Park Smarter, Not Harder


Park Smarter, Not Harder

The holidays are just behind us, but for some the memory of parking in urban areas probably still rings more strongly in their memories than the sound of the Salvation Army bell:

• A holiday shopper spending valuable time hunting for a parking spot at a mall lot.

• An Uber driver, contacted to pick up a nighttime downtown reveler, unable to find a place to park while waiting on his ride to come out from the restaurant.

• A holiday traveler, running late, desperate to find the closest, most affordable parking to the airport terminal with no time to take a chance.

While scenarios like these and others are more evident during peak transportation seasons, the reality is that urban parkers face frustrations on a daily basis — and there are lots of parkers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation:

• 204 million personal vehicles are available for regular use

• 87% of daily trips take place in those personal vehicles

• 91% of people commuting to work use personal vehicles

Obviously, the list of urban parking scenarios runs deep. Commuters who drive to a train station, students/staff driving to university parking lots, event parking, parking unavailable due to construction — the need to find parking is almost always urgent and frequently the cause of incredible frustration and stress. (What parent hasn’t had the experience of letting an inappropriate word slip out in front of their kids while trying to find a good parking spot?)

And yet — parking is never the destination. “Parking is part of the broader transportation system, parking is just a place where one switches to the next mode of transportation, whether it is taking a train, a bus, or walking,” says Michael Drow, T2 Systems’ Senior Vice President of Corporate Development. “Parking is just one step when you are on a journey from Point A to Point B — when you go to work or to the mall or to the doctor, the parking lot is close to but it is not your end destination.”

The way to improve parking for drivers, to make parking smarter, not harder, begins with sharing data.


Data for Data’s Sake Does Not Smart Parking Make

The first thing smart cities need to understand is that data is not a collector’s item. Yes, it must be collected, but it cannot be put up on a shelf to collect dust. Drow likes to break it down this way: “‘Smart’-anything involves using technology, innovation, and people to enable a more effective and efficient use of resources and infrastructure in a sustainable manner that improves quality of life.”

In order to accomplish that, smart parking must be considered in conjunction with a city’s transportation network, which is integral to smart cities. “Thinking about smart parking, without considering the related local transportation networks, is not smart,” Drow states. “Smart parking relates to sharing information from a parking operation to the broader transportation network to help influence more effective use of the transportation and parking assets and resources.”

Information/data collecting is the first key component of creating a smart parking program that is more than words on paper or code in an algorithm, but actually enhances and changes parkers’ experiences for the better. Data collected includes available spaces, parking transactions, payment activity, pedestrian activity, and knowledge of special activities such as large sporting events or construction. There are many technologies to collect this data from space sensors, video analytics, PARCS and meters sharing transaction data, and let’s not forget the data provided by the mobile phones carried everywhere by millions of people.

Automation, of course, plays an important role in a smart parking program as well. Access control, occupancy management, revenue control, intercoms, and decision-supporting tools are all base-level components of a viable integrated parking system. While useful to managing within the walls of the parking facility, the real value is unlocked when you connect the data to the driver to improve their experience

Your Mother Was Right: It’s Important to Share

Smart phones and apps that track our personal habits, that allow us to better utilize our time (e.g. Washington’s “DC Metro and Bus” transit app providing real time rail and bus predictions), and ride-sharing apps are already in daily use. Smart parking, however, takes these principles to an even more advanced level through incredibly sophisticated information creating and sharing. This is accomplished through:

1. Reporting & Analytics

• Understanding current performance and activity

• Analyzing data for trends to identify changing or new customer needs

• Predicting usage of resources for potential events and running scenarios to understand how to maximize value

• Optimizing operations to achieve goals: revenue, turnover, availability, compliance, and more

2. Sharing information with other parking providers to power decision support tools

• Occupancy

• Pricing

• Reservations

• Payment

3. Sharing information with consumers and enabling the consumer to act on the information

• Signs in the garage

• Signs on the road

• Mobile apps

• Connected cars

• Tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles

How does this look in action? Imagine that holiday shopper being directed to an open space. That Uber driver, directed to the nearest parking spot and transmitting that information to his ride. That frantic holiday traveler, finding the closest/most affordable airport parking spot, before she leaves her home. The city’s transportation networks become more efficient as well, able to raise or lower parking prices in real time in order to control and spread out traffic flow. This could even trickle down to knowing where to send more shuttle buses, for instance, based on the network’s knowledge of where the majority of people have parked.

Ready to Get Smart?

Cities looking to smarten up their parking operations and improve their overall transportation network would do well to look for smart parking solutions that support all facets mentioned above. Bits and pieces allow for cracks in the system; a robust, holistic approach is really the optimal choice. Technology companies like T2 Systems are integral to a successful, supportable smart parking system.

Katie Swanson is Marketing Communications Manager, T2 Systems. She can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Katie Swanson
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