Magazine

Introduction to Radio Frequency: ID Parking Meters Go 'On the Air'

Larry Berman

Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a collection of technical approaches for many applications across a wide range of industries. We are all familiar with bar coding. RFID is the big brother of the bar coding process.
RFID is all around you and you may not have noticed it. RFID is used in applications such as electronic toll collection and vehicle and personnel access control by use of Automated Vehicle Identification (AVI); railroad car identification; asset tracking; animal identification; fuel dispensing; and automobile immobilization.
The transportation industry has been working with this technology for many years in the form of AVI. It has now come of age, and is going to be a vital part of the parking industry.
RFID consists of three components:
An antenna or coil
A transceiver (with decoder)
A transponder (RF tag) electronically programmed with unique information
There are two types of tags: active and passive. Active tags are powered by an internal battery and are typically read/write. The memory of these tags varies based on the application requirements. They are bigger in size, and have a longer range, greater cost and more limited operational life than passive tags.
The passive tag uses no battery. The reader generates the power for the tag to be read. It is small in size, low in cost and lasts forever. It has short read ranges and is programmed with a unique set of data that cannot be modified.
The frequency range also identifies the RFID tags:
Low frequency 30 KHz to 500 KHz -- They are used in security access, asset tracking and animal identification.
High frequency 850 KHz to 950 KHz and 2.4 GHz to 2.5 GHz -- They are for long-range, high-read rates, and are used for railroad, truck tracking and automatic toll collection.
The higher the performance of the tag, the higher the cost of that tag.
Most of us are familiar with RFID used in automatic toll collection. You have an active tag in your vehicle and a reader above the toll booth. The transponder has read/write capabilities and all the attributes of a high-frequency tag.
Now that you are all experts, I would like to discuss how passive tags and their applications are used in the parking meter industry. Consider these tags as an indestructible bar code that no one can copy or read. They are also smaller in size and carry much more data than bar codes. These tags can also be embedded into a product such as plastics or paper. You do not need a line of sight as in bar code applications.
You are going to see more of these little tags in operational applications in the near future. Global ID, which sells RFID tags, has been a wonderful source of information and product development. They now are being used to identify parking meters.
A tag that is placed in the meter housing will work even if there is ice or snow on the dome. The tag is read and the data stored in a reader usually weighing under a pound. With the use of an RFID menu, you can record maintenance functions for any parking application or device. This includes single-space meters, multi-space applications, electronic parking permits and some signage.
Once you have read the tag, you can assign an incident to that read. An incident is anything you want to attach to the first read, which is the meter number. It could be a coin jam, dead battery, or a car that has not activated the parking meter and is in violation.
All of these activities are date- and time-stamped.
When the information is uploaded to software running on your PC or sent via modem to a remote site where a server processes the information, you will get rapid reports that reflect your operation on a minute-to-minute basis.
Some of the available reports:
General query of all work activity
Missed meters by routes
Repairs by routes
Repairs by meter
Meters seen by employee
Work orders
As the need arises, modifications can be made to the database to create additional reports. This system, which incorporates the use of the passive RFID, can also use active tags to create a greater read range. In recent meetings, the private sector and a few government agencies have shown an interest in locating these tags with GPS coordinates. This would give them the ability to locate their assets on a GIS mapping system.
RFID tags have also been embedded into coin collection boxes, and can be read when the vault door is opened during a collection. This will ensure that a coin box is in every meter and not a paper cup. You will know that the coin box that was assigned to a meter you are collecting is the one that belongs in that meter, and not another coin box that was switched out without authorization.
All coin boxes collected are date- and time-stamped. This information will let you know when the route was started and when it was finished. You will also know which meters were skipped or missed.
The same RFID tag that is in the meter is being used to conduct engineering studies for occupancy and duration in order to set parking fees and the duration of parking hours. We are also able to track ticket issuance and permit usage at these meters. The handheld summons issuance companies are looking at this technology as a way to incorporate the meter number and address just by scanning the RFID tag.
RFID technology will be playing a new role in the parking industry.

Larry Berman is a former Director of Parking for New York City. He is now a consultant working primarily with Duncan Industries. He can be reached at muffin6666@aol.com.

Article Abstract from November, 2003




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