ALPR: It really does increase both revenue and efficiency
Can Technology Make Parking Meters Popular?
First, what does ALPR really do in parking facilities? It can replace tickets and enable a “ticketless” and even “gateless” pay-by-plate solution for a parking facility. The technology also can provide unstaffed 24/7 coverage of a facility. And if CCTV cameras are integrated with the ALPR system, the system as a whole can also enhance safety and security.
On the logistics side, the quicker turnaround time creates a “greening” of garages as a result of fewer carbon emissions and less noise due to the “stop and start” and “idling” phenomena so common at the entry and exit booths of non-automated facilities.
The public often bemoans the lack of interaction with a human in so many processes these days. However, for parking, customers are actually reporting a perception of an increased level of service.
In parking garages, ALPR also allows monthly subscribers smooth access into the facility. For transient users, it can match entry-and-exit ALPR readings for quicker exiting of the garage, along with easier verification due to a real-time link to the PARC system.
The ALPR technology can also handle lost or switched tickets, and by cross-referencing with other data, can accurately bill the customer in question. An ALPR system also can provide alerts for both VIP customers and “vehicles of interest” that might have a history of billing infractions or other problematic behavior, such as tailgating.
This list is indeed impressive, and of great value to the parking facility owner, but how accurate is it, really?
The system’s hardware and software components both contribute to the increase in accuracy of ALPR.
Different geographies pose different challenges, with license plate characters ranging from Latin and Cyrillic to Arabic and Asian. Because ALPR is based on “character recognition,” a truly global company must have a system able to read all of these types of characters and numbers. When one also factors that the license plates can be reflective and non-reflective, additional challenges are posed.
The U.S. alone has a wide variety of license plates, reflective and non-reflective, with colors covering the spectrum of the rainbow, and an abundance of emblems, icons and customization. Hi-Tech Solutions (HTS), for example, addresses this particular challenge by offering more than one spectrum of infrared illumination, as well as “visible light,” integrated into its imaging units.
On the software side, relevant applications in the parking industry generally allow for “database matching.” This includes monthly subscribers, employees (when relevant) and transients. The matching is done at the entry and exit to the facility, and this enables higher recognition results, often as high as 98%.
In the limited instances where the matching algorithms do not provide results, “exception handing” is provided via operator intervention. It should be noted that due to the high level of automation and sophistication in communications systems, and the ability to link a number of sites to a single control room, a limited number of operators is required, thus saving resources (human and monetary) for the carpark owner or operator.
As more and more commercial parking operators are moving to centralized command and control for ongoing management and monitoring of operations, exception handling has become more cost-effective and can be at a remote location for all sites, utilizing bidirectional audio and video from the facility to the control room.
This saves on manpower costs, because the remote operator also can resolve transactions, as well as handle any anomaly at entry and exit gates for all the facilities. In fact, with proper exception handling in place, overall accuracy of the ALPR system is 100%.
Another factor that has had a positive influence on the accuracy of ALPR is the advances made in camera technology over the past few years. Not only has this affected the overall cost of ALPR -- the cameras have come down in price dramatically -- but also the technological advances enable higher accuracy of recognition rates.
The higher recognition rates can be attributed to a number of technology factors, including 2 megapixel IP cameras that have improved the resolution of the images, which translates into greater accuracies and improved working distances for the systems. Also, motorized zoom lenses have contributed to the improved distances by allowing variable camera placements and flexible distances, while providing improved images fed to the recognition engines.
With all of these advances in ALPR technology, more widespread adoption would be expected; however, there are still challenges, more on the customer experience side of the equation.
Many parking facility owners and operators don’t even know the dollar amount of their leakage. Therefore, it becomes more difficult to truly calculate the ROI for them to justify the investment in an ALPR system. They also often haven’t calculated the number of lost ticket transactions they are handling or other payment exceptions.
Many parking owners and operators not in larger cities such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, do not believe there is a cost justification for adopting ALPR solutions because they are not charging $40 per day for parking.
Some upgrade their ALPR systems only when they upgrade their PARC solution, rather than taking into account that most leading ALPR companies can and will integrate with any of the major PARC systems, and can be purchased separately, as the cost of acquisition for the ALPR systems is considerably less.
So, the bottom line is that automatic license plate recognition has kept pace with the leading technologies developed and has increased overall performance across many fields. And although the ALPR system may not be 100% accurate out of the box, with proper exception handling programs implemented, it provides complete coverage of parking facility requirements for billing, automation and even security.
Contact Meta Rotenberg, VP of Marketing and Business Development at HTS Inc., at firstname.lastname@example.org.