Are ‘Self-Enforcing’ Parking Meters a Disruptive Technology?
WHAT BRIDGEPORT, CT, AND MPS DATA SHOW
Our Municipal Parking Services (MPS) Sentry system is a parking technology software platform whose centerpiece is a revolutionary “smart” parking meter. Through a combination of embedded vehicle-detection technologies, including cameras, the Sentry meter is capable of automatically detecting a scofflaw or overtime meter violation with near 100% accuracy.
The meter sends time-stamped photographic evidence of the violation to parking enforcement officers. When the evidence confirms a violation, an officer can then, with the push of a button, process and mail a ticket to the registered vehicle owner.
The Sentry system has processed more than 2 million parking sessions to date in a handful of cities in North America.
In addition to the automatic enforcement technology, the system also is designed to generate highly accurate reports on round-the-clock space occupancy, parking session duration, meter compliance, system capacity, and other data for every monitored parking space in a city.
Data concerning the Sentry system’s performance came to light in early July when a group of merchants in Bridgeport, CT, expressed concerns about the new meters’ impact on customer counts due to increased ticketing levels.
In response, we at MPS and the city released operational data to City Council members that showed parking sessions at its meters had increased by some 20% across more than four months from the initial installation.
Additional tidbits from the data: Daily space turnover improved from 8.5x to 10.3x; the meters generated just under a ticket per space per day; and meter compliance improved steadily each month from a starting point of 72% to 86%.
An MPS executive further revealed that at more “mature” installations, compliance rates under the Sentry system typically reach 95%. In addition, the data showed that just under 20% of the violators were repeat offenders who generated 33% of total tickets issued.
When compared with accepted industry data, we at MPS see those results as eye-popping. If a city of 1,000 spaces were to generate tickets at a rate of one per space, per day and enforced parking 25 days each month, the result would be 300,000 tickets a year.
At a $20 ticket rate, that would equate to $6 million of violation revenue a year alone, or $500 per space per month. Clearly this number would decrease if compliance reached 95%, as we at MPS claim. Still, after adding parking revenue, the result is a step-change several times the magnitude of industry norms.
Enforcement levels this strict are sure to draw the ire of meter violators and others as witnessed in Bridgeport. We at MPS bill the meters as “fair” in that they provide objective visual evidence of the circumstances surrounding every violation and alleviate any consumer claims of meter-writing quotas or favoritism when writing tickets.
Additionally, the MPS Sentry system offers pre-determined grace periods at the beginning and end of a parking session, plus the ability to add time with its Sentry Mobile phone app.
In the case of Bridgeport, we at MPS and the city reacted with a series of compromises that included changing meter payment grace periods, free parking on Saturdays, and a decrease in Bridgeport’s ticket prices (which, at the time, were the highest in Connecticut).
If the performance that we at MPS have reported from Bridgeport is representative and if cities can navigate the transition to stricter compliance, the Sentry system offers cities a potent new tool for driving better parking compliance and higher parking revenues.
Pros and Cons
Parking Today and Parknews.biz have reported extensively on the installation of smart meters in Bridgeport. There has been some controversy, mostly dealing with the city and how it implemented the program. The meters appear to have done what they were proposed to do.
Although as change will always bring some protest, the merchants groups have supported the installation of the meters as they ensured parking spaces for customers and motivated employees to park in spaces away from the shopping areas.
The public relations problems centered around the ‘compromises’ noted in the article that came into being after the meters were installed and the firm enforcement program was in place.
Most cities have experienced that heavily enforced compliance, no matter how it is implemented, can bring out the torches and pitchforks, as it did in Bridgeport.
Being able to explain and prove violation doesn’t always blunt the realities of actually receiving citations for every violation. Many feel that “not being cited” when in violation is like winning the lotto and feel that being ticketed for every fault, even those that are only a few minutes, is unfair and egregious.
Rob Matthews, VP Sales and Business Development. You can contact him at Municipal Parking Services, at