Parking Occupancy Systems


Parking Occupancy Systems

Spring is in full swing this month. Hopefully, it is warming up in your part of the world. I, for one, am happy to feel warmer temperatures again. This month we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Parking Today! I remember flipping through a Parking Today copy while waiting on the interview for my first job in parking (many years ago, now). I am amazed I get to write for the same magazine all these years later. Congratulations, John and the rest of the PT crew, for an incredible 25 years. I am looking forward to what you have in store for the next 25, and I count myself lucky to get to work with you all. 

This month’s question focuses on a topic that becomes even more important as vehicles begin to arrive back in parking facilities again (hopefully, soon).

Hello Kevin, 

We are considering adding a real-time vehicle count system to our surface parking lots. What should we keep in mind when selecting this system? 

Tallying in Texas 

Thanks for the question! There is a lot to consider when selecting a parking lot occupancy system. There are two primary varieties of parking count systems broken up by vehicle movement and count device placement. In a drive lane system, vehicles are counted while driving past a fixed counting device. In an individual space system, the cars are only counted once parked. 

First, let’s review the drive lane systems. This approach places a counting device in the entry or exit lanes of a location. Several different types of technology are used to detect the vehicle, including pressure, magnetic field, light beams, radar, and cameras. Each of these systems detects the vehicle as it moves in the lane. Depending on the technology (typically non-camera-based), some systems require more than one detector to determine the vehicle’s direction. This piece of information is essential as directional data is vital to determine if the count should increase or decrease. These systems often need well-placed lane delineation to ensure vehicles are driving in the sensor area. While some of these technologies can be obtained at a lower price point, these lower-cost systems tend not to be as accurate or provide as many additional features as more advanced systems. Advanced camera-based systems utilizing vehicle detection can provide vehicle count and individual vehicle identification using license plate, state, model, and color. 

Solutions that count individual space are another method to obtain vehicle occupancy in a parking lot. These devices count individual vehicles once at rest in a space. Two primary approaches are used to detect vehicles in the spaces. Ground-mounted systems are installed in each space (either adhered to the surface or buried underground) and typically use a vendor-specific combination of technologies to detect a vehicle within the space. While some in the industry may remember the issues with these ground-mounted systems, recent versions have solved many of them. 

Overhead single space sensors use camera systems mounted above the parking lot. The number of spaces covered by each camera is determined by the camera’s height and any ground-based obstructions (such as trees or signs). While these camera-based systems visually detect the vehicle, due to the camera’s placement, most are unable to be used for license plate detection reliably. 

Once you have your count system selected, you should consider what will be done with counts. In many situations, the count is displayed on an outdoor sign which shows the available spaces. The sign’s location should be carefully considered to ensure it provides drivers information in enough time to be useful. Additionally, count data can be made available to drivers with apps, websites, and vehicle data services, assuming the system provides interfaces for these services. 

During this planning stage, the following questions should be considered. What are your overall goals? When the project is done, what do you want to be able to do, or what should your parkers be able to do? How is this different from what is happening now? How much better or different does it need to be to determine the system is a success? Do you have any expectations on return on investment, or is the system being installed purely for customer service or other goals? How accurately does the system need to count vehicles? Does your garage typically fill to 100 percent, or are there regularly extra spaces? Are there on-going software costs after install? How often do you need vehicle counts updated? What is your long-term plan for maintenance of the system? Does this maintenance cost include the regular resetting of the counts? Do you have any vendor guarantee of system accuracy? How is system accuracy measured? Does the vehicle turnover require truly “real-time” counts? There are no right or wrong answers here. Each answer helps determine the best system for your situation. 

Thanks for your question,


Article contributed by:
Kevin Uhlenhaker
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