A new simulation of what autonomous vehicles (AVs) would do for parking after dropping passengers off in a city shows that owners of downtown garages should be thinking now about attracting them, its organizers say.

The simulation started with occupancy and rate data for off-street garages and lots in downtown Seattle. It then simulated privately owned AVs looking for parking in the area, basing decisions on availability and cost. Organizers say the results were that cars easily found free or inexpensive, available parking on the outskirts of town–and unlike human-driven cars, they didn’t mind traveling extra miles to do it.

“If all private cars parking downtown were AVs, the total daily miles traveled by cars in Seattle would increase by about 2.5 percent, with each AV traveling an additional 8.5 miles each day on average,” organizers write. “That change, even if it sounds small, could cause congestion along heavily traveled routes depending on the time day and the mix of human-driven vehicles on the road.”

“Our simulation shows that there is enough free parking just outside downtown Seattle that AVs would no longer choose to park in downtown lots. At current prices it’s more economical to travel for free parking than to park in a paid lot.”

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