Friday, February 24, 2012

Parking Behavior

This might have happened to you. You drive to a meeting or a store and observe that the adjacent open parking lot is completely full. You know that in the next 5 mins at least one parking spot will definitely open, but there is 50% chance that someone else will snatch it. You are considering your options:

1) park in the neighboring multi-floor closed garage for $15 and take extra 5 mins to get out of the garage (possibly feeling like a loser when you see that a few spots in the open lot became open)
2) sit in a the car and wait patiently until someone returns to their car around you and grab their place
3) drive around the open parking lot trying to spot someone who returns to their car, follow this person and aggressively take their place fighting with competitors

What option will you choose and why? Our behavior in such situations can be described with a mix of psychology and math. Perhaps more of the former. Let's see. What would you do?

Your answers are accepted any time until midnight Eastern Time on Sunday, on our Family Puzzle Marathon.

Top image by Ronan_tlv, distributed under CCL.


Tom said...

Not enough information I think, for me to tell you what I'd do. In truth I do not know that in the next 5 mins a spot will open, nor a 50% chance I'd lose it to another hunter. I guess this is a "given" condition for the puzzle.

There are some other factors for me here, each more important than working out a math choice. Is it raining, is it cold or icy, is it hot as heck (I'm in Tucson and sometimes you GOTTA have shade), am I alone or with others that need considerations, am I in a hurry or running late, do I have a load to carry in or out? Am I wealthy or does $15 seem like a great deal of cash today?

These issues would affect my choice more than any math.

anne-marie said...

My behavior would depend on several factors but let say that money is not an issue.
1. I go to a meeting so I would go to the next door garage for sure.
2. I go shopping and I cannot park , I will certainly give me 30 mn to see if I can take someone's else place.
3. I have a rule: I do not fight for a place, I am not scared of crazy people but I prefer to avoid them and so, find back my car in the same conditions that I left it.
4 my other rule, I do not spend money on parking if I just go shopping.
So, my behavior would not depend on statistics but on what I believe and value.

Anonymous said...

Most likely, I would walk in all 3 situations.
1. I tend to be cheap so walking is not a big deal for me and I don't mind a little exercise.

2. it really bugs me when people sit in their car and wait. I have 2 thoughts. They are lazy and/or it is much harder to go around them because they are usually blocking traffic.

3. I don't like to wait for spots because even though people may appear to be leaving, they may just be waiting for someone else, dealing with kids, eating in car, etc. I don't like to fight for spots. Period. Usually I can go to the end of the row and find a place anyway and walk fast and more often then not beat the person who was waiting for the spot.


Ilya said...

I think this depends greatly on what is more important to you. If saving money is more important than even being on time for the meeting, then certainly sooner or later you will get a spot. If you lose the first opportunity after the first 5 min, then chances are greater in your favor that you will be lucky in the subsequent one, and so on with each subsequent missed opportunity. On the other hand, if peace of mind is more important, then the right answer is to go to the garage right away. One remaining question is if you decide to try your luck, whether it is better to stay put or drive around. That again depends on a few factors, main one being the configuration of the lot with respect to (a) where the people are likely to be returning from; (b) whether it is possible to actually follow someone, or whether they will likely cut across several rows and leave you behind quickly. If there is one or more "feeder" spots (like building exits) then waiting in the line of sight of those spots may be a good idea. Then you need to be strategically placed with respect to the rows and traffic patterns so that you can swoop in easily once you see which car the driver is returning to. In absence of clear "feeder" spots, it's best to be positioned in a place with good visibility and relatively equal reach to as much of the lot as possible. Now that self-driving cars are becoming more of a reality, this would be a fun algorithm to write for such a car :-).

Jerome said...

We live in a community of 700 people. Three cars in front of the post office (Canadian) at noon by which time our mail is guaranteed to be sorted, is a huge traffic jam.

We have up to date parallel parking and still the most we have to walk is about 1/2 block. We can get everything we need at the next town (population 6000 people) or at home.

The odd time we go into the city and would have to make the kind of decision you are describing is rare indeed, however there are some circumstances where I would pay the 15 dollars and never look back.

1. Either my wife or I have an appointment with a specialist. You don't monkey with specialists in Canada. It could take months to get another appointment.

2. It's -30oC outside and I can't be bothered wasting fuel waiting for someone to leave; I'm not practised enough to compete with someone over a parking place in the city.

3. Come to think of it, if it's -30oC outside there is nothing that will persuade me to do anything but get out of the vehicle as quickly as I can and into a warm building. The 15 seems like a bargain.

4. If it is a romantic pleasure trip into the city (supper and a movie), there is no way I'm going to get myself in a knot over parking. I'll pay the 15 and be glad of the service. That's our equivalent of babysitting money that young parents have to spend to have an alone event. No free rides when it comes to quality time.

On the other hand
5. It it's summer, I will do everything in my power not to pay the 15 dollars; they make enough money on me in the winter. My wife and I routinely ride our bikes 18 miles or walk 6: neither of us are afraid of going a few blocks rather than put up with either of your alternatives.

