Radio frequency identification is traveling deeper into public spaces, particularly in the city of Hoboken, New Jersey.
With 40,000 residents crammed into its one-square-mile borders, and the city situated along the New Jersey Transit path into New York City, Hoboken is quite literally overrun with cars.
"Were basically the sixth borough of New York. Were very over populated and every parking space is a commodity," said John Corea, director of parking for the city of Hoboken. "We have 4,000 outside spaces and garage space is 12,000. And there are transients everywhere."
Citizens and itinerate parkers vie daily for the relatively small amount of available and legal parking spaces—often foiling local authorities with out-of-date or fake parking permits.
To better get a handle on the situation, Hoboken officials installed in 2005 tiny, passive UHF [ultra high frequency] RFID chips in all newly issued parking permits, giving parking enforcement officers the ability to distinguish, in an instant, between residents and non-residents and identify counterfeit permits.
Hoboken officials learned about RFID from one of the citys vendors, Paylock, which provides parking lifecycle management solutions—from digital permits to collection management software.
"RFID just evolved," said Corea. "Weve been with Paylock for two years, and they brought it to the city of Hoboken. It is just the future."
A parking enforcement officer equipped with a RFID-enabled laptop can point at an RFID parking sticker and get a read out on a host of information: the owners name, address, registration number, phone number and permit specifications, as well as the location of the car and whether its supposed to be where it is.
"Absolutely every car that walks in we know where they go, where theyve been—you have a full history across the board," said Corea.
"Theres a lot of advantages. We never knew who our customers were, now you know. In a minute, you have everything—driving history, everything."
Currently about 25 percent of Hobokens parking enforcement agents have RFID-enabled equipment: Symbol Technologies MC9000-G RFID mobile computers running Paylocks parking management software to read Symbols RFID-tagged parking permits.
Corea expects to phase in the rest of his team with RFID-enabled computers by the end of 2006.
Even with only a quarter of its parking enforcement officers RFID-ready, Hoboken has raked in about $1 million in ticket revenue—a number Corea expects to jump to $3 or $4 million once everyones on board.
Hoboken officials plan to use the data collected to plot out future parking needs in Hoboken—keep statistics, make charts and tell parking behavior, like "how long [people] stay in some areas and other areas versus where they live," said Corea. "It may help with future parking planning."
The city also plans to make the data available to police in investigations—"things I cant go into fully," said Corea.
But one thing is for certain: data on permitted drivers is being collected, stored and maintained—a fact that could raise privacy concerns for citizens.
When it started issuing RFID-enabled parking permits, the city of Hoboken sent out a newsletter explaining the new tags, and the fact that the sticker stays with the car rather than being renewed and replaced each year.
The tag is also activated and de-activated by city officials, with customers renewing their parking permits online.
"The biggest thing is that with this special application its also going to be renewed online and thats a big concern for people," said Corea. "Thats the biggest question thats being asked."