Research: do commercial vehicles cruise for parking?

Urban curb-space is a scarce resource that must satisfy the concurrent needs of an increasing number of users, including passenger, commercial, ride-hailing, and public transit vehicles. In particular, there is an increasing demand for curb-space for commercial vehicles to park, load/unload, and deliver goods as more people live in urban areas, order more things online, and expect faster deliveries.

The increase in curb-space demand for commercial vehicles has often not been met with an increase in curb-space supply. One reason is that commercial vehicles are usually seen as a nuisance: they are larger and occupy more space, they generate more air and noise pollution than cars, and they often adopt parking behaviors that negatively affect other curb-space users.

Public intervention has often limited freight traffic to certain areas and time windows, while repurposing space to activities considered more environmentally friendly, e.g., by pedestrianizing urban areas and creating bike lanes, thereby further reducing available curb-space. Consequently, commercial vehicle drivers are experiencing greater challenges in finding available parking. The cost and externalities of these challenges are not yet known.

Cruising represents 28 percent of total trip time

A paper by Dalla Chiara and Goodchild fills in that gap, by testing an approach using existing data to analyze the phenomenon of cruising for parking from the perspective of commercial vehicle drivers performing deliveries and pick-ups in urban areas. They developed a method to empirically estimate cruising times for commercial vehicles by using GPS data that is robust enough for analysis of the impact of transport infrastructure on cruising times. For a set of trip times obtained from GPS tracking of parcel delivery vehicles operating in downtown Seattle, they subtracted the respective estimates of driving time, i.e., the time it would take the vehicle to directly drive to a given destination without searching for parking, to obtain what they defined as trip time deviations, which we ultimately consider as a good estimator of cruising time.

To have a complete view of commercial vehicle parking behaviors, all three behaviors must be considered: illegal parking behavior, cruising behavior, and willingness to walk. In their paper, the authors shed light on what is probably the least studied freight behavior: cruising behavior. Cruising represents 28 percent of the total trip time on average.

What can be done to reduce commercial vehicles cruising for parking?

One policy is allocating more curb-space to commercial vehicle load zones (CVLZs). Many urban areas not only often lack enough CVLZs, but also those available often do not suit the needs of larger trucks: they are too small, and they require unsafe maneuvers to access them. Cruising decreased as more curb-space was allocated to commercial vehicles parking.
Pricing is a well-established mechanism for managing parking demand for personal vehicles, and it is therefore often considered, though not widely accepted. The question of whether pricing would reduce commercial vehicles’ cruising is not an obvious one.
Providing real-time parking occupancy information to drivers could potentially reduce cruising, especially if integrated with carrier routing systems. In an ongoing study, the authors are testing the first parking information systems for commercial vehicles in Seattle to gather evidence of this effect.
Another approach to reducing parking cruising for commercial vehicles is to change modes of moving freight in urban areas, such as using cargo cycles or delivering by foot, which would eliminate the need to use curb-space, and therefore cruising.

Source: Dalla Chiara, G., Goodchild, A., Do commercial vehicles cruise for parking? Empirical evidence from Seattle, Transport Policy (2020), doi:

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