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Bright Ideas


In a somewhat alarming development for Parking Professionals across the country (and especially in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) the Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that physically chalking the tires of cars represents an unreasonable search which violates a motorist’s Fourth Amendment rights. This means that cities in the four states must stop physically chalking motorists’ tires.

I’m not a lawyer and won’t profess to fully understand the ruling, but there is an interesting analysis from a USC Law Professor, Orin Kerr (, which suggests that “electronic chalking” is acceptable and won’t run afoul of this ruling.

I don’t know when enforcement officers first started physically “chalking” vehicles, but it likely predates the invention of the parking meter. However, “electronic chalking” has been available for over three decades at least since CivicSmart’s legacy company, Enforcement Technology, introduced the earliest version of the AutoCITE handheld in the mid-1980s.

So, if “electronic chalking” has been around for so long, why are so many cities, towns and villages dependent upon sticks of chalk? Well, I suspect there are several reasons:

  • Cities still issue tickets by hand

  • Cities have basic electronic handheld software that doesn’t support “electronic chalking”

  • Even with electronic chalking capabilities, it can be time-consuming for officers to enter license plate numbers and, if required, manually enter the location of the tire valve for one or both curbside tires

  • With part-time officers or officers nearing the end of their shifts, electronic chalking isn’t productive because when the device is returned to the office, the officer’s “electronic chalks” aren’t shared with their colleagues.

So, if “physical chalking” has been disallowed and “electronic chalking” has been inefficient, how can cities manage their on-street parking and encourage turnover?

Fortunately, CivicSmart’s AutoISSUE Handheld Enforcement Software can help.

Hundreds of cities use our AutoISSUE software, and our latest version includes a License Plate Recognition (LPR) engine that automates “electronic chalking” by simply pointing the handheld at the license plate.

  • Within a second, the plate is read and the location is captured.

  • This “electronic chalk” is wirelessly available on all of the city’s handhelds and if any officer previously chalked this vehicle, the officer who just scanned it will immediately be notified.

  • Whenever any officer scans the plate again, the previous “electronic chalk” will be visible to them so “end of shift” inefficiencies disappear.

  • The “electronic chalks” can be automatically shared between handhelds and vehicles outfitted with Mobile LPR systems. This maximizes enforcement efficiency and public safety since vehicles don’t have to block traffic to issue tickets since their chalks appear on every officer’s handhelds.

So if you are thinking about upgrading your handhelds today (or don’t have any yet), please contact CivicSmart to learn more about our AutoISSUE solution and how it can fit your needs.

But CivicSmart’s innovative offerings to help cities address the “death of chalking” don’t end with our AutoISSUE handheld software.

Our Vehicle Detection Sensors determine when a vehicle enters and exits a space and are accurate enough to be used to enforce time-limit parking without the need for chalking. So if your city wants to manage time-limit parking AND provide motorists with a website and app showing them where they can find a vacant space right now, our sensors could be a perfect fit. Our sensors can also read an electronic tag which can be issued in place of permits to increase enforcement efficiency.

Our sensors and tags are force-multipliers in increasing your enforcement efficiency:

  • The sensors avoid the need to visit the vehicle twice to enforce, and

  • The electronic permits avoid the need to check permitted vehicles entirely and focusing enforcement in vehicles parked in violation

And if you’ve considered installing parking meters instead of time-limit parking and this ruling may push you over the edge, you’ll be happy to know that our Liberty Next Gen meter can be configured in a number of ways to fit your budget:

  • LNG Coin-only Meter (upgradeable to accept credit cards in the future)

  • LNG Coin-only Wireless Meter (our coin-only meter can wirelessly communicate coin payments and outages in real-time at a fraction of the cost of a credit card meter)

  • LNG Single-space Smart Meter (accepts credit/debit cards and sends information to our backend system in real-time)

  • LNG Dual-Space Smart Meter (manages two spaces with an easy to understand screen and a 6-button keypad for the motorist to select the Left or Right space)

  • LNG Multi-space Smart Meter (if you only want to accept credit/debit cards and mobile payments and don’t need a full-featured multi-space kiosk, our small footprint meter is an ideal fit)

The CivicSmart Family of LNG Meters are the most innovative, affordable and flexible meters on the market and will fit your City’s needs now and into the future.

