Integrating digital technologies into dynamic parking management
Introduction: THE NEW MOBILITY
As a symbol of freedom, mobility, and autonomy, the automobile has changed the shape of our cities and suburbs, yet in the past century, it has evolved beyond our expectations.
Cars now come equipped with advanced hardware that can avoid collisions, they can be self-driving, and yet the great paradox is that a typical car spends most of its time immobile. A car is parked on average 95% of the time, when it is not stuck in a traffic jam.
The digital revolution, a major upheaval caused by technological advances, primarily computers and the Internet, has placed us in an era of accelerating change.
In industrialized countries, this change has shaken several sectors of the economy. While cars become sophisticated enough to be self-driving, and as automakers become mobility providers, cities become smarter by using and integrating new technologies to meet the challenges of the modern city: transportation, governance, and citizen services, to name a few.
Traffic congestion ranks high on the list of evils that afflict urban areas. It increases greenhouse gas emissions and is largely responsible for the smog in big cities. The search for available parking is, in part, largely responsible for congestion – 90% of city motorists lose up to 20 minutes a day looking for a parking space, by slowly circulating, or by immobilizing traffic to parallel park.
With the emergence of “smart” parking, solutions such as nested technologies in the roadway and parking areas, and connections to new mobile tools are being put in place.
The technological solutions to make parking more fluid, by eliminating traffic obstacles, and customizing and facilitating the driver’s experience exist.
But the growing digital revolution has seen the emergence of a large number of contenders for the next “unicorn”, technological start-ups that disrupt sectors of the economy and whose market values have reached over one billion dollars in record time.
Both public and private sector parking managers must adapt quickly to technological change – an essential component of the new urban economy – by separating fact from fiction before making important decisions. Above all, all parties involved in the management of transportation and parking must work together to achieve global solutions that will ensure the flow of traffic.
CHANGE IS WELL UNDER WAY
THE AUTOMOBILE IS BECOMING A SOPHISTICATED COMPUTER ON WHEELS
In 2015, 1,898,485 cars, light trucks and new commercial vehicles were sold in Canada, an all-time new sales record and the third in three consecutive years.
According to industry analysts, this can be attributed to lower interest rates and gasoline prices, but also to the arrival of new models brimming with state of the art technological innovations.
With computerized vehicles, a manufacturer can now fix a problem in one of its models remotely. A car can house between 50 and 100 computers that regularly generate millions of lines of code. This level of computerization has taken motor control to the point where cars can be self-driving, such as the Google driverless car.
The car, now transformed into a sophisticated computer on wheels, is ready to enter into the third evolution of the Internet: the Internet of Things (IoT), an era where devices and real world objects share information and data thanks to the Web.
CAR MANUFACTURERS TRANSFORM INTO FULL-SERVICE MOBILITY COMPANIES
The car has been rapidly developing but so has the way we view it due to harmful effects, such as highway congestion, and the increase in greenhouse gases. Digital technologies have given us new services that bring together users and drivers through mobile applications, disrupting the taxi industry worldwide.
Sensing this shift, several automakers have already begun preparing to change their mission from vehicle builders to sustainable transportation providers.
For example, BMW now offers everyone – not only BMW owners – BMWi mobility services. The point is to encourage urban mobility whether you own a vehicle or not. The applications developed with the support of BMW include DriveNow, a car-sharing service; and ParkNOW, which filters parking spaces by rate, proximity, and services such as reserved parking. During the 2016 Auto Show in Detroit, Ford made an impressive display by launching FordPass mobility services, which will come standard with their new models. FordPass, offered to both customers and the general public, proposes shared ownership of a vehicle, reserved parking spaces, as well as scheduling of intermodal transportation.
MAJOR URBAN CENTRES BECOME SMART CITIES
New technologies have also pushed major urban centers towards the transformation to smart cities, cities that use and integrate new information and communication technologies by reconciling their housing, mobility, and economic functions, while at the same time reducing their global footprint.
According to a UN report, 54% of the world population was living in urban areas in 2014, and this proportion is expected to climb to 66% by 2050 with an addition of 2.5 billion new citizens.
In this context, cities are key to the sustainability of the planet and smart cities constitute a fundamental element. To accommodate the ever-increasing human population, cities must turn into more efficient, equitable and healthy living environments, and most importantly be respectful of the ecological fabric of our time.
