. “Connected driving is complex, it involves public and private data and has many players. The earlier they coordinate, the faster they can find common standards.”

Xiong Wei, who oversees technology giant Huawei’s Wuxi project, believes that, “If you want to grow networked driving, you need the support of a central government. Unfortunately, Europeans find it difficult to reach a consensus among different countries. But with China’s strong government, it’s easy.”

Audi managers in China made similar suggestions: “Europe could do so much more. But everything is discussed to death. China simply provides the better environment. That’s why we have to develop here.” Audi plans to expand its development department in China from 280 to 650 employees over the next few years. 200 of them are solely dedicated to work on networked and autonomous driving.

Technology and expertise are moving where demand exists: Audi has produced the “Traffic Light Information” for more than four years. So far, the manufacturer has already tested the system in Ingolstadt, Berlin and Las Vegas. But in Wuxi, it’s happening for the first time on a large scale and using the LTE instead of Wi-Fi.

This is facilitated by Huawei. “Not only do we want to offer solutions, we also want to build an ecosystem that in the long run can be used not only in China but worldwide. That’s why we have invited many foreign companies,” says Huawei manager Xiong. In the process, they have companies known for strong research and development.

Cities seek solutions to clogged roads

China’s systematic approach to mobility is outlined in the national “Medium to Long Term Car Development Plan”. It states that 10% of cars in China will be equipped with systems for connected driving by 2020. 25% of all cars entering the market are expected to be able to offer Level 4 or Level 5 driver assistants (make part or all of the driving decisions themselves) by 2025.

There are two approaches to advancing autonomous driving: either the car itself becomes smarter and makes decisions on its own, or decisions are made at a traffic centre that is networked with the infrastructure. China has shown to favour the second approach, because it allows better control of traffic flow. Clogged roads are a big problem in Chinese cities.

But the IT Ministry wants to test all options. In selected provinces in the north, for example, driving in icy and snowy areas is tested. Other cities are also involved in the project. But Wuxi is the most complex testing area – driving is not used in a sealed off test zone, but in the city centre.

In addition, all key decision-makers are involved from the start. This is important because not only the technology in the car is important in networked driving, but also communication with public infrastructure, telecommunications networks and other road users.

Decentralised initiatives and local experiments are popular testing methods of the Chinese government. China commonly approaches changes “from the point to the surface” – meaning if the project proves successful in the administrative practice of a region, nationwide laws are enacted and the projects implemented nationwide.

In China, plans are realised faster because the government has a vision, recognises Accenture consultant Adick. “Digitization does not just happen inside a company, it’s promoted along the entire value chain by the government”

Chinese are more open to new technology

Furthermore, Chinese citizens are generally more open to new technology. According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, Chinese are fundamentally more open-minded than Europeans when it comes to autonomous driving. 75% said they would sit in a robot car, compared with 45% of Europeans.

However, China has to catch up. Huawei manager Xiong admits that compared with the US, the technology of networked driving is still lagging behind. “But we’re narrowing the gap very quickly, because we’re investing a lot of resources, bringing all the players together and looking at how to use it. America does not understand that in connected driving, businesses can’t compete. It’s joint effort.”

“Cooperation has its advantages, but also pitfalls. You learn a lot from each other, reports, employees from Huawei and Audi. After all, one does not know each other’s industry so well. At the beginning of such a development it was not all about profit,” Xiong commented. “We want to bring the entire industry forward and the more data you can collect, the better you can do research.”

For taxi driver Wang Xiubao, all these developments have long become part of everyday life. Since last summer, a chip has been installed in his taxi’s window, which tracks how many cars are at a traffic light for how long. “I cannot wait to start the next phase of the tests,” he says proudly. “I think it’s good that we are worldwide at the forefront of this technology.”