Government Technology

Wireless Parking Information Could Boost Public Transit Use

November 3, 2008 By

It's afternoon, the air is warm and a grayish haze tints the horizon in the distance. Through your windshield you see the rear end of a sedan -- the first in a long line of vehicles inching their way down the highway. A look out your side windows and in the rear-view mirror shows that you're surrounded by other drivers. You sigh and wait for traffic to move. Slowly, maddeningly, it does.

You finally arrive at a city-owned parking lot, but soon realize you are no better off. All of the parking spaces are occupied.

This is a story people in many large and mid-sized cities may identify with. Congested streets, rush-hour stagnation, hapless drivers -- all are unpleasant byproducts of modern metropolitan living.

At least for now.

Public-sector forces in the San Francisco Bay Area are working to alleviate the problem by deploying wireless parking technology that informs people of parking space availability while they're driving or even before they get in their vehicles. These high-tech parking experiments are conducted with a few prominent goals in mind, including making it easier for drivers to hunt down spaces in today's urban jungles.

One example is a lengthy test conducted at the Rockridge Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Oakland, Calif., from December 2004 to spring 2006. This collaborative endeavor, which included the California Department of Transportation and researchers from the University of California (UC) at Berkeley, used high-tech gadgets to create a smart-parking management field test. Smart-parking devices help people find and pay for spaces. People used the technology to navigate an area of about 50 spaces at the Rockridge station as part of the test.

"We enabled people to make reservations via the Internet prior to the parking event," said Susan Shaheen, a researcher from California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways at UC Berkeley. "We also encouraged people to get off the highway on their way to work by providing them with real-time availability information via changeable message signs during peak commute hours."

Ground-mounted wireless sensors collected vehicular information in the parking lot through magnetic-imaging technology. This information was transmitted in real time to an electronic information network over the Internet that allowed the data to be viewed by drivers on their cell phones, computers, ground-mounted changeable message signs or other devices. Drivers could also use cell phones or PDAs to reserve spaces. Users could also reserve spaces through an interactive voice response system, known as Kate.

"The core technology is the parking information network, and we've developed that," said Rick Warner, CEO of ParkingCarma, the company that supplied the project's network that collected vehicular information from wireless sensors and made it publicly available on the Web. "Built it, scaled it and it's a patented technology that we're bringing to bear in a constructive way."

Project managers gauged the test's success by conducting 177 surveys of 35.8 percent of participants in February and March 2006. The surveys yielded interesting results.

Data from a June 2008 PATH research report includes:

  • Sixty-six percent of respondents indicated their commute stress was reduced thanks to smart parking, while 23 percent said it stayed the same and 5 percent said stress increased.
  • Thirty-five percent of respondents said their work-related BART use increased, and 53 percent claimed it stayed the same.
  • Smart-parking capability improved accessibility to the Rockridge station and encouraged 11.2 percent of respondents to use that station instead of one closer to home.
  • The combination of BART and smart parking reduced the average commute time for people going to work from 50.1 minutes to 47.5 minutes.
  • On average respondents traveled 9.7 fewer vehicle miles per month.

The report also states that, while smart-parking management systems have been implemented in European and Japanese cities, the Oakland BART project was the first

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