Smart Parking Solutions – It’s Not About The Parking

Buyers, managers and planners must look past the obvious and initial benefits to drivers.

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smart parking

Parking and traffic congestion are constant sources of frustration for drivers, merchants, employers and public officials in most cities around the world. It is no surprise that smart parking services are top of mind with public officials, city information technology (IT) and innovation executives when planning smart cities.

Street map, smart parking solutions
Figure One. Street map showing available parking spaces and parking rates. Location – Washington DC.

In the age of “smart” and the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s easy to see why smart parking solutions are considered innovative.

Sensors embedded in the ground, or cameras mounted on light poles or building structures, determine whether the parking spaces are occupied or available. This data is routed wirelessly to a gateway, and relayed to a central cloud-based smart parking platform. It is aggregated with data from other sensors to create a real time parking map.

Drivers use this map on their mobile phone to find parking faster and easier instead of blindly driving around searching (Figure One). For parking control officers, the map directs them to where the parking violations are and improves their citation enforcement effectiveness (Figure Two).

Street map showing violations, smart parking solutions
Figure Two. Street map showing parking violations. Location: Quebec, Canada.

While smart parking solutions provide improved visibility and effectiveness for both drivers and parking enforcement officers, that is not where the real innovation lies. In a previous article, I wrote that IoT innovation is not in the solution, but in what it allows organizations to become – agile, intelligent, and adaptive.

Smart Parking – Key Stakeholders

In order to understand the potential innovation opportunities with smart parking – we must understand who is impacted by parking problems and to the extent of the impact.

To drivers, parking is often seen as a necessary evil, and often leads to frustration. At best, it causes drivers to utilize alternate transportation options (walk, bike, bus taxi, or ride-sharing) to reach their destination. At worst, they will avoid going to those places and go to other destinations with easier parking.

Parking enforcement officers and agencies are often perceived as being the “bad guys” for doing their jobs.  But in reality, according to a study by Fybr, only 5% of parking violators are actually cited. Parking control agencies must balance between increasing enforcement effectiveness against the perception of overzealous prosecution of parking violators and increased complaints from local businesses.

For businesses, the right location is critical to success. If parking is limited or extremely difficult, the business may not be able to attract as many customers and employees it needs to thrive and grow. Parking frustrations drive some customers and potential employees to go elsewhere. This results in businesses underperforming, shutting down, or relocating.

 

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To residents in dense urban areas, parking is a real problem for those who use their cars on a daily basis. Difficult parking situations causes people to find questionable alternative parking arrangements, park far from where they live, or choose to live in another area with more parking.

All cities, large or small, depend on tax revenue and fees to generate and support services for residents and businesses inside its borders. They must balance parking revenues and citation enforcement, without alienating drivers, visitors and businesses. Overzealous enforcement or high parking fees will cause these stakeholders to go somewhere else, ultimately leading to a loss of tax revenue to fund city services.

Real problems, Real Opportunities and Real Innovations

In spotting the real innovation opportunities with smart parking, consider what data is collected by the sensors, and how those can be used along one or more of the innovation paths (technology, product, services, customer experience and business model).

Consider the following examples of what is possible:

1. Sponsored meter time extension

Everyone hates parking tickets. It could turn an otherwise positive outing into a negative experience.

What if smart parking solutions were configured to notify the driver that their parking meter is expiring soon, and allows them to extend the parking time through their phone? What if a merchant in the area gets a notification, pays for a 15 minute extension, and the driver gets a notification that the merchant paid for it?

In either scenario, the result is a positive experience for the driver, goodwill generated for the merchant and an increased likelihood the driver would come back again. Meanwhile, the city gets additional parking revenues it might have missed (approximately 5 to 10% of the parking violations are actually enforced), which more than offsets the decrease in revenue from parking citations.

2. High value, high priority enforcement

Not all parking violations are equal. What if the smart parking solutions can efficiently identify violators that pose potential safety risks? Cars that are illegally parked in red zones, passenger loading and unloading zones, bus stops, and handicapped zones pose a bigger disruption to traffic than a car that is five minutes past the time limit.

This type of targeted enforcement allows the parking control officers to find and clear those disruptions proactively before they become a real problem.

3. Parking incentives to drive business growth and economic development

What if merchants could offset their customer’s parking costs as incentive to get them in? This is similar to parking validation programs for garage parking, but applied to metered street parking. This has the intended effect removing some of the barriers that might have prevented their customers from coming in.

Merchants can get creative with this – they can create temporary parking promotions, pair it with special sales events, or create incentives that give customers a reason to come in during non-peak days, times and periods of the year. The increased visitor traffic allows the business to generate higher revenues, while allowing the city to increase their parking revenues. Some portion of the increased revenues can be funneled back to the local area for services and infrastructure improvements to drive further economic development.

4. Efficient citywide parking space utilization

What if parking control agencies can maximize the number of spaces available for drivers on any given day, turning otherwise empty spaces into revenue generating occupied spaces? Using historical parking and traffic information, parking analysts can adjust meter enforcement times, rates, and maximum parking times to fill up normally unoccupied spaces.

For example, analysts could allocate a certain number of spaces as all day parking to attract suburban commuters who could park at the edge of the city centers, and then use public transit to go the rest of the way in. They could adjust the meter enforcement times on historically “slow” days, and coordinate with merchants to host events (sales, etc.) on those days to boost visitors.

Conversely, on busy days or during major events where traffic congestion is high, analysts coordinate with traffic planners to adjust parking control parameters to maximize use of public transit, and alternative transportation options.

In looking for the real innovation potential of smart parking solutions, buyers, managers and planners must look past the obvious and initial benefits to drivers.

The real value lies in the data, and when combined with data from key stakeholders (businesses, other city agencies), processes and systems, will yield real innovations that matter most. The real sustainable innovations that come out of smart parking do not happen overnight, but must be found, in collaboration with others, through a period of experimentation and analysis.