Los Angeles Moves to Credit Card Readers and On-Street Sensors
“It will be near-field communication or in-car transponders. On-street technology has not stopped evolving,” said Amir Sedadi when asked about the future in a conversation he had last month with Parking Today. Sedadi is Assistant General Manager for the city of Los Angeles Office of Parking Management, Planning and Regulations.
PT sat down with Sedadi and his staff to review what is going on parking-wise in the nation’s second-largest city. The conversation was wide-ranging.
His summary words above held a sense that parking has a way to go, but that’s no reason to stop and wait. “If you do that, you never will do anything,” he said.
“We found ourselves in an interesting position a few years ago. We knew we needed to update our method of on-street revenue collection. We had done studies with pay-by-space, pay-and-display and single-space meters. The main criteria had to be that they would accept credit cards and would work reliably.
“Our rates were going up, and a coin-only option didn’t solve our problem,” Sedadi said. “Our existing meters were in a sad state of repair. We had to make a change.
“At the same time, the city was looking at a public-private partnership (PPP), much as was done in Chicago. We were in a position of having to make a decision, but we didn’t want to commit potential bidders on the PPP.
“Leasing the card/coin single-space meters was the most expeditious and smart decision,” Sedadi said. “We could upgrade our meters easily and quickly. There was no need to remove the existing posts.
“We could solve the customer service problems we were seeing with our older equipment and realize an increase in revenue. If the city decided to proceed with the on-street PPP, the company could work the lease costs into its bid.
“The decision made itself,” Sedadi said.
His staff received City Council approval, and in May 2010, the city of LA entered into a three-year lease-to-own program with San Diego-based IPS Group. The lease program allows the city to pay IPS with the increased revenue generated by the new meters, rather than having a large initial outlay of capital. The city expected a yearly net increase of $3 million based on only six months of use.
The LA Transportation Department has now completed replacement of the old meters with approximately 24,000 card/coin meters.
“Meter revenue is up by an average of 50% where the new meters were installed, and that’s without changing any rates or hours,” said Dan Mitchell, Senior Transportation Engineer. “We were losing so much revenue due to meters being out of service. Now we have the meters up and running more than 99% of the time.
“With the meters nearly always working and enforceable, citations at the new meters were up 15%,” Mitchell said (see sidebar).
“In some cases,” added Sedadi, “we used pay-by-space equipment [Duncan and Digital pay stations]. This is primarily in off-street locations that lend themselves to this technology. But some on-street areas use pay-by-space, where merchants want a less cluttered streetscape for sidewalk cafes and the like.
“It’s good to have the flexibility to use either technology as needed.”
The city is currently in a test program with Streetline Inc. to install individual space-monitoring devices on-street. Focused primarily on the Hollywood area, the 1,000-space pilot program serves multiple purposes.
“The sensor information is transmitted back to our management center and to direct enforcement. By sending enforcement staff to areas where multiple violations were reported, the department was able to increase effectiveness by 250%,” Sedadi said. “A special iPhone app identifies potential violations and tracks enforcement of those spaces in real-time.”
The next phase of LA’s parking program, ExpressPark, is being installed in the city’s downtown core. Funded by a USDOT grant and local funds, the program will use the new parking meter technology, on-street vehicle sensors, off-street occupancy systems, parking guidance, and integrated parking management for measured demand information to set parking prices.
“Our goal is to reduce congestion and pollution caused by people ‘cruising’ for available parking by lowering or raising parking prices so we have an on-street vacancy rate of between 10% and 30%,” Sedadi said. “We have been working with the Don Shoup theory of demand-based pricing to keep some spaces always available and thus lower the number of cars cruising for a space.
“By adjusting pricing in certain areas, and providing real-time parking availability information, we will entice drivers to make quick decisions as to where they can park and at what cost,” Sedadi said.
The equipment for ExpressPark is being installed now, and Sedadi has City Council approval for pricing adjustments. He expects the program to begin in April 2012.
Sedadi smiled as he handed PT his smart phone. On it was an app called Parker that showed available on-street parking spaces in the Hollywood test area. “We have had thousands of downloads of the app, as it has gotten a lot of publicity.”
He showed a skeptical reporter the screen and noted that the app displayed the number of available spaces in a given block. The driver could then decide whether to head for an area close to his destination with only two spaces available, or go for more of a sure thing farther away with four or more available spaces. (With demonstrations like that, Sedadi will win many converts.)
The ExpressPark system ultimately will have signage that will change with the rates and be able to direct drivers to open spaces and tell them what they are going to pay. Currently, the rates are posted on with stickers on the meters.
“The more information we give the drivers, the more they will adapt to our parking system,” Sedadi said.
John Van Horn is founder, publisher and editor of Parking Today. Contact him at email@example.com