The Art of Parking Analytics
This is not a pipe. Ceci n’est pas une pipe.
Belgian Surrealist artist Rene Magritte painted “La Trahison des images” (“The Treachery of Images”) in 1929 to show that things are not always what they seem.
This painting, in fact, is not a pipe. It is the portrayal of a pipe, the semblance of a pipe.
Similarly, more and more companies are portraying their ability to host “Big Data,” provide reports, and offer system dashboards as analytics. That work, though valuable, does not constitute true analytics.
Ceci n’est pas analytiques. Why do I say that? Because “analytics” has become the buzzword du jour. The notion has been watered-down through overuse in a marketplace hungry for differentiation. In truth, analysis and analytics are very different things.
The simple provision of reports and dashboards fails in two ways.
First, the provision of datasets alone does not reflect a real understanding of patterns. Comprehending patterns is crucial to identifying behavioral trends, the impact of technology, and the effectiveness of business processes. Second, these tools don’t communicate those patterns and their importance to decision-makers.
Only through data classification, data clustering, the application of statistical and economic theory, predictive modeling by data scientists, and machine learning can we completely understand parking habits.
And it’s this knowledge that affects positive behavioral change, determines the rate of return on hardware and software, and improves operations.
Through analytics, we should come to recognize and understand patterns in data. Through analytics, we gain insights to guide decision-making. Through analytics, we can make recommendations to improve parking.
Analytics isn’t reactive. It’s a call to action.
Painting a complete picture of parking
The application of analytics to parking and mobility should address one or more of three critical objectives:
Transforming the customer experience. Time is the new metric. While client revenue and efficiency are crucial, those goals are largely divorced from the customer experience. Time, however, speaks to us universally. It’s a precious and limited resource, and when it’s wasted, it’s gone forever.
Optimizing operations. Data can guide decisions about how we manage our resources and staff, reducing costs and improving parking revenues.
Improving sustainability. Analytics is key to understanding return- on-investment, managing demand, promoting driving alternatives and “green” technology.
Making parking easy
Parking is a process, and a difficult one at that. It begins before a motorist ever puts his or her key in the ignition, when one first starts thinking about a trip. It continues through the drive, as the customer tries to understand signage and find a parking space. Paying for parking, adding time to a meter, exiting and even dealing with parking tickets are all part of the parking process.
Analytics can be used to make parking more convenient. For instance, analytics can:
Drive the right parking meter mix. Parking managers struggle with the decision to implement free-flow or pay-by-space parking. Does free-flow parking really create more space, or do the parking habits of customers limit the benefits of such an environment? The use of video analytics to establish where cars actually park and the distance between them can help determine the right asset mix to ensure the greatest number of available parking spaces, thereby reducing travel times and improving revenues. The right solution isn’t always the one you think.
Establish the right hourly rates. Parking administrators shouldn’t take a “finger in the air” approach to setting rates. Using machine learning, rates can be adjusted as frequently as necessary to effectively communicate occupancy and manage demand. In Los Angeles, for instance, the implementation of analytics-informed demand-based pricing reduced parking congestion by 10% in overused areas and improved use of underutilized areas by 5%.
Help parking managers understand purchase patterns. How much time are your customers spending pressing buttons at a pay box or single-space meter? The amount of time spent pushing buttons can be reduced. In Indianapolis, for example, by studying meter purchases and appropriately modifying the default purchase values, the city was able to reduce the number of button pushes from 50% to 75%. Less time spent playing with a meter means more time customers get to spend doing what they want.
Inform the redesign of signs and messaging. Using analytics, parking managers can be judicious in how and where they install street signs. Analytics can guide decisions to optimize the benefit of signage to direct customers to cheaper parking options, provide them with information about payment alternatives, promote bicycling, and make using kiosks and meters easier.
Ensure time limits are not arbitrary. Too often, the maximum amount of time a customer can stay at a meter is set by an ordinance or regulation without any real understanding of occupancy, shifts in demand throughout the day, or unique demand generators on a block – businesses such as restaurants, merchants, gyms and concert venues. In fact, time limits rarely correlate to the goals of a parking program to reduce the time spent dealing with meters, increase use in underused spaces, and reduce the use of congested spaces. Indianapolis used analytics to reevaluate traditional time limits, establishing new limits that increased paid use in underused areas and meter revenue by more than 20%; increased the percentage of credit card payments; and reduced meter wear and tear by reducing the number of transactions.
The parking palette
Like artists, parking managers are only as good as the paint on their palette. Analytics informs the tones and hues necessary to realize one’s vision, mixing policy decisions concerning time limits, locations, hours, rates, payment alternatives, and compliance to get the right pigment.
In addition to rates and time limits as discussed above, parking managers can optimize operations by using analytics to determine the right location and hours for paid parking. Further, administrators can help solve the problem of scarce parking resources by using predictive analytics to identify parking citations before they happen.
Using a variety of data components, data scientists can make recommendations to improve productivity in sustainable ways, while also improving compliance with the meters.
Data can be used to establish and recommend:
The right enforcement, maintenance and collections staffing levels during different times of the day.
The size and shape of the beats to be worked by enforcement personnel.
Routes for enforcement personnel to walk and drive to optimize their productivity.
The right fine amounts to promote compliance without
The impact, if any, of customers parking at meters with remaining paid value on total system revenue when changes to meter programming defaults and time limits are made. Periodically providing this analysis can ascertain whether meter policy changes are protecting revenues and municipal margins
Making art affordable for everyone
By using data proxies, parking managers can reduce the number of sensors necessary to detect parked vehicles. A smart grid need not be an expensive grid if information about equipment and consumer behavior is properly leveraged. Improvements in efficiency, reliability, economics and sustainability of parking can be achieved by moving to an “asset lite” approach to parking infrastructure. By using data proxies and temporal and spatial sampling, cities can mitigate the risk associated with equipment outages and improve wayfinding for customers.
Parking for art’s sake
Parking managers are no different than artists really, using their critical and discerning eye to paint a compelling parking portrait with analytics. Being a good artist takes practice, and parking professionals should set aside time to hone their analytical skills.
As with the Impressionists, don’t be afraid to lean on your community of artists to provide fresh analytical perspectives and ideas, share results, and find your muse.
Parking is like art. Both are essential to vibrant neighborhoods, ensuring economic vitality and quality of life. When executed well, your parking program can be a masterpiece.
Contact Matt Darst, Vice President of Parking and Mobility Solutions at Xerox, at firstname.lastname@example.org