Promoting Transit Use with Parking Guidance Technology


Promoting Transit Use with Parking Guidance Technology

Los Angeles has always been known for its “car culture.” Angelinos are famous for driving everywhere, and many wouldn’t even consider public transportation as an option for getting around town.

Of course, the world is changing, and travel habits are changing with it—even in Los Angeles. Concerns over the environment, combined with roadway congestion, have led to a newfound focus on promoting transit use in urban areas. In greater Los Angeles, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has established a world-class transportation system that combines 165 bus routes serving 1,479 square miles, and 93 Metro stations serving 98 miles of track.

Ironically, the effort to get
people out of personal vehicles
and onto trains was often undermined by…cars.

The question facing LA Transit leaders was: how do you get people to use public transit when they’ve grown accustomed to relying on their personal vehicles? The solution was found in the form of parking guidance technology.

No Parking

Ironically, the effort to get people out of personal vehicles and onto trains was often undermined by…cars. One of the most troublesome issues impeding transit ridership was parking. Even though LA Metro provides 87 parking facilities, providing 26,000 spaces that serve 54 stations, riders often couldn’t find parking.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First, many of the parking lots that serve Metro stations are massive. It wasn’t uncommon for travelers to have to circle parking aisles again and again until they found an available parking space. Not only was this frustrating to commuters, but the sight of cars aimlessly circling the parking lots and garage aisles often dissuaded other travelers from entering lots or garages and looking for parking. 

A second factor was that a large number of employees of local businesses and other non-Metro parkers would use the free parking spaces, rather than pay for parking at a nearby parking facility. A parking study found that between 30 percent and 45 percent of the system’s spaces were taken by non-riders each day. 

The parking problem was so severe that some patrons had gotten into the habit of arriving hours before they needed to board their trains. They would arrive early, park, and eat breakfast—some would even sleep in their cars—and then catch their train. 

Of course, LA Metro could have just built additional parking, but the cost was prohibitive. Land is at a premium in LA, and planners determined that to meet current utilization LA Metro would need 30 percent more parking, or 7,800 spaces. Planners estimated that developing these new spaces could have cost the county as much as $310 million, which made new space development a non-starter.

Guiding a Technological Solution

Since building new parking was off the table, a plan needed to be developed that would discourage non-riders from parking in Metro lots and garages; make it easier to find parking in Metro facilities; be fiscally responsible; and promote sustainability.

The answer was found in a combination of parking planning and technology. The planning element was simple: LA Metro began charging a nominal $3 a day fee. In addition to discouraging unauthorized parkers from misusing Metro parking spaces, the fee is expected to raise $10.2 million a year. Additional revenue will also be generated through enforcement as unauthorized users are ticketed.

The heart of the solution, however, was found in parking guidance technology. LA Metro installed scalable and expandable parking guidance technology in all of its parking lots and garages that could manage the parking assets while helping drivers find available parking spaces. Each of the system’s 87 parking facilities utilizes identical technology, which makes it more convenient for drivers who may not use the same facility every day and simplifies management for LA Metro staff.

The parking guidance sensors monitor each space, determining which spaces are occupied and which are free. The occupancy information is communicated to signs at lot entrances, letting parkers know exactly how many spaces are available in that particular lot. Additionally, signs on lanes combine with color-coded lights on the sensors themselves to guide drivers directly to those open spaces. Since the system was installed, the time it typically takes parkers to find a parking space has been cut in half. 

Ultimately, the technology will also be able to handle revenue control for the system. The system can utilize a special mobile app that can securely accept payment from credit cards and PayPal. By automating parking guidance, related enforcement, and payment, transit systems can eliminate the need for cameras, gates, and costly payment equipment, which can dramatically reduce daily operational costs. 

A key consideration in establishing this program was sustainability, and planners estimate that the reduction in the time it takes to find parking is saving, on average, .35 pounds of carbon dioxide per vehicle, per day. Ultimately, the parking guidance system is expected to eliminate 900 tons of carbon dioxide across the metro network each year. 

LA Metro’s parking guidance program has helped LA Metro achieve it three key business objectives. First, the guidance technology allows patrons to know in advance where parking is available, which has improved the customer experience and expanded access to transportation options. 

Also, by improving the management of LA Metro’s parking assets and addressing unauthorized parking by non-riders, the program has led to increased ridership throughout the LA Metro system. Finally, the revenue generated by the $3/day parking fee is being used to provide an industry-leading, state-of-good-repair program designed to keep existing and future transit assets in good working order, while substantially upgrading the overall transit system. The parking guidance program has been an extraordinary success that’s benefiting both LA Metro and its patrons.

Jake Bezzant is the CEO of Parking Sense, and the architect of the LA Metro parking guidance program. He can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Jake Bezzant
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