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The evolution of urban parking infrastructure – How far can it take us?

by Norman Miglietta


A lot of buzz has been generated about “Smart” parking as a high-value application for the Internet of things. And for good reason - this is perhaps one of clearest examples of M2M in action that has come of age since we entered the connected device business 10 years ago. What started out in parking meters that would accept credit cards to enhance consumer convenience has evolved into much more than that, to the expanded benefit not only of these same urban parkers but also of city planners, municipal coffers and the environment at-large. Let us take a look at how this market has evolved.

Early examples of connected parking tended to occur in enclosed garages, where the confined nature made it relatively straightforward to install connected solutions. It is not difficult to transmit information about available spaces when each of those spaces is bound by the volume and location limits in the garage. For our purposes, then, we will focus on the evolution of on-street parking, where dispersion is much greater and many more variables of supply and demand come into play.

No more nickels and dimes

It is not surprising that connected parking effectively got its start as a mobile transaction play. In the same way that Verifone provides mobile payment terminals to accept credit cards wirelessly, parking meters made their first transition from coins to accepting credit cards, and instantly removed one of the biggest consumer inconveniences—having enough change on hand to park.

Meter becomes its own meter maid

From there, meters started to be able to initiate communication with parking enforcement officers and, eventually, with the parkers themselves. I suppose city officials wised up that it wasn’t entirely fair to notify the ticket writers of an overdue meter, without also giving the driver a chance to make things right.

Today, we see meters that will alert a consumer’s Smartphone when it’s about to expire, and then accept “refresh” payments for additional time back from the phone – either through SMS messaging on an in-app experience. At KORE, we’re actually seeing more than 250,000 text messages per month flow from meters to consumers, so this feature is clearly one that’s well used. The challenge thing for our engineering team was to establish sufficient capacity for intercarrier messaging so that the meter could communicate with any consumer, no matter which carrier they used for their handset.

Even as this feature ostensibly cuts down on the number of parking tickets being issued, municipalities make up for the potential loss of revenue by being able to implement dynamic pricing. By gathering data from all parking sensors across the city, officials can periodically adjust meter and garage pricing up and down so that the market price matches demand. Such demand-responsive pricing has been positioned as win-win, as it encourages drivers to seek out underused (I.e., cheaper) areas, where parking is easier to find.

Early peer-to-peer shift

To take the “finding parking” model to the next level, some cities are now enabling their parking infrastructure to communicate directly with connected cars, where the car will notify the driver of available street or garage spaces automatically, then interact with the car’s navigation system to provide turn by turn directions directly to the desired spot. This is where we can start to see a dramatic impact. In Los Angeles, Donald Shoup, distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA conducted a study and found that searching for curb parking in a 15-block district created about 950,000 excess vehicle travel miles over the course of one year. That translates to about 47,000 gallons of wasted gasoline and 73 tons of excess carbon dioxide.

A look forward

So what other forms of innovation does KORE see on the horizon?  Membership has its privileges – solutions where customers pay a monthly fee for preferred access to “prime” parking locations (near exits, elevators, etc.) within select parking companies or networks of companies makes logical sense in terms of enhancing consumer convenience and maximizing revenue.  What about the driver being able to secure a spot and pay an incremental fee to reserve it right from the car?  Again, this presents an opportunity to increase driver convenience and enhance revenue in a win-win for both the parking company and the consumer.

At KORE, we believe that the Internet of Things as a whole will evolve from the traditional client-server communication model to more peer-to-peer communication among wireless devices. Connected parking solutions offer us a glimpse into how this transition is beginning to happen in earnest.

Matt Davis, Territory Sales Lead

With nearly 6 years of experience in the M2M industry specializing in new and emerging solutions , Matt joined the KORE sales organization in February 2008.  Matt’s main focus at KORE is to provide leadership to a team of territory sales managers, who are tasked with cultivating existing customer relationships and developing new opportunities for the KORE network in the small to mid-sized business marketplace.