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Parkex, Unused Car Parks, and EVs

August 2, 2022

Peter Guest

Having had a great time in Reno at PIE, I have just got back from spending a day at PARKEX, our very own annual bun fight. Reno very much reminded me of the early days of PARKEX when the event was a combined conference and exhibition held in an hotel where everyone socialized. We even had a formal dinner, which allowed the exhibitors to not only schmooze clients, but also say thank you to their staff, who had given up their time to make the whole thing work. 


PARKEX now has changed beyond all recognition, and I am not sure that it’s for the better. With Covid and all that implies, I hadn’t been for a year or two, but the show was smaller than I remember, and there were some surprising missing faces. It’s held in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham and is co-located with TRAFFEX, which deals with the wider traffic business, think traffic lights and road signs. 


The conference has all but disappeared with just one small area on the show floor set aside for talks. Frankly, this doesn’t really work, the ambient light levels and noisy floor make it very hard to see or hear the talks, and this year the audience was being given headphones to listen, think silent disco. But this doesn’t really make for an easy dialogue between the speaker and the audience.


Many of the exhibitors were new to me, and I do wonder just how many will be there in 12 months’ time. I did some research a few years ago and something like half of those taking a stand at a show had vanished by the next event. All the more worrying then when big names are missing. PARKEX is important but, to me, the venue just doesn’t feel right anymore. It’s too big and too sterile and the intimate feel of olden days was clearly missing when contrasted with my recent experiences in Reno.


One of the hot topics over here at the moment is what to do with a car park when it’s no longer required? After all, if the blessed Donald (Shoup, that is) is right, you are soon going to have a number of empty white elephants  that will need to be repurposed. 


The issues in converting a car parking structure into a habitable space are many. For example, car park floors slope. It may only be 2 percent but who wants to live in an apartment with a sloping floor? Talking of the floor, it’s going to be pretty contaminated with oil and other car-related detritus. Maybe the floors are going as a part of the refurbishment. What about the headroom? Car parks are pretty low and quite deep, so these apartments could be gloomy and claustrophobic.


One teeny, tiny fly in this brave new world vision of the future is that, in April 2014, a 700-space car park was permanently closed by the Council who own it, because the structure had deteriorated to the point that it was in danger of collapse! Eight further years of neglect and deterioration and someone is going to put 18 heavy houses on the roof and let people live in it. Forgive me if I don’t rush to move in.


A few days ago, I went to the launch of a new “pop up” EV charging station. The first Papilio3 has been installed at the University of Surrey and is actually quite clever. The unit is based on a repurposed 40-foot shipping container, which of course makes it highly portable. It can be set up in a surface car park in a few hours and takes 14 regular spaces to provide 12 charging points. The clever bit is that it has solar panels, storage batteries and can plug into the local grid. By juggling lumps of energy around from the grid/solar cells and the batteries it allows vehicle charging using the available energy in an optimum way. I was quietly impressed.


Meanwhile the government continues with its not joined up rush to an all-electric future, or not. The government has long offered a cash subsidy to people buying a new electric car. Sales have risen, although nowhere close to what is needed to get to their all-electric nirvana. Now, with absolutely zero notice, they have dropped the subsidy. What! How does that help as people are suddenly seeing the ticket price of the EV they were going to buy going up by $2,000 or more?


The ever-present issue with EVs is range anxiety, and hence access to charging infrastructure. To address this the government recently announced a fund of something approaching $2 billion to pay for the 300,000 rapid charging stations they think will be needed. According to the industry, this is just about half of what their program will actually cost.


 



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