Some Random Thoughts About On-Street Parking Technology

December 4, 2017

Julie Dixon

As I travel the country assessing parking operations of all types and sizes, I have the opportunity to evaluate a variety of on-street parking technology developments.

In just the past few years, our industry has witnessed, for example, enforcement handhelds evolve from proprietary devices to off-the-shelf smartphones, while more on-street operations transition toward pay-by-plate-based technology solutions.

Now, instead of proprietary hardware, municipalities can provide their own “smart” devices using their existing telecommunication provider agreements. This off-the-shelf approach is a transition from the closed-ended support service models that previously existed.

Consistent with other industries, we in parking are finding, for example, more software as a service (SaaS) options being presented with subscriber fee pricing options for consideration.

This type of adaption is crucial to the future of our industry. We need vendor systems to integrate and work with one another, which allow an agency to purchase the best technology for their service or support needs.

You might be surprised to learn that some vendor systems are still “closed” and limit the capabilities of their clients. Nothing is worse than when a technology vendor cannot provide, say, an application programming interface (API) for its client’s system. (This is how data can be transmitted from one system to another.)

For example, if you have a citation management system, your license plate recognition vendor should be able to receive an API that includes your scofflaw or delinquent license plates.

There also is the issue of real-time that must be addressed when considering on-street parking technology. When municipalities indicate their need for real-time information, they must first define “real-time” and what the overall objective is. This might seem simple enough, but many times, these types of requirements are not specifically defined and left open to interpretation.

(And trust me, after spending many years testing equipment with the SFpark project, it was clear that “real-time” does not mean the same thing to everyone.)

Similarly, another popular interest for many agencies is demand rate pricing. Again, the first thing that needs to be defined is its particular meaning for that municipality. Whether establishing time-of-day pricing, changing a rate for special events or implementing peak versus non-peak seasonal rate structures, the terminology needs to be confirmed.

I highlight this because you should not allow others to translate your needs. If you are going to issue a specification, include a summary of objectives and a glossary of terms to ensure that respondents have a clear understanding of your program needs.

As I consider the direction of on-street parking technology, I continue to look for technologies and vendors that work well together. And, more important, I want to see solutions that are supported. Parking is about customer service, and technology solutions should make the experience easy and simple. (Parking is an integral part of an intelligent transportation system.)

Parking technology must be part of any discussion of “first mile/last mile” needs and transportation demand management solutions. As municipalities continue to be challenged by the need to reduce single-occupancy-vehicle trips, for example, parking technology can be deployed to address this. Whether adjusting pricing, implementing “alternative transportation incentive” programs or coordinating carpool opportunities, many downtowns are trying to discourage parking.

If you are not already familiar with these programs, you should check them out. There is an opportunity to integrate your parking technology systems with these programs to reduce emissions and promote alternative transportation. These programs have proven successful and already provide some parking information detail.

Many of these programs, which rely on smartphone applications, are just being introduced into the municipal market. With such a social media focus, there are promotional opportunities that can be stimulated using these types of programs.

No one system can easily or affordably do it all. And those who say they can haven’t been able to demonstrate that capability yet.

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel in Europe, and it was interesting to witness the reliance there on multiple mobile payment applications within one municipality, allowing patrons to use their preferred provider or a traditional paystation.

Additionally, I experienced pay-by-text, which does not require an application to be downloaded. It was a simple transaction that began and ended a parking session with a text. Parking enforcement officers used an integrated smartphone device, and the citation issuance software verified the payment status by license plate for the variety of payment platforms.

If I could dream of a perfect on-street technology, it would incorporate my European experience. But, in addition to providing a variety of convenient payment options, I would provide municipalities with a centralized parking management system.

We in the U.S. face this challenge across the country. No one system can easily or affordably do it all. And those who say they can haven’t been able to demonstrate that capability yet. We need one central repository that receives all parking information and allows the client to manage the data and generate reports.

This includes, at a minimum, availability, maintenance issues, revenue, enforcement statistics, reconciliation, performance management and optimization – the list goes on. While ideally the industry continues to expand on parking technology integrations to allow for improved field performance, we can’t forget that it’s all about the data and what we can do with them.

Don’t forget: We must look at the data to make informed decisions. Vendor systems already offer a tremendous amount of information. To provide a consolidated database that also has revenue reconciliation tools and forecasting models would be ideal.

Is it a dream, or can it be a reality? I will patiently continue to wait and attempt to influence vendor integration and reporting tools to help municipalities optimally manage their on-street parking resources.

Julie Dixon is Founder, President and Principal Consultant of Dixon Resources Unlimited. Contact her at Julie@dixonresourcesunlimited.com.