The mathematically-determined best way to choose a parking spot

Two strategies for choosing a parking spot save far more time than a third, according to researchers’ estimates.

Physicists have compared three typical strategies for finding a parking spot to determine which saves the most time — at least in a highly simplified parking scenario.

Paul Krapivsky at Boston University in Massachusetts and Sidney Redner at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico modelled an idealized car park in which the parking spots are in a single row between the entrance to the park and the drivers’ ultimate destination, such as a building.

An ‘optimistic’ strategy, which aims to minimize the time spent walking, is to drive straight to the destination and then backtrack to find a spot. Drivers using a ‘meek’ strategy try to reduce the time spent driving by picking the spot immediately before the first parked car that they come across. An intermediate, or ‘prudent’, strategy is to park in the first encountered gap between two cars.

The authors calculated that the prudent strategy is on average slightly more efficient — in terms of time spent walking and driving — than the optimistic one; the meek strategy was a distant third. Still, even the prudent strategy left many good spots near the target empty.