Saturday, 25 January 2014

Intelligent parking in London and San Francisco, a future for market priced parking?

London smart parking

The City of Westminster, one of London's inner city boroughs (encompassing the West End and many of the locations in central London tourists are familiar with), is launching intelligent parking and Atlantic Cities has a good article about the upcoming system.

3000 sensors are being placed in parking bays (there are 10,000 in Westminster, which is rather low given the density of streets, reflecting the long standing policy to eliminate on street parking from many major roads and dedicate road space to bus and cycle lanes and expand footpaths. 

The report says the 3000 sensors are being installed at a cost of £650,000 (US$1.07 million).

It enables motorists to use mobile apps to check parking availability, including crucially disabled parking bays (often ignored in discussions about reducing motoring).  

USA- California - San Francisco intelligent parking

I reported over two years ago on San Francisco's intelligent parking trial.  According to SF Park the trial has come to a close, with the parking sensor devices having been switched off at the end of 2013.   SF Park says:

This means that the real-time information on parking space occupancy will not be available for mobile apps and similar uses. The SFpark data feed and app will continue to show meter parking rates, as well as real-time space availability and rates at parking garages. The SFMTA will continue to conduct demand-responsive rate changes to find the lowest rates possible to help ensure there is a minimum number of open parking spaces on each block to reduce circling and double-parking.

In other words, the system will no longer be useful for identifying occupancy on the kerbside, but it will be for parking garages.  Meanwhile, pricing at parking garages will appear to be variable, and there appears to be a continuation of some form of variable pricing for kerbside parks.

The results of the trial will be interesting, as dynamically priced kerbside parking has great potential to save time, fuel, reduce congestion and stress for those seeking to park, as well as pricing parking efficiently so that some may decide to drive at different times, use other modes of transport or (inevitably) go elsewhere (which is good for areas that have surplus capacity).

My opinion

I see some great prospects for making kerbside parking dynamic, commercial and far more user friendly than it currently is.   There are significant benefits in being to identify where empty car park spaces are, and in Councils being able to adjust prices according to demand, perhaps in due course in real time.  

Some advocates of modal shift see it as making driving easier and more convenient, and consider anything that does this to be bad, but that blinds them to the two critical benefits.  

Firstly, significantly reducing circulation of cars from people looking for car parks is positive - not just for the person saving time and fuel, but for other road users with less congestion and everyone with less pollution.   

Secondly, demand based pricing will become a form of congestion pricing in its own right, so that people can make more intelligent decisions as to whether they are willing to pay so much to have a parking spot at a busy time, or will choose to travel at another time or by another means.  Sometimes it means parking will cost more than it is now, but it will mean for those willing to pay they get a better services.  Sometimes it will mean parking may cost less, but that is how transport should be priced (public transport too, which has gross under utilisation at off peak times).   Quite simply, at busiest times fewer people will drive, but the car parks will be used, roads will be less congested and a few people will shift modes.

This technology could be extended to incentivise delivery vehicles parking at less congested times, but also allow them to access stopping places where they need them (albeit at a price). 

Finally, the obvious next step is to "pre-book" parking spots and pay in advance so you know, for certain, that you can get that spot.  That offers opportunities to have some serious price variability, although the next question is whether to allow a secondary market in such spaces, with entrepreneurs buying spaces in advance, then on selling to the public at a profit (this will happen if the pricing is too low and it is permitted).

Such a kerbside parking market could have a mix of users, with some spaces highlighted as pre-booked and others available at "spot" prices.  Then  enforcement could justify draconian fines for occupying pre-paid spaces.

All of this requires some entrepreneurial flare, not something known in most local authorities, but perhaps they might consider transferring their parking activities to a separate company.  The possibilities are there to make parking more user friendly, more efficient and probably more lucrative as well.

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