IoT Eases Parking Stress in Smart Cities

Drive-throughs, curbside pickup, and street closures to accommodate outdoor dining are all part of the new lifestyle norms for urban areas. To curb congestion, solution integrators are helping cities, airports, and retailers improve customer experiences with hassle-free, intelligent parking tools. 


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When I drive into San Francisco, I ask Google to tell me the driving time—then I add 15 minutes for parking. I may have bad parking karma, because my automatic 15 is almost double the time that it takes most drivers to find a parking space in big cities. Now with pandemic-related restrictions in place, take-out and drive-through are often the norm. This can add to congestion, as double-parking and curbside delivery results in more cars milling around in dense urban neighborhoods. 

Research shows that 8 minutes is the average time to find a parking space in major urban areas. What’s more worrisome, though, is how much road traffic is created by people looking for a place to park. While I’m scouting for a spot near a favorite restaurant, 34 percent of the traffic is also on the hunt. All of us are traveling an extra 2.8 miles before finding a spot. The extra driving means I pay more for gas and push more noxious fumes into the environment. 

To get around these road bumps and establish contactless solutions, smart cities are adding sensors, cameras, and smart parking apps that share data with IoT platforms. The parking guidance solutions can spread across entire cities or focus on the garage at an airport, shopping mall, or grocery store.

Smart Parking for Fast Flight Getaways

Last year, the Austin-Bergstrom Airport introduced a space-detection system in its six-story garage that tracks 5,800 parking spots in real time. The airport also added digital signage to guide traffic flow and alert drivers to parking availability and where to find an open space. Both are making parking easier and safer for airline travelers.

Gathering the right solutions and tech experts kept the project on time and on budget. Park Assist, a camera-based parking guidance systems provider, installed thousands of cameras and sensors, and a track that communicates with the space-detection system. Parking equipment leader Associated Time Instruments worked with Park Assist to link the sensors to an onsite server that sends the data to the cloud.

Park Assist’s smart-sensor system streams images to a video management system that tracks overall occupancy and recognizes license plates. The system divides the garage into four-car blocks and tracks that segment’s activity. When the block is filled, an LED light shines red. The light turns green when a space opens up and blue for available accessible parking spaces. Drivers know immediately where the vacant spaces are available.

In an article by Airport Improvement, airport officials said they can push the parking garage’s capacity to 98 percent with the parking guidance systems. Previously, 91 to 93 percent was the limit. They are also considering demand- and location-based pricing. With all the data collected, the team can review historical records and current activities to find trends that will help them be prepared to maximize the customer experience.  

City Councils Fuel Growth Plans with Smarter, Easier Parking

Harrogate, a town of 75,000-plus residents in North Yorkshire, is taking an innovative approach to parking that is the first of its kind in the UK. Using funding from the Innovation Competition Fund, developed by AppyParking and Visa, the Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council are helping drivers find and pay for on- and off-street with a mobile app.

To help them shift into gear, the councils contracted solutions provider AppyParking to install Nwave’s smart parking technology throughout the resort town’s city center. More than 2,000 Nwave smart parking sensors are installed at each parking spot throughout the city center, and they transmit data to servers that are integrated with a mobile app. The £275,000 project went live in early 2019.

The sensors generate occupancy data in real time that is transmitted over an IoT Low Power WAN and shared through an IoT platform to drivers via a mobile app and to city operators. Drivers rely on the app to locate the nearest available parking spot and pay the parking fee with one click on the app. All the collected data is analyzed and rolled up for local authorities on dashboards that lets them track per-space information and understand traffic flows and parking usage.  

Overall, residents, businesses and visitors have given the new parking solution great reviews. Three weeks after the launch, the app was downloaded more than 7,000 times. Of those who have tried the solution, 89 percent find it more convenient than paying and displaying a receipt, and 21 percent say it saves time finding a space.

In an article by the North Yorkshire County Council, Don Mackenzie, executive member for access at North Yorkshire County, said, “We continue to seek innovative ways to improve traffic flow in Harrogate. This system should mean users travel shorter distances looking for a parking space, which will help us to improve the environment and traffic management.

“A big benefit is that it is an attraction for visitors. If they have the app, they won’t need to worry about parking. They can be guided to an available space. The visitor and leisure economy is so important to Harrogate, and this will give the town yet another unique selling point.”

Coming to a City Near Me?

Back in San Francisco, the city prides itself for being at the forefront of technology, and it is a leader in collecting traffic data and adding technology to reduce traffic congestion. In fact, drivers can choose from dozens of apps to find parking garages where parking is available. While these tools are super helpful, what citizens are waiting for is an app that sends an alert when a parking spot opens up on a street near a person’s destination. Long-time SF resident Alex McMullen said, “I’d pay a million dollars for that.”

Solution integrators, take note. We’re ready and willing to pay for a better way to park. 


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