THE ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF A SMART CITY
Every day, people crisscross their city to reach a variety of destinations: workplace, personal residence, spaces dedicated to culture entertainment, education and trade etc. Mobility is a key element of a city’s quality of life and its economic prosperity.
Experts estimate that only a small share of urban congestion is caused by people passing through the city. The vast majority of vehicles in circulation want to reach a destination within the city, and one can conclude that these vehicles will, by necessity, have to park at some time.
A motorist can lose up to 20 minutes looking for a parking space. If each day 90% of vehicles traveling spend time circulating – and stopping to park on the street – the logical conclusion is that parking contributes significantly to urban congestion and increasing levels of pollution.
Cities aspire to become smart to ensure their viability and the well-being of their citizens. Automakers are becoming smarter (unlike humans, they can avoid collisions and road rage!). It is therefore logical that parking must also become smart, and no longer pose a problem, but instead be part of the solution.
The term “smart parking” refers to the use of remote sensing devices that monitor the occupation of spaces. These devices can be cameras, air sonars, parking entrance gates, or sensors embedded in the roads.
The most efficient remote sensing systems not only provide information about available spaces, but also specify whether a coveted free space is large enough to park a given vehicle. They also analyze and transmit this information to mobile and web applications and dynamic signage. This is called Dynamic Digital Signage.
Smart parking also uses mobile computing tools, specifically the smart phone whose use is increasingly widespread in the population. In 2014, 66% of Canadians owned a smartphone, compared to 62% in 2013.
The development of smart parking solutions is an emerging industry. Across the globe, large urban areas are currently testing these solutions, along with airports, public transit agencies, and other organizations that manage large parking lots such as universities and hospitals.
Smart parking is based on technological solutions related to mobile devices and applications, but more importantly it allows a city to:
• Simplify and synchronize diverse parking management practices, both in the public and private sectors;
• Adapt the supply of parking according to the use of available spaces in real time;
• Optimize downtown parking in and on commercial streets to promote commercial vitality;
• Modify pricing according to vehicle size. The smaller the car, the cheaper the price of parking.
Several smart parking solutions are currently established or being tested worldwide. Among those:
• Pay and Display Technologies, Pay by Space, Pay by License Plate
These well-established technologies can replace several parking meters with a terminal for users to note the number of their parking space, and pay either with coins or a credit card, or with a mobile application. Pay by Space, and specifically, Pay by License Plate also automate security and management tools.
The number of street parking meters will gradually decrease and parking equipment will become multiservice. Moreover, we will see the arrival of multiservice terminals that will work in tandem with smart phones for all parking needs, plus combine several other municipal services: city and public services information, traffic updates through telemetering, and other commercial services in order to encourage the local economy.
For now, the first generation terminals consume a significant amount of energy due to the high number of features offered (color screen, keyboard, card reader, optical drive, etc.), which hinders their widespread implementation. But many technological advances are already reducing their energy consumption.
Eventually, parking meters will disappear: the connected car will communicate directly with the infrastructure responsible for parking management.
• Reserved Parking Spaces
Many companies offer remote booking tools and advance payment for parking spaces. To gain traction these tools must strengthen their platform, software, and data integration. Already their use has been successful in major airports such as London Heathrow, where much of the parking revenue comes from reserved parking.
• Dynamic Pricing: the US
Since 2011 the city of San Francisco has transformed its parking policy – the biggest reform for on-street parking since the invention of the parking meter in 1935 – pricing based on demand. Parking rates on and off street vary by location and time of day.
Developed with mobile remote sensing technologies, pricing based on demand, or dynamic pricing, is designed to optimize the use of parking spaces. Other price varying criteria can be considered, for example, the implementation of a tiered pricing depending on the parking time, or free short periods on sections of commercial streets to encourage buying local.
In San Francisco, the policy is still at the pilot project stage. In further implementations other cities face the obstacle of municipal regulations poorly adapted to this new approach.
• Dynamic Pricing with an ecological component: Madrid, Spain
In late 2014, the city of Madrid reformed its parking policy. Extremely innovative, and based on one of the most revolutionary algorithms, the program takes into account the ecological footprint of all vehicles according to their engine and their size. Pricing varies hourly and base prices may fluctuate by 20%. In addition, smog variables were introduced, allowing for an additional 10% increase if smog levels reached alarming levels.
Mobile and online tools have entered the parking industry in force, and have begun to revolutionize business models. For example, they allow parking managers to monitor violations and to issue tickets, or to monitor and repair equipment remotely. They facilitate the virtual management of private parking customers, and permit for variable rates to maximize potential: customers by the hour, monthly, VIP, events, exceptions, etc.
