From ‘Meter Maids’ to Self-Enforced Meters
The Evolution of Municipal Parking
With the exception of gated lots that use mechanisms to enforce payment by keeping a vehicle out (or in) until payment has been made, parking payment has, for most of its history, been enforced by “meter maids” and parking wardens that check parking credentials vehicle by vehicle. This is tedious and expensive, and carries risks of verbal or physical abuse for the enforcement officers.
Until a few years ago, parking credentials have always been physical things: a red expiry flag on single-space meters, a slip of paper from a pay-and-display machine, a hang-tag from a monthly parking contract at a university or military base, or a handicapped placard that you are not supposed to borrow from a family member.
These mechanisms require authorized enforcement personnel to walk by each spot – usually several times per day – to ensure that paid, current parking credentials are displayed. What an expensive way to collect a few dollars!
Digital parking credential
More recently, the digital parking credential has been making inroads, and is on its way to becoming a well-accepted innovation. It requires no physical evidence at the vehicle.
Pay-by-spot systems register a digital parking credential in a computerized control system, which can be accessed at a keyboard or touch pad to determine whether a particular spot (in which a vehicle is parked) has a “live” credential, meaning a current payment has been made.
Pay-by-license-plate systems register a digital parking credential to a specific plate number, usually within a particular area or zone.
Pay-by-phone systems are essentially the same, except that the credential is created at a wireless phone, rather than a multi-space meter into which a parker types a plate number.
All three of these system types provide improved enforcement efficiencies.
Pay-by-spot enables “dispatched enforcement,” and both pay-by-license and pay-by-phone enable enforcement via license-plate recognition. All digital credentialing systems offer something important: real-time parking data that can be used in “demand analytics,” which in turn offers a way to manage pricing in a very timely fashion to achieve performance targets, including lowered “cruising miles traveled” and reduced parking congestion.
Is self-enforcement feasible?
A recent addition to the parking payment panoply is the autonomous parking meter. This in-vehicle service “self-locates” a vehicle and automatically arranges a digital payment credential.
The system removes the potential for user error, confusion or “forgetfulness” regarding correct payment, making it feasible to plan for 100% payment compliance by participants. Replacing outdated time limits with progressive pricing means fewer citations and more retained revenue.
Any such system, working correctly, is self-enforcing. In the business, we call it soft-enforcement, because it can guarantee correct payment without threat of a citation.
While enforcement is still required for scofflaws, it is not needed for drivers electing to have the payment process pre-paid and fully automated. This makes license plate recognition useful: LPR can sort compliant from non-compliant vehicles with great speed.
As a higher portion of drivers participate, parking enforcement can focus on scofflaws only. In this case, higher fines for meter violations may make sense, as well.
In-vehicle auto-pay systems allow municipalities to address short-term parking, such as for delivery or other service vehicles, in new ways. This also makes managed parking feasible for secondary streets that cannot currently justify a return on investment with respect to on-street meters and frequent enforcement checks.
Provided that demand or market rates are charged, this additional parking space can raise significant revenue for municipalities; increase parking space inventory; and in some circumstances, enable a reduction of parking spots on congested streets or crucial transit corridors.
Contact Bern Grush, a Co-Founder and VP for Innovation at Applied Telemetrics, Toronto, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The inventor of PayBySky and Skymeter also is lead on several patent files related to GPS-based parking and road tolling meters.