So, if tire chalking has been a key component of your parking management program and you’re feeling a little lost today, don’t worry. There are an array of affordable “Smart Parking” solutions designed to fit your City’s needs.

Give CivicSmart a call and we’d be happy to discuss them with you.

(414) 877-5481 x1

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(It) strives to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.

  • Robert B. Thomas, Editor and Founder, writing about The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1829

For 225 years, The Old Farmer’s Almanachas been published without interruption.  It includes information about Astronomy, Gardening, Recipes, Advice and more.  But it is perhaps best known for its Long-Term Weather predictions.

According to the Almanac, the forecasts are derived from a secret formula developed by its Founder in 1792 and still stored today in a black box in Dublin, New Hampshire.

While scientific study has estimated the accuracy of the Almanac’s predicted weather deviations to be ~50% (a coin-flip), this hasn’t harmed the Almanac’s enduring charm with 3 million annual print readers and 50 million online viewers.

Even the Almanacitself states that “although neither we nor any other forecasters have as yet gained sufficient insight into the mysteries of the universe to predict the weather with total accuracy, our results are almost always very close to our traditional claim of 80 percent.”

The same can be said about The Old Parker’s Almanac– also known as parking occupancy algorithms – 200 years later. If you read trade magazines, company websites, proposals, marketing materials, or attend parking conferences, you hear more and more vendors touting “algorithms”, “predictive analytics”, “asset-light” detection systems and “lean infrastructure” as a way to inform motorists where they can find a parking space today.

Just like with Mr. Thomas’ Black Box in Dublin, New Hampshire, these “Cloud-based” Black Boxes ingest historical data about highly variable phenomena (payments, citations, sample surveys, traffic counts, special events, weather and more) and attempt to use it to precisely inform you about the future.

But just like the weather on a wedding day in the month of May, 50 or even 80 percent accuracy won’t do you much good.  When a motorist drives downtown searching for a parking space, just like a bride deciding whether to move her wedding indoors, they insist on the latest, real-time information (most likely from their smartphone), not stale data from last week, last month, or last year repackaged as “analytics”.

If these “pseudo-scientific” efforts were simply humorous diversions like The Old Farmer’s Almanac, there would be little harm in the effort.

But just as the failed, high profile sensor projects of a decade ago set the “smart” parking industry back years, today’s “predictive” efforts are doomed to over-promise and under-deliver and run the risk of a similar wave of setbacks.

As any of you who download an app with high expectations only to have it fail to meet them after 3 or 4 uses know, once it fails to deliver you simply ignore or delete it.  That will be the fate of parking guidance apps that don’t display real-time, up-to-the-minute occupancy information.

So why do vendors keep pushing these solutions on their clients?

Because accurate vehicle sensors haven’t been available.  In the absence of what was really needed – a sensor that delivers 99%+ accuracy within a few seconds of a status change – vendors have worked themselves into knots trying to deliver proxies for this data.

It is a function of how valuable this information is, and how hard it has been to collect it, that so many companies have spent so much time and money trying to “guess” where a car is right now rather than simply observe it.

But fortunately that is changing and cities no longer have to rely on so-called educated guesses.  

The latest sensors are accurate and flexible enough to be installed in the ground, on a pole, or on the curb; in a metered space or just a time-limited one; and transmit changes in occupancy within a few seconds.  They can be installed in motorcycle separators to manage two-wheelers, in truck stops to detect tractor-trailers, and can read permits with active RFID tags.  They can even be deployed as part of a system to reserve premium on-street parking spaces.

Data from the sensors feed mobile apps, webpages, in-car dashboards, variable message signs, smart meters, enforcement handhelds and dynamic pricing engines to help motorists find spaces right now and to help city staff better manage on-street parking.

Once a city has installed accurate sensors, it can unlock a host of valuable Smart Parking benefits in addition to guidance including providing free time on arrival, supporting graduated meter pricing, implementing special event pricing, zeroing out remaining time, directing enforcement officers, and using comprehensive data to make better policy decisions.

If you’re interested in offering these features in your City, leave The Old Parker’s Almanacon the shelf.

Mike Nickolaus is the President & CEO of CivicSmart and a 30-year veteran of the on-street parking industry.  He can be reached at

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