On-street parking sensors make life easier for motorists and cities

April 2, 2014

Parking has long been a cash cow for American towns and cities, so it’s only natural that ways to make it more efficient get attention. On-street parking sensors are one way of optimizing parking, allowing cities to effectively manage limited parking spaces and bring in as much revenue as they can —  but there’s something in it for drivers, too.

Parking sensors

Parking sensors. Image by sk8geek

Benefits of on-street parking sensors

One of the obvious advantages of on-street parking sensors is that they help drivers find a vacant parking space faster. In Westminster, London, drivers spend an average of 15 minutes looking for an available parking space. This will be significantly reduced once drivers make use of the recently installed smart parking sensors.

According to a French study, 60% of urban pollution in France is caused by idling cars looking for parking spaces. Congestion reduces as parking sensors help drivers find spaces faster.

Parking enforcement also becomes easier with parking sensors. San Francisco and Los Angeles use the technology to send parking enforcement offices to cars that have stayed longer than the permitted time in parking spaces.

How on-street parking sensors work

One in four parking meters in San Francisco uses on-street sensors glued to the edge of pavements, on the traffic side of a parking space. Magnetometers inside them sense ferrous metal nearby to detect vehicles in the area.

Another kind of technology in Lyberta, France, uses a series of small receptors that are placed right below the pavement. Receptors measure the vehicle’s magnetic field to determine whether a car or a truck is parked on top of them.

In both cases, the receptors (or sensors) send the information to a transmission box in the area. The box in turn, transmits the data to a server. Finally, the server relays the information to your Smartphone in real time.

On-street parking sensors facilitate dynamic pricing

The technology helps cities set demand-based prices for curb parking spaces.

Nextcity.org reports, “A theory of transportation economics holds that the optimal occupancy rate of publicly provided parking is 85 percent — where little or no circling is necessary to find a spot. New technologies that can monitor occupancy and gauge demand block by block can help set rates to achieve this goal.”

San Francisco uses parking sensors to detect occupancy rates. This data is reviewed every month, and the city routinely raises and lowers hourly maximum rates by 25-50 cents in neighborhoods that need it.

The rates are tweaked to ensure that there is one parking space open for each block. SFPark “de-emphasizes inconvenient time limits and instead uses smart pricing” to do this, says SFPark program manager Jay Spark.

Other benefits of on street parking sensors

On street parking sensors also help cities and parts of it not lose business “When you can’t get that parking space, you want to turn around and go back where you came from,” says City Council Transportation Committee Chair, James Vacca.

Parking sensors facilitating dynamic pricing also encourage a shift in the choice of transportation people make. Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, Donald Shoup says that if you “pay the market price for curb parking every time you pull into a space it will … make you think about whether you want to drive.”

Drawbacks of on-street parking sensors

There may be many benefits to the revolutionary technology, but parking sensors are not without fault.

In San Francisco, electromagnetic interference from overhead trolley lines is currently hindering the sensors. Although the sensors are 90% accurate, automatic ticketing would be a problem.

With 97% accurate sensors, L.A. Express Park manager Daniel Mitchell says, “You’d have 3% of your customers experiencing a problem, and that would be too many.”

How helpful parking sensors are in finding available parking spaces is debatable, though. The lag between the signal from the sensor reaching your phone can be half a minute or a minute. Even that can result in another driver taking up a vacant space.

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Category: Parking Tech

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