Benefits and Policy Innovations

“Smart Parking” means different things to different people.  To many, it means credit card meters, mobile payment apps, wireless handhelds and online citation payment portals.


These features increase city revenues up to 40% and increase motorist convenience. Modern cities are expected to deliver this baseline service to motorists, visitors, residents and businesses.


But with the development of new technologies, CivicSmart’s “Smart Parking” now enables an array of innovative tools to help elected officials and city staff better utilize scarce curb space to encourage downtown activity and promote economic development.


With the deployment of CivicSmart’s highly accurate, patented vehicle sensors in conjunction with Liberty Next Gen Smart Meters and AutoISSUE handheld enforcement software, the City can choose from a number of new programs.


CivicSmart’s innovative radar-based sensor can be mounted on the meter pole, in the ground or on the curb.  Our sensors communicate with Liberty Next Gen smart meters and AutoISSUE handhelds as well as third-party equipment and systems.  While people usually associate sensors with metered spaces, there are high-value uses for sensors in non-metered spaces to better enforce time-limited parking, allow flexible uses at different times of the day, and promote motorist and pedestrian safety.


Examples of some of the ways that integrated sensors can benefit the City as part of a Smart Parking program include:


Allowing Motorists to Pay More for the Benefits of Added Convenience


Some cities have decided to reduce or eliminate time limits and use escalating meter rates to discourage motorists from parking for extended periods unless they are willing to pay a premium.  Typically, this is done by charging a base rate for the first 1 or 2 hours and then increasing the rate for subsequent hours.  This helps move motorists to off-street lots and garages but allows motorists who want on-street convenience to be able to pay to stay longer.  The challenge with this program is that motorists can pay for the first block of time and return to add more time at the base rate rather than pay for the extended premium of time from the beginning.  This is particularly easy with a mobile app since motorists can pay by coin or card at the meter and then remotely pay again with their app to extend their time at the base rate.  However, with sensors, the escalated rate will be charged as long as the vehicle hasn’t moved.


Providing Convenient Access to Government Services


Short-term “free time” buttons on meters have been around for decades.  However, they are prone to abuse since drivers can return to the meter and press the button again for extra time.  With our Smart Parking technology, cities can dedicate spaces in front of City Hall or other government buildings and automatically offer “free time”.  For example, in the City of El Paso, TX, when a vehicle enters a space in front of City Hall, the Court, or other government buildings, the sensor detects the vehicle and signals the meter to add one hour free time so the citizen can conduct their business.  If the motorist wants to pay for more time, they can do so.  Similar functionality can be enabled for election day or other events where short-term free parking is desirable without letting long-term parkers take advantage.


Encouraging Downtown Revitalization and Attendance at Special Events


For cities to thrive, they need visitors and these visitors need to find convenient parking spaces.  Our Smart Parking solutions can promote customer-friendly policies to attract people citywide.  For example, in Moorestown, NJ, a number of downtown spaces have smart meters with sensors.  When a motorist enters the space, the City grants them 12 minutes of free time.  This allows people to run quick errands without worrying about “feeding the meter” and signals to businesses that the City is flexible and forward-thinking.

Cities also promote special events, community gatherings, concerts and festivals to encourage people to come downtown.  However, the more desirable the event, the more difficult it can be to find parking.  Sensors integrated with meters can help promote attendance while also charging a fair rate for parking to encourage carpooling, transit, biking and ridesharing.

One way to do this is by setting a flat “Special Event” parking rate for on-street spaces especially on weekends when parking may otherwise be free (e.g., $5 for 5:00pm-10:00pm on a Saturday).  Given the desirability of on-street spaces, this rate can exceed the nearby off-street rates.  If a motorist parks after 5pm, they will pay the flat rate for the evening.

However, to encourage motorists to come early and shop, dine and drink downtown, the City can provide free parking for the evening if a vehicle parks before 5pm.  If a vehicle enters the space at 4pm, the sensor will detect it and automatically display “paid time” on the meter through 10pm.  This will encourage people to come early.  If the motorist leaves before 10pm, the remaining time can be wiped from the meter so the next motorist will have to pay the special event rate.  The technology is flexible enough to handle different variations of this so the City can creatively design programs that fit its needs.


Making Better Policy Decisions


Making sound public policy decisions requires accurate, timely data.  For parking professionals this is a particular challenge since parking usage varies widely by time of day, day of week, week of the year and is also impacted by special events, weather, etc.  Hours of operation/enforcement, time limits, meter rates and fine amounts are often in place without change for years, sometimes decades.  Even when cities hire consultants to perform parking studies, the small sample size used to recommend policy changes and multi-million dollar investments is often as little as one day or part of a day per zone.

With sensors, the City will go from a dearth of parking data to complete information about when, how often, and how long vehicles use the City’s parking spaces.  This will enable policymakers to shape and defend positions that will achieve stakeholders’ goals backed by empirical data.

This granular data allows the City to customize policies to encourage downtown revitalization on a space-by-space level.  For example, the City can dedicated spaces in front of certain businesses (cleaners, coffee shops, carryout shops) for short-term parking (at free or reduced rates), while setting time limits near other businesses (theaters, bars) to accommodate longer stays.


