Intelligent Parking: A Tale of Five Cities

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, the UN projects that figure will increase to about 70%. Whatever the actual percentage ends up to be, one thing is uncontestably true: all of those cars and people will exert a heavy burden on our mobility systems and infrastructure.

Cities across the globe struggle with meeting the parking demand for growing number of driving residents.

We can see the precursors of this nightmarish scenario in action today. Traffic and pollution already constitute major societal challenges that demand smart solutions. If we can’t figure out how to address the needs of our rapidly growing urban centers, such pain points will only continue to become more acute and widespread ad nauseum.

Conversely, and most fortunately, mobility also represents some of the most fertile ground for innovation. Visionary thinkers and doers work each day to build a smarter future for our cities, employing the vast (and still largely untapped) power of data, sensors, and the Internet of Things as tools of the trade.

Among the whitest of whales in this impending sea change is a frustration we face every day: parking. Thankfully, mobile apps, automated parking systems, street-side sensors, and open data all stand to revolutionize parking systems in major systems. Surely and steadily, we are moving towards a parking paradigm that yields greater convenience for drivers, and less congestion for cities.

What’s more, intelligent parking isn’t just something that’s stuck in some distant, perpetual future. Cities, far-flung across the corners of the globe, are implementing people-focused solutions that are effective today. Below, we delve into a tale of five cities:

San Francisco, United States

The Bay Area is home to some of the world’s most vivacious tech companies. So it’s hardly surprising that the city has been one of the first to implement smart parking systems. In 2011, the city implemented the SFpark initiative. This pioneering parking management system has brought forth many innovations, including:

  • Demand-responsive pricing: Rates for metered parking space vary depending on location and demand at a particular time of the day. As a result, hourly parking rates vary from $.50 to $7. This enables a more efficient usage of available parking spaces. Wireless sensors are deployed throughout the city to optimize the system, which is also used in 14 public parking structures.
  • Mobile apps: The SFpark app (which is completely free) informs drivers about parking space availability in real time. The data feed also includes information about the variable payment system.
  • PayByPhone: Although San Francisco has modern parking meters available for use, drivers also have the option to pay for parking via phone.
  • Open data and source code: In the interest of promoting access to data, the SFpark API is fully public, with open data and open source code. This enables developers and researchers to implement their own innovations to improve the parking system in San Francisco.

Singapore

As one of the world’s leading centers of technology and finance, the tiny Republic of Singapore is seeking to become the world’s first true “Smart City.” In 2014, a systematic installation of sensors proliferated throughout the island. The data collected from this sensor network constitutes an open data platform, with the primary goal of optimizing the city’s transportation system, including parking.

Last year, Singapore rolled out its Parking.sg application that is revolutionizing parking payment in the city. Users simply enter in basic information (such as vehicle number, car park code, and payment info) to pay for a public parking space on a per-minute basis. The app sends users notifications about meter status, and enables people to view their full parking history. Motorists of all kinds, ranging from motorcyclists to operators of heavy vehicles, can use the app to good effect.

Singapore is also adding new, automated parking structures, including the Speedy Automated Parking System downtown. This includes a car elevator, along with eight vehicle parking platforms. Motorists must only drive their vehicles into this Elevator Tower Parking, where the rest of the hassle of parking is handled for them automatically. When it’s time to retrieve their vehicle, they simply enter a four-code pin number into a touch screen. The elevator will then find and deliver the car to the driver, with all the convenience of a vending machine.

Singapore is one of the biggest parking innovators in the world.

As Singapore continues to undergo rapid development, these innovations are proving critical for facilitating optimal mobility.

Berlin, Germany

Finding a parking spot in German cities requires an average of 4.5 extra kilometers of wasted travel. So there is a clear need for smart parking solutions in Berlin. In 2016, the city began a pilot program in partnership with Siemens’ Mobility Division, as part of the City2e 2.0 project funded by the federal German government.

The Siemens project is a radar-based system for detecting open parking spaces. Using Bundesallee Street as a test site, Siemens has installed a system of sensors. The sensors are small enough for installation on street lamps, and feature an integrated antenna. Every individual sensor can scan an area of 30 meters.

Data from the sensors is transmitted via mobile radio sensors to Berlin’s traffic management control center. The center can process this raw data, and convert it into information that drivers can visualize on an app. Because it relies on a software program that can predict traffic patterns based on historical data, the app can also provide predictive information for drivers when they set out for their destination.

Currently, the Berlin system is still in testing stages. But it has the potential to change not only parking in the city, but also other issues related to traffic and mobility.

Santiago, Chile

The city of Santiago is known as one of the smartest cities in Latin America. It is also experimenting with smart parking experiments, focused on the principality of Las Condes.

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/deensel

Within Apumanque, a busy part of Les Condes, there are two major shopping areas that tend to experience major congestion, largely due to drivers searching for a parking spot. To address this problem, the Chilean telecommunications company Entel worked with the city to implement a pilot program.

For the pilot, Entel installed sensors in 150 outdoor parking spaces, as well as at the entrances and exits of the two major shopping centers. Information about parking availability is communicated to drivers through panels at the shopping centers, though a dedicated mobile application is also available.

In the test region, overall congestion has decreased by 30%. Finding a parking space is now 20% faster, and 80% of mobile application users are satisfied with app performance. Although the system still needs to be expanded beyond Apumanque, these early results are promising.

Sydney, Australia

Congestion is a major problem in Australian cities, and nowhere is it worse than in the country’s capitol. In Sydney, drivers spend an average of 156 hours per year searching for parking. In response, national and municipal governments have partnered with Dongyang PC to build smarter parking. The suburb of Mosman has been leading the way.

In 2015, the Mosman City Council commissioned a major study on parking and traffic. Since then, a comprehensive smart parking solution has been implemented. In-ground and overhead sensors have been installed, which offer highly detailed information about parking availability. Additionally, the main shopping precinct in Mosman now has dynamic signage informing drivers about open parking spaces.

A mobile app is also available in Mosman, and in other parts of Sydney. The city is installing a number of smart parking elevators similar to those in Singapore. These elevators will increase overall parking capacity.

All around the world, innovators are working to solve the parking problem. Some cities are relatively far into the journey, like San Francisco, while others are still in the beginning stages. But one thing is certain: parking is poised for a technological revolution.