If you’ve ever circled city blocks over and over looking for a parking spot (which should be just about anybody who’s ever tried to find parking in a city), you’ve probably wished a voice would just tell you exactly where to go. And if navigating congested city streets has ever frustrated you, it won’t be surprising to hear that more than 30 percent of traffic congestion in cities is caused by drivers looking for parking.
According to a study performed by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, who surveyed 15 city blocks for one year in downtown Los Angeles, the search for a parking spot created about 950,000 extra miles of travel – equivalent to about 38 trips around Earth! Not only is this excess travel clogging city streets, it is wasting gasoline - 47,000 gallons in those same 15 blocks, or about two and a half swimming pools. This is money, time, and resources that drivers and city officials have been letting go to waste for years.
People take crowded city streets as a given, but in reality there are massive inefficiencies that are entirely surmountable, particularly with RFID technology in place. In cities ranging from Stockholm to San Francisco, the parking technology firm Streetline is partnering with IBM to install RFID-based parking-management systems as part of IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative (a subset of Smarter Planet, focused on congestion solutions, greener buildings, water management systems, and the like).
Logistically, this involves embedding transponders in the pavement of a city’s parking spots, attaching readers to permanent structures like lamp posts, and setting this system up to transmit information to a software platform from IBM that can manage the data that comes from Streetline’s readers. Magnetic sensors installed in the pavement can detect whether or not a vehicle is in a given parking space, meaning cities can now view the flow of parking availability in real time. Doing so has allowed city officials and drivers alike to realize that at any given time there can be as many as 2,000 parking spots available, when many had believed there were none. Amazing.
For drivers, finding a parking spot no longer has to involve circling and clogging the already-congested city streets, a process that on average will take 20 minutes in a business district, according to IBM’s Global Parking Survey. That could be the difference between being late for a business meeting or making it on time. Instead, it can be as simple as loading the free “Parker” app, looking at open spots nearby on the map, and navigating to the most convenient one.
City management stands to gain the most from the technology, as they have access to Streetline data, trends, and reports, enabling their parking managers and enforcement officers to work more efficiently. Managers of parking garages can locate spots that have been occupied for too long or are vacant, and can use that information to better serve their customers. And a better understanding of the flow of traffic and parking availability also allows for more efficient planning of transit schedules and infrastructure projects around the trends city officials see.
Based on the costs of inefficient parking management revealed by the UCLA survey referenced above, Streetline can save people time, money, and gas, while simultaneously bringing in more revenue for a city from the efficiencies created, particularly from a more organized system of issuing parking tickets and better accommodations for tourism. This can make a difference for municipalities facing big budget deficits that need new and better sources of revenue. If city governments can significantly reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and drivers can save time and gas money simply by gaining better visibility into open parking spaces, it’s a worthwhile investment that has the potential to pay for itself in a very short period of time.