Solving Today’s Parking Challenges While Paving the Way for Tomorrow
April 12, 2017
There’s nothing new about parking sensors. As the central element of parking guidance systems, they’ve been the industry’s hottest technological tool for the past few years because of the significant customer service and management benefits they provide. And as the United States begins to develop the infrastructure needed to accommodate “connected” and self-driving vehicles, sensors will play an essential role.
But parking guidance isn’t the only role that sensors can play. Sensor technology can also serve as a powerful virtual parking system, making it easier to manage parking behaviors to achieve downtown or campus planning goals.
The University of Central Missouri (UCM) in Warrensburg provides an example of how sensors can be used to support local businesses, while at the same time better managing valuable parking spaces.
UCM was one of the first U.S. institutions to implement a “Shop & Go” program that establishes dedicated short-term parking zones for visitors wishing to make quick shopping runs.
The 53 Shop & Go spaces are located adjacent to The Crossing: South @ Holden, a mixed-use facility that provides upper-class housing, a university store and retail establishments, including a Starbucks and a pizza business. The spaces offer free short-term parking so patrons can conveniently park close to their destinations, do their business, and return to their vehicles. The ticketless system permits one-hour parking, which promotes frequent turnover of spaces.
The UCM Shop & Go system is managed by single-space wireless parking sensors and a proprietary software system, which monitor the spaces. The ground-based sensors detect the presence of a vehicle and record the amount of time that the parker has remained in the space.
If a car overstays the permitted time limit, the system generates an overstay list, which is accessible by the enforcement officer via any internet-compatible mobile device, letting the officer know which parking space contains the offending vehicle and exactly what that vehicle’s status is. The officer can then take the appropriate steps, issuing a warning, writing a ticket, or arranging for the vehicle to be towed.
The university selected an open-standard cloud-based software system, which could be expanded to meet UCM’s future requirements through the integration of data with current and future third-party parking devices and systems. Its technology provider was able to provide a software system that, in addition to handling enforcement duties, could record utilization data so university planners could analyze usage and determine peak use times.
The university is using those data to make more informed decisions about how to manage its existing parking resources and plan for the development of new resources.
The enforcement advantages of the technology are obvious. The system provides for much more efficient and effective enforcement because it doesn’t require officers to constantly monitor the lot. The system records every parking session, and can notify enforcement officers in real-time when vehicles are illegally parked.
It also provides protection for drivers by recording the data for every parking session, thus eliminating the risk of errors by enforcement officers. If there’s ever a question regarding a parking ticket, the data are available to set the record straight.
Sensor programs designed to facilitate parking planning are gaining traction elsewhere across the U.S. The best-known – SFpark in San Francisco — uses sensors to collect utilization data, which are used to set rates. Those rates are then used to manage parking behavior and, of course, generate revenue.
Shop & Go represents the next phase of sensor-based parking management, because it can allow city and campus planners to manage parking resources in a way that improves the parking experience while supporting local businesses.
But UCM’s Shop & Go program represents just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing sensor and other technologies in this fashion. As sensor programs such as this become more common, software developers will be able to develop packages permitting the sensor-based programs to provide even more benefits.
Shop & Go programs can be paired with smartphone apps that allow the sensors to communicate
directly with parkers.
For instance, Shop & Go programs can be paired with smartphone apps that allow the sensors to communicate directly with parkers. Those apps will be able to warn parkers when their session is expiring and offer suggestions about where longer-term parking may be found close by; or they could share validation and other deals with parkers so they can get the most out of their shopping experience.
In fact, the marriage of integrated cloud-based parking management applications with sensors promises to allow sensors to function well beyond their traditional parking guidance role – no doubt providing benefits that have yet to be considered. Just as sensors have been the hottest technology trend recently, parking management applications and related mobile apps are likely to dominate in the coming years. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the smartphone revolution, it’s that there’s no end to the creativity of app and software developers!
Over the next decade, America’s transportation infrastructure will expand exponentially to accommodate the connected vehicle, and parking technology will play a vital role in the success of connected transportation.
The University of Central Missouri’s Shop & Go program demonstrates how contemporary technologies can be used to solve today’s parking planning challenges, while at the same time, paving the way for serving the connected vehicle of tomorrow. UCM’s program also shows how increasing transparency to the general public when it comes to parking availability and regulations can make parking more user-friendly and change people’s perceptions.
Gorm Tuxen is President of IPsens LLC, a provider of cloud-based parking solutions. Contact him at