Magazine

The High Cost of Low Performance

By Michael R. Kodama and Alan Huynh

An article in the March 2011 issue of Parking Today, “Bringing the Metered Parking System Into the 21st Century” by David Cummins, highlighted innovative partnerships that the public sector can use to increase the value of its parking assets. The article touched briefly on the subject of new technologies that have made this revolution possible. One of these is the ability to combine real-time vehicle detection equipment with other innovative technology solutions.
The real 21st century advancement is moving toward a comprehensive on-street parking system with real-time data and information that uses the most up-to-date equipment. This moves us from the 1932 Oklahoma City method of chalking tires and parking meters to a data and technology model based on real-time paid parking and real-time vehicle detection.
Perhaps the most underrated part of this ongoing technology revolution is real-time data provided by new parking information and vehicle detection sensors. These can give municipal parking operators a complete understanding of the use of their spaces and the ability to use that information to more effectively manage their systems.
With vehicle detection equipment, municipal parking operators can now develop an integrated and more efficient parking management system that is more accurate and reliable, increasing the efficiency of enforcement and creating the ability to better enforce parking location and time rules and regulations.
This can easily double or triple a parking system’s current enforcement revenue and support turnover that increases retail sales. Combined with new pay station technology, these improvements can revolutionize the management of on-street parking.
Driving this is a concept called curb-parking asset management. This uses internet technology to give municipal parking managers real-time information about the parking environment.
Typically, a wireless sensor in each parking space detects the presence or absence of a vehicle and communicates changes in space occupancy to a central server using a short-range wireless telemetry network (radios) and cellphone-based Internet connectivity. At the central server, occupancy status from each sensor monitors compliance with posted time limits or matches with payment information from a parking meter or pay station.
Real-time information
Live parking space status is displayed on a mapping system (often Google Maps) accessible via a web browser on a computer or mobile device. Parking operators can see, in real-time, whether a space is occupied legally, in violation or vacant.
Real-time and historical information enables the parking manager to make smarter policy decisions, increase operational effectiveness and dramatically increase net revenues.
Managers can now study parking usage patterns over time with complete space-by-space information, rather than periodic manual surveys. Data such as occupancy changes during the course of a day, average length of stay, turnover, payment rates, violation rates and more are now all available at the click of a button.
This unprecedented level of information allows managers to set rates, time limits and hours of enforcement, which maximizes parking utility and revenue with a degree of precision never before possible.
Moreover, the new curb-parking asset management systems transform enforcement operations by immediately identifying vehicles in violation and dispatching parking enforcement officers to the location.
In such a 21st century parking system, enforcement officers are deployed, rather than sent on patrol. This increases staff efficiency, the number of citations and enforcement revenue for cash-strapped cities.
PEOs will no longer chalk tires and then come back and write tickets (two trips). Instead, they will be able to enforce rules and regulations pertaining to loading zones, waiting areas and short-term parking areas in one trip.
Better enforcement of parking spaces thus has a positive effect on the finances of a municipal parking operator and the surrounding business district due to the issuance of more citations, cost savings from improved patrol efficiency, and improved parking compliance.
Retailer revenues, and therefore sales tax receipts, also increase due to higher space turnover. Eventually, the area will change and people will pay for parking or adhere to posted time limits and parking restrictions. Efficient enforcement is a win for cities, a win for businesses, and a win for motorists looking for parking.
High accuracy, low ‘latency’
The key to this is a parking management system that provides highly accurate detection with low “latency” to maximize revenue and avoid pitfalls.
Such a system must be able to reliably detect the presence or absence of a vehicle in a parking space and quickly transmit that data to a central management system. It must meet the highest standards in accuracy and latency or face costly problems.
Sensors must operate with a high level of accuracy in real-world conditions (including excessive radio frequency and other electromagnetic noise, dirt and grime, adverse weather, etc.), not just in a laboratory. Current acceptable standards require greater than 90% accuracy.
Lower levels of accuracy lead to three major problems: with one’s staff, with lost revenues and, most seriously, with the public.
An inaccurate system cannot effectively or efficiently replace old parking enforcement methods. If the system cannot be trusted, then staff will have to double-check it using previous methods. Once that occurs, there is no efficiency benefit to using the new technology.
If System A operates at a 70% accuracy level and System B at a 90% accuracy level, System B is 28.5% more accurate. In practical terms, System B will generate an additional $1,000 in enforcement revenue per space per year by just increased sensor accuracy, based on prevailing fines and capture rates. For a deployment of 100 spaces, that results in $100,000 in extra revenue to the parking authority every year.
Erroneously citing legally parked motorists will undermine the credibility of the technology in the public mind. Even isolated mistakes can erode political support and overshadow an otherwise successful deployment. Precision in detection technology and business logic is absolutely crucial for public acceptance.
“Latency” refers to how quickly information is processed and ends up in the decision-maker’s hands. One needs a system that responds in near-real-time to changes as vehicles come and go and as payments are made. Current acceptable standards hold that events that happen in the field should be reflected on computer and mobile device displays within 120 seconds at least 85% of the time.
Higher latency causes problems similar to those of low accuracy, namely that potential revenue is left on the table and public trust is undermined.
Missed citations = missed revenue
Parking enforcement officers are constantly on the move. If information comes late to their mobile devices, then they could be walking past vehicles in violation without knowing it. When PEOs are not aware of violations near their current location, they must spend time traveling to a different area to continue writing citations.
The opportunity cost of more time traveling is less time writing tickets. Furthermore, vehicles that should have been cited either are let off or require more staff time for officers to backtrack – both costly mistakes.
The worst possible outcome is for PEOs to cite a vehicle in a space that has just turned over. This kind of erroneous citation costs staff time to undo the mistake and, rightfully, damages public trust in the parking authority. If a business district, for example, gains a reputation for this kind of parking hassle, that deters customers and ultimately undermines whatever benefits well-managed parking provides to motorists and businesses.
As said in the article in the March 2011 issue of Parking Today, the 21st century is here, and the parking world now has the chance to embrace it fully.
Innovative partnerships and innovative technology are two sides of the same coin. Investment in new technology made possible by private sector involvement increases efficiency and revenue at a time when both are needed in municipal governance.
On-street parking management systems are now available that can be installed achieving 90% accuracy, 90% turn of information within 120 seconds, and 99% reliability – far exceeding current standards and practices.
The efficiency gains and increased revenue from meeting these exacting standards more than offset the cost differential of a quality system, offering a solution to the high cost of low performance and improving on-street management with a curb-parking asset management system.
Michael R. Kodama is President of Michael R. Kodama Planning Consultants (MK) and a Professor at the University of Southern California. Contact him at mkodama@mkplanners.com. Alan Huynh, a transportation planner with the firm, can be reached at ahuynh@mkplanners.com.

Article Abstract from May, 2011




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