Setting Market-based Meter Rates to Promote Availability


Congestion pricing has been used across the transportation industry for decades and is growing in popularity because it is an effective way to balance demand and supply.  From airline fares to parking garage rates to dynamic toll roads to rideshare surge pricing, prices are used to optimize the use of a fixed supply.

Building on the academic framework promoted by Dr. Donald Shoup, demand-based pricing is increasingly used as a parking management tool to ensure that meter rates are set to ensure that 1 or 2 parking spaces can be found on most blockfaces.  However, the cities where demand-based pricing has been implemented often rely on quarterly or semi-annual adjustments to rates because of the lack of availability of accurate data.  To truly use pricing to ensure spaces are available on each blockface, real-time occupancy information from our sensors can support dynamically changing rates by block throughout the day.


Safely Guiding Motorists to Available Parking Spaces


In survey after survey of motorists across the country, the “Holy Grail” of Smart Parking is being able to inform motorists in real-time where they can find available on-street parking spaces.  The demand for this information is so high, and the previously available technologies so inadequate, that cities and vendors have tried to use sampling, historical payment data, algorithms, predictive analytics and other proxies for actual occupancy because they are “better than nothing”.  However, as anyone who has used an app or website only to find that it doesn’t deliver as promised knows, once a user loses confidence in the tool, they stop using it.  The same has been true with the few cities that have tried to show motorists where they should be able to find parking based on historical or other limited data.

In contrast, our sensors detect changes in occupancy within a few seconds and this information can be shared with numerous mobile apps, websites, variable message signs and in-car dashboard systems to show motorists exactly where they will find a space.

The benefit to businesses from this tool is substantial, and it will also reduce cruising for vacant spaces and inattentive, unsafe driving by letting motorists know where they can find a space and when they should look off-street.


Allowing Motorists to Pay a Premium to Reserve Select On-street Spaces


Similar to the convenience of reserving off-street parking spaces, sensors can enable the City to set aside a small number of convenient on-street spaces and allow motorists to reserve these parking spaces for a premium.  Revenues from this premium rate can be used to invest in other downtown amenities or to subsidize other parking rates.

To implement this program, motorists can view currently available spaces in an app and select one to reserve.  The City can charge a premium from the time the motorist reserves the space.  When the vehicle enters the space, the sensor will detect the vehicle and the app will ask the motorist to confirm they have arrived.  If the motorist does so, billing will continue until the sensor detects they have left the space.  If the motorist indicates they have not parked yet, the system will automatically dispatch a tow truck to remove the offending vehicle and advise the motorist with the reservation that they have been re-booked in a nearby reserved space.  If the City wants to set a time limit for on-street reserved parking (e.g., 24 hours), the sensor can send a reminder to the motorist and, if they don’t move the vehicle, dispatch a tow truck.  We have implemented this program internationally and believe this program will generate significant revenues for the City by charging premium rates for certain spaces.


Increasing Enforcement Productivity


By combining sensor data with payment data, our backend PEMS system knows exactly where vehicles have parked but not paid.  This information is presented on our AutoISSUE handheld software in a map format so parking officers can see exactly where there are violations.  This increases officer productivity.


Effectively Managing Time Limited and No Parking Spaces


Managing time-limited spaces has always been a challenge.  From the first time a motorist wiped the chalk off of their tire until today, motorists have tried to defeat efforts to enforce time limits.  Similarly, people park in “No Parking” areas because they take the chance that an enforcement officer won’t stumble upon them before they leave.


By putting sensors in time-limited and “no parking” spaces, every parking enforcement officer can be provided with real-time information about vehicles that overstay the time limit.  If there are high-impact “No Parking” spaces in the City that are routinely misused (e.g., fire hydrants, cross-walks, etc.), the City can place sensors in these spaces and flag vehicles that stop in them for immediate enforcement.


Our sensors can also read a unique RFID permit and associate a specific vehicle with a space or type of space.  This is particularly helpful with permit parking spaces where certain vehicles are allowed to stay longer with appropriate credentials.  With an RFID permit, fraudulent and forged permits are a thing of the past.


Flexibly Managing the Curb


While curb spaces have always faced competing uses, the competition for these spaces is growing as new transportation modes emerge.  In the future, the growth of ridesharing, autonomous vehicles, on-line shopping deliveries, micro-transit, and other changes will impact vehicle usage and demand for curb space.

Being able to allocate and manage a variety of uses (from Rideshare to Carshare to Loading Zones to Electric Vehicle Charging Stations to No Rush Hour Parking) will enable the City to flexibly use curb lanes.  By installing our sensors in these special spaces, we can identify when and how long a vehicle occupies one of these spaces.  We can also issue RFID Permits to vehicles that are allowed to use certain spaces (e.g., Commercial Loading Zones, Carshare, etc.).  Our sensors can detect these permits so if a vehicle without a permit enters one of these spaces, enforcement can be immediately alerted.

The above are just some of the Smart Parking features that can be enabled with CivicSmart’s innovative technologies.  With world-class engineering capabilities, our clients’ creativity is the only limit to what we can help them deliver to their citizens, visitors, business owners and other stakeholders.


If you have creative ideas or want more information about how to implement a Smart Parking system, please contact us.