Smart Cities are the way of the future. Every city in Canada is already planning its evolution into a Smart City and some are beginning to implement the initial elements.

The success of this evolution will depend largely on parking technology. Drivers—and eventually those in autonomous vehicles—need to park, and making it easier to park will dramatically reduce congestion on city streets. In the not-too-distant-future, when we leave the house, we’ll just enter our destination into our car’s GPS and then the car will guide us directly to the closest available parking space to that destination. If we haven’t already reserved and paid for a parking space in advance, we’ll be able to pay with our cell phones. If we need more time than we paid for, we’ll get a text reminding us when it’s time to move the car and asking if we want to pay for more parking—which we can do with our cell phones, without returning to the car.

The Foundation of Smart Cities

Intelligent parking technology will play the key role. Intelligent parking uses parking guidance sensors located in or over parking spaces to monitor whether they are occupied or available, and transmits that information to strategically located signs to guide vehicles directly to available spaces. 

Parking guidance is already common in parkades throughout Canada. While it’s primarily used as a driver amenity designed to make it easier to quickly and conveniently find an available parking space, it also helps parking organizations better manage their assets by providing real-time data about how those assets are being utilized. Additionally, parking guidance also helps organizations increase their occupancy by eliminating the risk that drivers will give up looking for a space and head elsewhere to find parking.

When smart city transportation networks are fully developed, these guidance systems will be vital elements of city parking grids. It won’t matter whether a particular parking facility is privately or publicly owned and operated; the occupancy information will be transmitted to the city’s transportation grid so it can be shared with vehicles as they travel into the city, guiding drivers to open or pre-booked spaces.

In fact, some cities in the US are already starting to build those city-wide parking networks. Several communities in California now require private developers to implement parking guidance when they build new parking, and to connect those guidance systems to the municipal parking grid so municipal managers can monitor parking utilization city-wide. Eventually, cities will be able to direct drivers to available parking near their destination by permitting vehicle GPS systems to access availability data provided via the parking grid. Not only will this result in happier commuters, but it will also significantly reduce congestions on city streets because drivers will no longer have to drive aimlessly, searching for a parking space.

The First Step

If you have a relatively new car, chances are that it already has an in-dash GPS system that you can use to get directions to where you want to go. You punch in your destination, the GPS gives you turn-by-turn directions, and then as you drive a map on your dash shows you where you are and tells you how to get to your destination. If there’s an accident on your route, the system alerts you and asks if you want to travel via an alternate route. When you get to your destination, the GPS alerts you to that fact. 

The next obvious step is to create a city-wide parking grid. When you are driving into a busy city, it’s not enough to get guided to your ultimate destination—you want to be directed to the closest available parking. As mentioned earlier, some cities are already beginning to build their parking grids. But what is a driver to do in the meantime? It’s great that cities are going to be able to help you find parking in a couple of years, but how does that help you now?

The good news is that some parking guidance providers already offer technology providing home-to-destination guidance, and they make that technology available in the form of smart phone apps. The app is typically offered by municipalities or private owners, and it guides people to parking spaces that are available in their parking facilities. The programs are typically integrated with established map programs, such as Google Maps, and they operate just like any other GPS tool. Before leaving the house, drivers just open the app, punch in their destination, and the app takes them to the most convenient parking space that’s close to their ultimate destination. So, home-to-destination guidance may already be available, even in cities that haven’t begun building their parking grids.

The obvious limitation of this approach is that the app is only giving you access to availability information for parkades managed by a particular owner or operator. So, if you are using an app supplied by a particular city, you’ll only have access to municipal facilities operated by that city. Likewise, if the app is provided by a specific operator, you’ll only have access to data for parkades and lots run by that particular operator. Obviously, this limits the driver’s choice when it comes to parking options. Of course, if you’re visiting a corporate property, a university, or another self-contained campus, this is less of an issue because you’ll likely be looking for a space on that campus. 

The next step will be to connect the platforms of the various parking guidance apps so spaces monitored by one company’s parking guidance monitors will show up on other company’s apps. That way, drivers won’t need multiple parking guidance apps on their phones. They could merely open their app and be directed to the closest parking space to their destination, regardless of who owns the parking facility or whose technology is providing guidance in a particular facility. Such a system will provide the benefits of Smart City infrastructure even before the actual infrastructure is in place.

This may seem like a daunting task, but there are only a handful of parking guidance companies that are active in Canada, and not all of them have apps. So, initially, connecting app platforms shouldn’t be prohibitive. And such a coordination wouldn’t just benefit drivers and the cities in which those drivers are looking for parking; the guidance providers would benefit as well because being part of this type of virtual parking grid would be an attractive selling point. After all, what parking owner wouldn’t like to have instant entrée into this type of virtual parking grid in order to attract business?

Canada’s transportation future

Smart Cities are Canada’s future, and parking guidance technology will be the foundational infrastructure. While it will take a few years to create city-wide—and ultimately national—parking grids, parking guidance apps can already provide the parking guidance benefits of a parking grid. We already hold the power of the grid in the smart phones that we carry with us every day. ν

David Waal is the co-founder of Parking Sense USA. He can be reached at davidw@parkingsense.com.

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