6. Edmonton is a wonderful place to cycle. Sometimes we take our bikes in and follow the sidewalks or back roads from the east side of the city to the down town area or the University which is across the river. We park (leave our car) where it's free and out of the way. Our bikes take us to where it seems best for that visit.

7. While I'm thinking of it, we never go into the paid parking area in the summer. A Frisbee Golf Course is on the east side of Edmonton and there is always parking. I'm trying to say that avoidance is one way of missing the parking problem: do things that don't get you involved in the situation.

Jerome said...

I asked my wife about this and she said she would never wait for someone to come to their vehicle. YOu could wait all day for that to happen and block traffic for those also looking for a parking place.

She also noted that if she was going to be in the city all day, she would pay the 15 dollars and be done with it. 15 dollars whatever the reason for being in the city would be a bargain if she was going to spend the day there.

She did not say anything about the 3rd alternative of just driving around till she found something by dumb luck. I would assume it is not worth her time or the gas to do something like that.

Anonymous said...

3 because my chances increase to get a spot

Cmwithericka (vis email)

Jerome. said...

This is one time I really wish I could take my answer back. Could you completely erase it?

You have made the stipulation of what the purpose of the trip is. That makes most of my conditions invalid. So I'll start again.

If the weather is very cold (as it can be where I live), then if the event is a meeting, I'll pay the 15 dollars regardless. It is nice to get rid of the guck that attaches itself to the car's body.

If I'm just going shopping and I'm only going to be in there a short period of time (say 1/2 an hour), it might be worth my while to wait around until someone leaves. If I loose 50% of the time (very optimistic for me), I might try twice and then park somewhere else.

Nice Day
I'd never pay anything when my soul purpose is spending money for groceries. I still might use the parkade if the meeting is important (like a doctor) or if the meeting is quite long. I might use the parkade if I plan on being in the city for quite a long time.

Conclusion: the longer the time, the more likely I'd use the parkade.

If you allow me to expand why I'm in the city, then romance definitely means parkade any time of the year. 15 dollars is unimportant.

If it is just a pleasant summer day then I avoid the whole issue and park where its free. Pleasure is more important that hassle.

I can get what I need locally; no parking problem.

TracyZ said...

My answer is more psychology than math.

My response varies based on the type of errand/ appointment I have when I am parking, and how flexible my time is:
1) Is it a doctor appt or meeting with my boss or a client where I definitely need to be at my destination at a particular time? If so, then I would probably go with response #1 which, though expensive, is a sure thing. Also, if I am parking for a work meeting, I could hopefully get reimbursed for my parking expense.

2) If I am running an errand at just one store, is it an errand for which I only have a small amount of time before I need to be somewhere else? If so, I might also go with option 1 (if the errand has high value -- more than the $15 for parking -- or if the parking in the garage is free or has a reduced rate if you park there for a very short time (for example less than 15 minutes or half an hour)). If the errand has a relatively small value, for example, if I am just picking up a small grocery item, then if no parking is readily available in the surface lot, then I would probably actually just drive to another store and hope it had more parking.

--In general, if I am on my own time and waiting a few moments for a parking space wouldn't cause problems with my schedule, then I tend to use a combination of strategies 2 and 3. In most retail locations I encounter, there is fairly good turnover of parking and waiting a few moments for a space seems worth it to me.

The question as you stated it doesn't say that there if there is any cost for parking in the surface lot (so presumably there is none), but often surface lots may charge a small price too.

In a nearby town, in the downtown area, I am often faced with the question of the best parking option: whether to use the multi-level parking structure, or wait for a space in the often full, but less expensive surface lot nearby. I wait for a space in the surface lot 95% of the time, and a space usually opens up within a few minutes. When I am shopping in this town, I am usually making stops at multiple stores and leaving my car for a few hours at least (which could justify using the parking structure), but still I do not.

Maria said...

You all provided fascinating answers. I agree that this is mostly a question of psychology. In our household, my husband will do anything to avoid the multi-level parking lot. Even if it is free. While I, up until a few years ago, would have done anything to park as soon as possible, likely in the multi-level lot.

It is also a question of gadgets. Nowadays, with an iPhone, I will likely stop still in the most strategical spot and start reading my email. I will also stop the car to avoid breathing in the cloud of CO2. Occupied, I may lose the freeing spot but not be devastated by the time-wasting.

As your comments show we run quite sophisticated algorithms in our head to quickly decide what option to chose, carefully observing open lot spots, counting parking distance, likelihood of each freeing soon, number of other cars waiting, convenience of parking in each of the spots, weather, our well-being, amount of money at stake (we are about to spend at the supermarket or importance of the meeting), our past parking mis-adventures. And, as Ilya writes, in ten-twenty years our cars will likely be parking themselves in such lots using math algorithms we will write for them and perhaps learning the owners' preferences.

A puzzle point for everyone, including Jerome's wife.

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