Smart parking is rapidly emerging as a popular term for applying new technology to an old problem: the urban parking crunch. Virtually all city drivers have suffered through the truly miserable experience of circling downtown blocks over and over in search of an open spot.
The necessary evil of “cruising” for parking comes with unnecessarily high costs, as experts such as UCLA Professor Donald Shoup have pointed out. After completing a one-year study in Los Angeles, Shoup found that “the search for curb parking in this 15-block district created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel — equivalent to 38 trips around the earth or four trips to the moon.” This translates to 47,000 gallons of wasted gasoline, a pricey sum these days, and 73 tons of excess carbon dioxide.
Yet there is reason for hope. The Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) industry has been developing smart parking systems that can alleviate many of these costs by providing drivers, businesses, and metropolitan authorities the information they need to reduce wasted time, energy and money. Smartphone apps like Streetline’s Parker offer drivers the information they need to find a parking space within an easily walkable distance from their destination, providing details on street and garage parking, as well as payment options.
A number of automakers have also been developing their own smart parking systems. Volkswagen, BMW, and Audi all recently announced plans to incorporate parking information and services into their vehicles.
For example, Audi is working with Inrix-powered ParkMe to supply vehicle owners with the locations of nearby parking garages. Although Audi’s Audi connect system is under development, similar offerings will ultimately provide an electronic bridge between parking garages and increasingly connected vehicles, allowing drivers in the near future to reserve parking spots prior to arrival and pay for them cash-free.
Smart parking systems also provide city administrators with extremely useful data on consumer demand, which they can use to adjust meter rates, often in real-time, to price the parking supply accordingly. Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking is a must-read on this topic. Smart parking technologies also allow parking enforcement officers to be dispatched more efficiently to target egregious offenders, rather than punishing shoppers who get stuck in a long checkout line as Zia Yusuf, president/CEO of Streetline Inc., points out in this New York Times article. After all, one of the primary goals of smart parking is to make downtowns more inviting and convenient to visit.
Cities like San Carlos and San Mateo, both in the San Francisco Bay area, feature smart parking systems brought to consumers through a partnership between Streetline, Cisco Systems and city government. Such public-private partnerships are the key to expanding smart parking into larger municipalities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, both of which are undergoing projects to address high levels of urban traffic congestion.
Currently in its pilot phase, San Francisco’s SFpark project provides drivers with real-time information on the occupancy of over 19,000 city-owned parking spots. Drivers can use rate, location and time limit information to select their preferred spot, while on the back end, the city can modify parking rates, and thus, demand patterns to optimize occupancy.
The City of Los Angeles has a similar project — LA Express Park — which, like SFpark, is a partnership between the city, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and software/telematics companies, all of whom have an interest in alleviating downtown congestion through improved parking.
Mitigating urban congestion is a complex task that requires coordination between many public and private stakeholders. As the industry association representing the largest cross-section of the transportation technology community, ITS America recently held two smart parking conferences in New Jersey and Berkeley, which brought together leading business executives, policy and decision makers, and researchers to discuss ways to better utilize technology to improve parking services.
We also just held a Complete Streets Symposium in Chicago to begin addressing the broader role of technology in improving urban mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, not just drivers. Urban congestion is a problem that affects all city residents and it requires a holistic solution that draws ideas from all who use the city streets.
The smart parking movement is no longer on the horizon; it’s already here. And the sooner cities begin investing in smart parking solutions, the better for commuters, residents, businesses and visitors alike.
At ITS America we are excited to be part of the conversation and we invite you to join us in helping move innovation forward. Find out how you can get involved online at www.itsa.org.
About the author: Scott F. Belcher was appointed President and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America in September 2007 after a successful legal and nonprofit management career including more than 20 years of private and public sector experience in Washington, DC. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia, a Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Redlands.
As an experienced designer of streetcar systems, one question I am frequently asked is, "Can a streetcar _____?" The blanks are usually filled with design challenges, such as "turn left from a curb lane", or "go under a low clearance underpass" or "operate at higher speeds and frequencies." More often than not, the answer is YES! Modern streetcar systems, such as those operating in Seattle, Tucson, and Atlanta, are modeled after European trams that are designed to fit within tight, complex, and built-out urban environments. The unique combination of vehicle's size coupled with the ability to operate in the same lanes as automobiles, trucks, and buses allow designers to create safe, efficient solutions to nearly every design challenge that arises.
At the Denton County (Texas) Transportation Authority (DCTA), we’re constantly looking for unique ways to engage with passengers, generate brand awareness and increase ridership. This year with Valentine’s Day being on a Saturday, we saw a great opportunity to launch a campaign in which passengers could ride DCTA’s A-train commuter rail and Connect Bus for free on Valentine’s Day all day by saying “Be Mine” to the agency’s rail and bus operators. With low-trending ridership in February, we needed to find a way to increase ridership and brand awareness within Denton County and surrounding cities. Launching the Valentine’s Day promotion definitely would help us achieve this.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.