On the Road — PARK!


On the Road — PARK!

The British Parking Association hold its “PARKEX” show annually.  Every other year (this is one of those) it combines with TRAFFEX and the event is held at the UK’s National Exhibition Center in Birmingham. Its a huge complex located near the geographic center of the country. Think Las Vegas Convention Center and double the size.

Traffex/Parkex takes one hall and is about twice the size of the IPI show. There are about 250 Traffic exhibitors — those companies dealing with all things road, traffic, and transportation, and 125 Parking Companies. Not too shabby for a country a sixth the size of the US.

The show is big — huge booths  — two stories tall — Here is Skidata’s distributor in the UK:

There were all the usual suspects and usual technology — I did think that XEROX had a POF machine I hadn’t seen before. It has a ‘Star Wars” look but the circles and lines really mean something and work well to guide the user through the steps in paying for parking:

The leader in technology was ANPR or if you speak American LPR  –that’s Automated Number Plate Recognition vs License Plate Recognition. We have had a number of discussions on the efficacy of LPR in this space and the conclusion seems to be that although its a great idea, that it is extremely difficult to get a high percentage of what the folks here would call ‘proper’ reads. Seems that the number bounces around between what is reality (perhaps 70-90%) and what we are told (95%).  Hey, don’t kill the messenger.

But there is a difference between being able to read the plate and being able actually recognize what the number is. These guys:

claim to read 98 percent of the plates they see and recognize or translate those numbers into data that a computer can use in 96 percent of the time. That is a standard set by the UK Government.

When I mentioned I was from the US, they just smiled politely and told me that all bets are off in the US.  Here in the UK all the license plates look the same — same size, same colors, same fonts, and same order of letter and numbers.  In the US, every state and in some places every country have different fonts, colors, sizes and shapes. This makes for a much harder problem.

Most told me that in the US if they could get 90%, it would be good.

So what does all this mean?  It means that depending 100% on ANPR to control your parking facility may be a bit of a stretch. If you are using it for enforcement (is this car a scofflaw, has this car paid, is this person speeding) then it is a workable solution. However to use it for access control, or to charge a vehicle based on time of entry, it can be problematic. If you are getting only 90 out of 100 that means that on average, in a parking facility that has 3000 transactions a day, up to 300 might be missed.

Here in the UK, that number drops to 120, but its still a lot.

I loved this picture that one of the vendors was using to illustrate how ANPR can be used to catch crooks on the freeway:

Just another day on the 405 Freeway in LA.

Helen Dolphin of the British Disabled Motoring group just dropped by the booth. She is the embodiment of courage having lost both legs and forearms to disease in her 20s, she carries an attitude that surrounds everyone she meets. Her smile and her approach to life is awe inspiring. I’ve known her a couple of years now and find we are in agreement on most issues concerning disabled parking. Its not about cost, its about access.  She notes that she doesn’t feel she should pay the same as a non disabled person since she takes longer to get about her business, but she feels it fair that she does pay. More time for the same amount.  That’s her credo.

Mandy Stephens is my UK assistant for shows in Birmingham. She has a business doing just that, helping companies who exhibit at the NEC.  Covering 40 evedntws a year, she has a stable of women who work for her and she assigns them to exhibitors that contract with her.  Here she is with moi:

She says that she hires women who are able to learn about the company they represent and are PA material, that is personal assistant.  She says that girls who work the shows like the one with her here…

are a dying breed.  They are there to add color and a certain ‘look’ to the booth, but in the end, do you remember the name of the company they represent. Her group dresses professionally (always in trousers) and can talk intelligently about the product or service of the company who hired them. They will be older, but good looking. If they are all like Mandy, she is certainly correct.  On the first day of the show she collected over 100 email addresses of people who wanted the e copy of PT sent to them every month plus passed out magazines, completely organized the booth, and served as an ambassador for PT here at the Parkex show.

Then there’s:


Exhibitors at these shows work hard to attract folks to their booth — there were also Bat Girls (persons?)

and the odd super hero


The NEC is located adjacent to Birmingham International Airport and there is a maglev train connecting the two. I have to run — got to catch a flight to Dusseldorf and my next eat (schnitzel?) play (drive on an autobahn) and park (German Manufacturer of PARCS}



John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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