Software can track a driver’s route and their interactions with various elements in the city: parking meters, gates, parking, streets, even the city as a whole. Some motorists are already able to choose a parking destination through a mobile application: you drive to your destination, the parking operator can track your position en route, an attendant greets you on your arrival, and your place is guaranteed and has been booked and paid for.
Thanks to these technologies, all the features and applications enabled during a driver’s route can be centralized: transactions, gate less parking, regular customer management, vehicle location, monitoring traffic, the issuing of parking tickets, availability signals. Bicycle parking can also be supported by this system. For example, the company NOW! Innovations has developed a digital platform to facilitate citizens’ mobility. The system shares the parking network, it indicates charging spots for electric vehicles, self-service bicycle locking and parking, and other related services. This technology is capable of millions of transactions (research, billing and payment) in 8 countries and 3 continents.
When parking becomes fully integrated in smart transport systems, it will become central to the range of online services offered to citizens and visitors of smart cities.
CHALLENGES FOR A “SMART” FUTURE
To become smart, cities must by necessity integrate parking in their planning. It is imperative they have in place a global and long-term vision. If established in isolation, a dose of optimism will have very little impact.
To be truly effective and comprehensive, this planning must involve all stakeholders in transport management including not only public parking managers, but also institutional parking managers (hospitals, universities) along with private, municipal and provincial authorities, the managers of the freight, transit, building owners, merchants associations, chambers of commerce, and citizens associations.
This planning should also consider the many challenges ahead. Among others:
- The challenge of data access: recognizing the importance and value of data and its use, agreement on the sharing and transparency of information;
- The challenge of systems Interoperability: standardization and uniformity of the collection and presentation of data, to ensure their quality, ergonomics and their dynamic nature;
- The challenge of conflicting agendas among the many players, partners in the public and private sectors, competing industries, thinkers and practitioners of management transport and parking.
To these challenges must be added the emergence of a “smart” marketplace, chaotic, propelled by digital technologies, and the overuse of the word “smart” invoked as a panacea. There are countless IT companies offering solutions called “smart city” and “smart infrastructure”. Also on the market, any number of start-ups promising to solve all parking problems with their applications, but without any on-the-ground knowledge of
the many parameters needed for management, monitoring and accounting in this specialized field.
A final but significant challenge, smart city planners must consider the costs of renovation and renewal of urban infrastructure in a context where the public finances are fragile. The sums to invest will invariably come from different sources besides the public domain. They must learn the benefits and potentials of co-creating with their citizens, but also with private companies, public institutions and universities. They have every interest in inviting them to find and test all concrete solutions. Combined with the use of open
data, the combination of the expertise of stakeholders from public and private spheres will be beneficial.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
By 2050 two thirds of the world population will live in cities. This is an increase of 2.5 billion people that cities will have to seamlessly integrate into their infrastructure. Such an increase in displacement must be anticipated and managed today so as not to disturb the environment. At stake is the very quality of urban life.
The technologies needed to ensure a well-balanced development exist and are improving year by year. With advanced smart parking, urban fluidity can be increased, and the effects of congestion and pollution can be reduce considerably. Soon our cars will drive themselves, park themselves, and come pick us up. Parking fees will be paid automatically through our e-wallet and displayed on the dashboard.
Is this utopia? Already an individual’s daily trajectory could be interspersed with smart technologies that automate all the peripheral functions for parking, for example: the search for available spaces, payment, opening gates, signage for available spaces. All functions necessary for traffic management and mobility of individuals can also be automated: monitoring traffic and congestion, manual and automated monitoring of the use of parking lots (ticketing on the spot), controlling service use, user access control, and detection of equipment failures.
Computer components, software and mobile applications and platforms exist. What remains is to connect the multiple stakeholders – public and private actors, industries, regulations – to make this scenario possible. Let us hope that in 2050 all these functions are integrated into a centralized system that will manage smart cities and contribute to the sustainability of the planet.
Several cities have followed suit and success is already on the horizon.
References available upon request.
Éric Sasset, Business Development,
Montreal Area & Municipal Markets
Daniel Germain, Vice-President Operations
Pierre Barre, Vice President of Business Development,
Montreal Area & Municipal Markets
Special collaboration from
Danielle Desjardins, Editorial and Research, Lafabriquedesens.com
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