Smart Tech to Find Open Parking Spots Also Stands to Shave Down Carbon Emissions

Contemporary Art Using Traffic Lights

By Maura Forrest

September 4, 2014

Smart technology that connects cars, provides real-time traffic updates, and synchronizes traffic lights could keep millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – while saving us time and money.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. It found that adopting smart technologies across the United States, coupled with growing sales of hybrid and electric vehicles, could save 2.6 billion barrels of oil over 10 years.

“Recent advancements in wireless communications, computer science robotics, and alternative energy offer the keys to reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions, just as they offer ways to improve safety and mobility,” the authors wrote.

The report zeroes in on several examples of smart technology that makes driving easier and cleaner.

In Ellicott City, Maryland, sensors send drivers information about open parking spaces in real time, reducing cruising time by up to 21 percent. After the system was implemented, local business revenue shot up 12 percent, likely because more people were able to find parking.

The Smithsonian Institution is using a telematics system to track its vehicles, to optimize routes, to cut down on redundant trips and to schedule maintenance. The program has helped the organization reduce fuel use by 52 percent compared to 2005.

Canada has been taking similar steps. Toronto is working on a five-year plan to synchronize traffic lights along priority corridors in the city, with an aim to ease congestion and reduce pollution. And Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation proposed a pilot program earlier this year to test autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars, like the Google self-driving car, could be widely used in car-sharing programs that cut emissions by allowing people to forego owning vehicles.

Ultimately, synchronized traffic signals and smart parking will have a modest effect on the amount of fossil fuels being burned by cars and trucks. Gasoline consumption in the United States releases about 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. Smart technologies in that country could prevent a maximum of about 280 million tonnes from being released over a decade — still a cause for optimism according to the report’s authors.

“The size of the problem should not daunt us,” they wrote, “nor should it prevent us from confronting the spectre of an unsustainable transportation system with the tools we have at our disposal.”