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26 March 2014



Technology holds the key to painless parking

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Daily News
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Xerox Richard Harris Solutions Director
Parking has been the most innovative of all the transportation sectors in the past five years. Richard Harris, Solution Director, Xerox Services outlines some of the key drivers and trends

Q Widespread adoption of technology is having a huge impact on the parking sector. Can you set the scene on that?

A Before looking at different technologies and how they are changing the industry, the best way to set the scene is to look at the parking process, from a user’s point of view and also from an operator or municipal perspective.

Since the parking meter was first introduced back in 1935 until relatively recently, parking has become an increasingly painful process. Looking for empty parking spaces, understanding the signage and figuring out if you have enough coins for the meter are common challenges. After finally parking the car and arriving at your destination, there’s often lingering anxiety about whether you’ve run out of time on the meter. Are you going to return to your vehicle and find a ticket on your windscreen? Motorists want the pain of parking removed. They want parking to become a non-event.

For the operator or local authority, parking is a critical asset that needs to be managed properly. While it’s true that efficient parking systems can help cash-strapped cities boost revenue and maximise that asset, it’s important to remember that some 30 per cent of congestion is caused by people looking for parking spaces. Parking is tightly tied to congestion. If you have parking congestion, you will have street congestion along with other negatives, including increased air pollution.

As technology enters this scene, we see it starting to make parking painless for the motorist and providing huge benefits for city authorities.

Q Do the new payment methods that are now available benefit
the motorist?

A Credit card payment, pay-by-phone, and the wide range of apps for Smart phones certainly have begun to take a huge amount of pain out of the parking process. It’s great, for example, to receive a warning message on your phone when the parking time is about to run out, and top up the meter remotely, when this feature is allowed. This type of system is becoming available in more and more cities around the world. But just as important, systems that direct motorists to available parking spaces are improving. I believe this will be a major growth area. Already we have Parking Guidance Systems (PGS) integrated with wireless sensors to provide information to motorists regarding parking options. They are able to check parking options, locations, rates, and optimal parking before they leave the house or en route via dynamic or variable message signs installed on roadsides, through navigation systems in their cars, and through Smart phone applications.

Q For cities and car park operators, what are the key trends?

A As I pointed out above, parking is a critical asset that needs to be managed properly. That applies to cities, to on- or off-street parking, to facilities at airports, municipalities, railway stations, shopping centres, sports venues, hotels or hospitals.

Key developments in information communications technology, including shared services, cloud computing, data analytics and big data, are all driving data integration of transport information. Parking data is a key source of information for this new joined up and integrated approach. Data is increasingly driving many parking operations – as it should. Every parking operation generates a tremendous amount of data every day, but analysing that data to improve productivity has, until recently, been very difficult. Today, that data can be analysed in real-time, and this has enormous significance for city parking operations.

For example, Merge, a recently introduced technology from Xerox, provides municipalities with a central management system to manage parking operations. Integrating hardware and software, Merge provides real-time information about coin collections, meter maintenance, enforcement and occupancy by applying real-time data to solve parking issues. It is the first system to fully integrate and provide analytics on all aspects of metered and off-street parking programmes and has already been deployed, with great success, in Los Angeles. Merge is built on an open architecture platform that enables cities to plug and play any field technology or software system that manages parking operations – from parking space sensors and meters to handheld devices as well as the internet, Smart phones, and dynamic message signs for real-time parking guidance. Merge also is equipped with Xerox’s proprietary dynamic pricing EngiNe that can be used to recommend parking rates based on historical data as well as adjust parking prices by predicting demand using data from current conditions.

Q What kind of results can dynamic pricing achieve?

A In Los Angeles, Merge is deployed as part of the city’s LA Express Park programme, a key feature of which is the dynamic pricing capability that varies block by block. The goal is to keep street parking spaces between 75 per cent and 90 per cent full. If occupancy drops below 75 per cent, our proprietary algorithm drops hourly rates to encourage more people to park on the street. If occupancy exceeds 90 per cent, the system raises rates.
The LA Express Park programme demonstrates the huge benefits of demand-based pricing: over a six-month analysis, parking congestion decreased by 10 per cent, making spaces easier to find. Under-utilised parking spaces decreased by five per cent. While parking rates decreased by 11 per cent, parking revenue increased by 2 per cent. Perhaps most telling of all, 76 per cent of drivers indicated in a survey that they would park in less expensive areas nearby, demonstrating the power of pricing. With that kind of success, there is no doubt that dynamic pricing systems are the future of parking.

Q What other trends are you seeing?

A Although the use of new technologies can be a challenge for municipalities, advances in technology have enabled new parking strategies to be quickly adapted and implemented. Parking policy, which plays a key role in traffic management, can directly influence traveller behaviour through pricing and space availability.

For example, on-street parking is a scarce resource, but because parking rates are generally a fraction of garage parking demand has outpaced supply. Motorists are more likely to cruise, circling continually for an available space – exacerbating traffic and adding to air pollution. Properly priced, however, parking meters manage consumer demand. The resulting reduction in demand increases productivity, eases traffic congestion, trims travel times, and improves air quality.

Amsterdam is a good example of the policy aspects of parking management.

It uses a multi-faceted management strategy that integrates many different elements, such as zone-specific rates, residential permits, park-and-ride (dissuasive parking), payment and monitoring technologies, off-street parking regulations, etc.

There is no doubt that parking management will become an increasingly important component in city mobility as services for travellers improve and community-wide benefits are sought.

Richard Harris is a Solutions Director, International Transportation and Government, Xerox Services, which is based in The Hague. He is internationally recognised as a leading expert in Intelligent Transport Systems and is a member of the board of directors of the International Road Federation, chairman of the Ertico Traffic and Transport Industry sector, the International Director of ITS UK and represents the UK in the World Road Association Technical Committee on Network Operations. He was awarded the prestigious ITS UK Rees Hill Award for outstanding contribution to ITS by a UK professional.
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