Smart Parking Meters: IoT and Solar Are Ticket to Efficiency

Networked, solar-powered parking meters with vehicle detection sensors hit the streets, offering cities energy savings, reduced maintenance costs, and automated parking fee collection.


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Image credit: IPS Group

As population density continues to increase in urban cores, smart cities are turning to sustainable city planning measures to capitalize on the benefits of renewable energy-powered infrastructure. Green urban planning measures are sustainable not only for the environment, but also are financially smart best practices. 

As part of this trend, city managers are looking at improving energy usage in all the things, from government-owned buildings to street lights to parking meters. Cities from coast-to-coast are converting older transportation infrastructure, such as outdated, coin-only operated parking meters, into ones powered by renewable energy sources. 

Now, many cities with stay-at-home ordinances from COVID-19 are temporarily operating with a reduced parking citation workforce. Instead of staff and coin-operated machinery, they are counting on smart meters and digital payment systems to help with parking enforcement and revenue collection. In Miami Beach for example, the parking revenue hit to the city has been substantial. Miami Beach has temporarily removed all curbside and off-street pay stations, allowing mobile payments as the only option.    

Intelligent Parking Solutions

To help manage the present—and future—challenges of enforcement and revenue collection, smart cities are getting help from solution integrators, including parking solution specialist IPS Group. Based in San Diego, IPS Group has a portfolio of intelligent parking solutions, including the M5™ Single-Space Smart Parking Meter. It captures solar power, using small photovoltaics solar panels that consistently recharge the meter batteries.

The Smart Meter offers multiple payment options and connects wirelessly to a data management system that provides real-time data and administrative reporting, helping traffic managers identify parking patterns. The company also has vehicle detection sensors to help city administrators monitor parking trends and occupancy data. IPS Group claims the sensors can increase city revenue by an average of 25 to 50 percent.    

Going Green with Capitol Parking

Washington, D.C., is one of the smart cities that has invested in green infrastructure by installing 1,150 new solar-powered parking meters in the last 12 months. The District of Columbia has been phasing out coin-only operated parking meters while concurrently installing IPS Smart Parking Meters across the north and south quadrants.

This installation project is part of a broader effort to centralize and connect different types of data-driven transportation infrastructure. The city’s goal is to provide real-time information to residents, tourists, and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) for the city’s Circulator bus system, parking systems, and others working in unison under the umbrella of an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).

Both financially and environmentally beneficial, the IPS Smart Parking Meters are solar powered, credit and debit card and coin friendly, and occupy only a single parking space. They also incentivize the city in the long run, as these smart meters have lower in-person maintenance needs and decrease the city’s dependence on non-renewable energy for operations. These smart meters also have the capability of automatically alerting the DDOT by email or text message when they are not properly functioning.

DDOT Director Gabe Klein noted in a statement that the smart meters have another benefit beyond energy efficiency: “Did we mention no more quarters?”

Data Takes the Wheel in California

Another city ramping up its fleet of smart meters is Santa Monica, CA. The city has successfully replaced all 6,000 outdated parking meters with IPS solar powered meters, one of the largest deployments of sensors in the United States, according to IPS Group. The installation was completed in just two months, averaging 600-plus installed meters per week.

The Santa Monica initiative provided the city with a high return on investment: the ability to pay off the project within one year. By the end of the installation, the city witnessed a 40 percent increase in revenue when compared to the former parking meter infrastructure.

IPS Smart Parking meters also reset to zero when a car leaves the space. And because the meters are programmable, changing parking fees—including demand-based pricing, or displaying “Free Parking” at appropriate times—is an easy task for city management.

Smart Parking in The Town

The City of Oakland has also capitalized on the benefits of solar-powered transportation infrastructure. City government officials recently finished its $5.8 million Smart Parking Meter Upgrade Conversion Project, which entailed replacing 3,800 outdated parking meters.

Before contracting with IPS Group, Oakland’s parking technology was outdated, with 20-year-old meters still in use. The devices were unable to communicate with a backend database, which meant that unless a customer called in a faulty meter, the city had no way to detect it was broken. Maintenance staff visited each location, meter by meter, to check status and repair problems. With this process, it took typically two days to detect a meter fault and up to three days to repair it—resulting in up to a week of lost revenue per faulty meter.

Image credit: IPS Group


“We were behind the times,” says Danita Lee, Parking Meter Collection Supervisor for the City of Oakland, “We weren’t able to present back-office support when asked about meter revenue or about the percentage of meters operating. We weren’t able to report anything other than what we were actually collecting on the streets.”

That has all changed now. The IPS Group reports these noteworthy stats from the Oakland upgrade:

  • Meter uptime has improved to 97 to 100 percent
  • Credit card usage is 61 percent
  • Coin collection is cut in half, freeing up resources
  • Real-time alerts streamlined the meter repair process, decreasing repair time from one week to one day
  •  Accurate data provides critical business intelligence to drive the city’s parking policy.

The city’s solar-powered meters are equipped with wireless networking technology and an additional pay-by-phone capability. When customers have the additional pay-by-phone capability, the rate of citations issued by the city also decreases, which has led to an overall increase in residents’ happiness with their transportation options.