Parking management has become a serious issue for cities that already are struggling with seemingly perpetual traffic congestion in their urban cores. Traffic tie-ups waste time, hurt commerce and produce air pollution. Most cities would welcome an efficient way to reduce that traffic congestion if they could.
And they can. Cities have been experimenting with traffic management solutions of one sort or another for decades. Potential solutions include smart parking meters, limits on available parking and, recently, networked parking management systems that give motorists a way to find open spaces so they don’t have waste time and fuel cruising around looking for a place to park.
The problem with traffic caused by drivers cruising around an urban area looking for a place to park turns out to be more serious than you might think. Several companies that sell such parking systems put the level of added congestion at 30 percent; a few place it higher.
A study by Donald Shoup, professor of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, found the amount of traffic in an urban area attributable to the search for parking varied from city to city, with amounts ranging from 28 percent of all traffic in New York to 45 percent in Boston. Shoup’s study contended that on-street parking in most cities is too inexpensive, but his results also demonstrated that making parking easier to find would reduce traffic.
In recent years parking facility operators, including shopping malls, cities, parking management companies, have looked for ways to direct visitors to open parking spots. The reasons differ. Operators of shopping malls are trying to make the mall experience better so people will go into the stores and spend money. Cities want to cut the costs of traffic management and reduce the side effects, including pollution.
A number of solutions have emerged, in some cases depending on the parking environment. Owners of parking garages tend to gravitate to sensors mounted on the garage ceiling that can detect when a car is in a space. Operators of parking lots and on-street parking want a system that uses sensors embedded in the pavement. How these sensors inform drivers varies considerably.
In many cases, the parking management system includes a smartphone app that shows connected drivers where open spots are located, while those without smartphones take their chances. Other systems post a number board next to a garage entrance or floor stating the number of open spaces. Some cities and parking facilities are taking the next step by allowing parking space prices to rise and fall according to demand.
While management systems are gaining popularity, one significant problem is the cost of installing the required sensors and network connections. Another issue is the limits where the sensors can be placed, in some cases. The costs of the sensors can vary from $200 to $400 for most systems, not counting the cost of providing power and data connections.
Parking Management Systems Aim to Aid Drivers, Reduce Urban Congestion
A few companies have adopted wireless communications as a way reducing upfront costs. Some have moved to battery-operated wireless sensors to cut implementation costs even more. But as is the case with technology hardware, price and capability breakthroughs happen. In the world of parking management, one company has dramatically lowered the price bar by selling its sensors for an average of $40 each.
Parkifi, based in Denver, has produced a sensor for its parking management system that’s the size and shape of a hockey puck. Deploying the sensor requires only that the sensor be glued to the pavement at each parking space. In areas where snow is a problem, the sensor can be mounted flush with the pavement surface.
Parkifi CEO and cofounder Ryan Sullivan explained that the company’s sensor measures changes in the Earth’s magnetic field to detect when a car is parked in a space it’s monitoring. The sensor then reports the arrival of a car to a wireless gateway, which then passes the information to a cloud-based service that can see all of the sensors in the space.
The cloud-based application can see all of the sensors in a facility and detect when someone hasn’t parked properly, such as when a car takes up two spaces. Such an event is common when snow may obscure parking space markings, he said.
Sullivan also noted the sensors include Bluetooth hardware, which can be used for a variety of purposes including providing a way for monthly parkers to identify themselves to the parking management system using their phones. Other parking management system providers, including Nedap and Streetline, make similar sensors but without the Bluetooth.
There are other types of sensors as well. Park Assist uses ceiling-mounted sensors with cameras to identify vehicles by their license plates. The images can also be used to monitor parking facility security. Other systems use radar detection and heat signatures. However, in some locations, the use of license plates to identify parkers raises privacy concerns that may limit their use.
Another trend taking place in urban areas may make these parking management systems even more valuable. Here in Washington, for example, the city has tripled the price of on-street parking and instituted a hyper-aggressive parking enforcement practice that has turned on-street parking into a profit center, whether drivers park for the allowed amount of time or whether they get very expensive tickets for overstaying their welcome.
In such cities, parking lot and garage operators will find that drivers will be grateful for any parking management technology that helps them find spaces or avoid tickets.
Because of its relatively low cost and flexibility, systems such as those from Parkifi that can keep implementation and operation costs under control will find a willing audience on the part of parking operators and drivers.