Space Quest: Innovations to Solve the Urban Parking Crisis

Finding a parking space in today’s urban centres can be a gruelling business. Fortunately, a combination of smart technology and innovative design has the potential to decongest city centres, as Ross Davies reports

Images courtesy of Perkins+Will

According to the British Parking Association, drivers in the UK spend, on average, nearly six minutes looking for a parking space. Around 44% of those surveyed for the BPA study described the undertaking as a “stressful experience”.

In the US – where car ownership is on the rise – looking for a spot is even more gruelling an endeavour. Analytics company INRIX claims motorists spend nearly 17 hours a year trying to park up, costing drivers roughly $345 in wasted time, fuel, and emissions.

Needless to say, the problem is substantially worse in urban environments, where space already comes at the highest of premiums. As more of us continue to move to cities in search of opportunities and better pay – according to the UN, 5 billion of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030 – parking one’s ride is set to become harder.

City councils and municipal authorities have a responsibility to do more when it comes to applying suitable parking solutions. Luckily for them, the advent of new technology has the potential to consign outmoded parking infrastructure to history.

Many are betting on sensor-based parking to become the norm in the near future, whereby sensors are installed directly into a parking space allowing drivers, with the aid of an app, to locate a spot more easily and efficiently. Both Libelium, an IoT senor designer, and German tech group Bosch have developed smart parking sensor solutions.

“The technologies associated with sensor-based solutions are now very mature,” says Joe Hughes, founder and CEO of Manx Technology Group, an IT solutions provider headquartered on the Isle of Man.

“Innovation and disruption are being driven by mobile apps, payment solutions, data analytics and new business models – rather than the sensors themselves.”

According to Hughes, there has been a rise of proof-of-concept trials in the UK relating to guided parking systems. On his native Isle of Man, dry runs for smart parking and data standards are set to commence in the near future, as well as in Manchester and other parts of the UK.

Image courtesy of Cambridge Consultants

Goldeneye: Introducing “the world’s smartest carpark”

This was evidenced last year in Cambridge through the launch of what has been described as “the world’s smartest carpark”. Developed by Cambridge Consultants, the system – named Goldeneye – uses deep learning to recognise vehicles and how they appear in spaces. Moreover, it is able to do so without the need for costly physical infrastructure.

“Goldeneye is a very good example of a type of smart technology which will become ubiquitous in cities in the future,” says Thomas Carmody, Cambridge Consultants’ head of transport and infrastructure.

“ Goldeneye is a very good example of a type of smart technology which will become ubiquitous in cities in the future. 

“We envisage Goldeneye deep learning parking monitoring technology being embedded in low-power edge compute cameras throughout cities, monitoring parking availability remotely, while maintaining personal privacy [the system requires no need to send images over the air which could potentially compromise privacy].

“Parking monitoring, road and infrastructure monitoring by this means becomes more important as the urban population and footprint increases.”

No more traffic wardens: Smart parking meters and the importance of 5G

For Craig Smith, vice president of analytics and IoT at Tech Data, a smart city solutions provider, smart parking meters will become more commonplace in UK city centres in tandem with the phasing out of human traffic wardens.

“Smart parking meters work by taking a photo of a car as its allotted time runs out, automatically sending the parking ticket – and corresponding fine – through to the driver in the post,” explains Smith.

“Through IoT sensors, connected devices like smart parking meters will allow law enforcement agencies to remotely monitor your meter which, in turn, avoids the cost of having to deploy a member of staff to the area.

“Smart parking meters will also increasingly act as a deterrent for those tempted to park illegally, which can only be a good thing for those living in big cities, whose parking spaces are regularly stolen by tourists and visitors without their permission.”

“ Smart parking meters will also increasingly act as a deterrent for those tempted to park illegally, which can only be a good thing for those living in big cities. 

Such solutions are expected to feature as part of “smart city” concept that is forecast to transform urban living as this century progresses. The further roll-out of 5G networks across world cities will also be a key factor when it comes to the deployment of smart parking solutions.

“The emergence of 5G networks, with greater levels of bandwidth as well as more cost-effective computers capable of running AI agents such as Goldeneye, all point to a future where searching for parking spaces will become a thing of the past,” says Carmody.

“There are of course economic and environment benefits to eliminating the search for parking, which potentially improves the business case for a Goldeneye-type system deployment in highly urban areas.”

However, there remain challenges. While most UK local authorities see smart parking as “an effective was to increase enforcement action and revenues”, says Hughes, they are having a hard time piecing together the various apps and platforms together into a cohesive standard.

“The experience is very fragmented,” he says. The UK Government and the ADPS [Alliance for Parking Data Standards] are leading an initiative that will see them working towards a universal data standard for smart parking applications.

“A unified standard will ensure a consistent experience, irrespective of the app or eco-system that the driver may be using. Without a standard, a driver is forced to download different app, for different towns or cities they visit in the UK.”

Image courtesy of Urban Sharing

Vehicle-free city centres: Replacing carparks with bike lanes

Then again, some believe the simple answer to urban parking problems is to make city centres car-free zones. Later this year, Oslo will do just that, having built over pre-existing parking spots in the city centre with bike lanes.

Marius Olsen is CEO of Urban Sharing, a start-up that has devised a platform to power a bike sharing scheme in the Norwegian capital. For him, the scheme is a no-brainer.

“ We’ve reached a point where cars — and the parking spaces which hold them — simply cannot scale with the needs of the city. 

“Cars take up a lot of space and city populations are growing,” says Olsen. “As this trend towards urban congestion is expected to continue over the next few decades, we’ve reached a point where cars — and the parking spaces which hold them — simply cannot scale with the needs of the city.

“Smart cities are much more than smart technology. They work best when they are able to use the knowledge on their citizens’ behavioural patterns to give them better access to everything a city has to offer. The decline of the city car, the removal of car parking, the rise of micro-mobility, and the flexibility of virtual stations will all be indicators of a smart city’s success.”