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Smart Cities — A Good Idea or Boondoggle

Smart Cities…what are they?  What will they be?  Who is driving this philosophy? Is “Smart Cities” a term in search of a definition?

From what I can glean from the “Internet of Things”, a “Smart City” is one that uses on line sensors and devices to collect vast amounts of data about what is happening in a city (everything from trash collection, water delivery, electric services, to policing, parking and traffic) and then is able to use that data to better serve its residents. That data can also be used to help with master planning, policy decisions, and the like.

The above was my definition. Being rather simplistic, I look to simple descriptions. However a simple description does not make a simple solution. The creation of a “Smart City” is not simple. Its easy to say “collect vast amounts of data” and “use that data to better serve” but the key is not in the definition, its in the execution.

If you Google “Smart City” you will find a company called “Smart City.”  It is a communications company that provides such services to large venues (like Disneyland), hotels, and yes, cities. It seems to understand that the key to a smart city is “Communications.”  This month in my favorite magazine, Stephanie Simmons of IPS describes a very small issue in dealing with communications and smart devices. Do you want all decisions made in the so called “cloud?”  Probably not, she says, as communications will be cluttered with “is there a car in this space” decisions, decisions that could and should be made locally. These kind of design alterations are underway.

There are millions of decisions like this that have to be made daily in a major city, and are made today. Without them traffic lights wouldn’t work, water wouldn’t flow, parking meters wouldn’t collect, sewage would back up, wayfinding wouldn’t find the empty space. Most of them are made without being thought of as “Smart”.

So are our cities already halfway to “Smart?”  Probably. What about the rest, “The collection of data and then being able to use it to provide policy and master planning.”

Now we get to the heart of the matter.  When it becomes time to replace my water meter, or the city’s parking meters,  the new one has a device that communicates with something, either the next meter or the DWP car that drives down the street or parking central, and provides information about the device.  The cost of that ability is built into the new meter. But what about the cost of huge databases, data collection, and dare I say it, the smarts to be able to ‘slice and dice’ all that data to make it not a bunch of pretty graphs, but information that we can use.

It is projected that by 2025 the annual spend for “Smart Cities” worldwide will be over $400 Billion This is a lot of gravy. Who is jumping on the train?  You know the names – IBM, Xerox, Siemens, Microsoft, Google, and the rest. Spending $20 million on a database will be small potatoes. These companies are looking to their future.

A friend in Australia tells me that every major city in the country now has a “Chief Digital Officer” to drive the “Smart City“ phenomena. (He says these folks make upwards of $250,000 per year.) There is a “Smart City” expo looming this year in Melbourne. He posits that companies who don’t embrace an entire suite of services for “Smart Cities” will be left to populate a second tier of suppliers, providing bits and pieces as subcontractors to the major players.

Will “Smart Cities” be simply a buzz word that politicians use to bolster their bona fides? Will they spend millions to create something that will fizzle out after a few years? How many “sustainability” projects have we seen begun and then drop from sight when the next bright idea comes along?

We need to give this a hard look. Most of the “Smart City” functions won’t directly touch city residents. Parking does. I can see the city fathers and mothers using our fair industry as an example of how they are going to put their city on the “Smart City” map. We have seen the first steps with SF Park and  LA ExpressPark that have taken small steps to providing information to drivers. The private sector with app driven information is pushing hard in this area.

But it can be only the beginning. Most of it, like pay by cell or the location of open parking space is hap hazard. But if a city, through a so called ‘major player’ decides to combine all parking information and services under one umbrella, the scenario mentioned above, where most of the suppliers become second tier and end up providing commodity like products and services, will come to pass. Then we ignore all this at our peril.

If parking leads instead of follows, venture capital may begin to flow more freely into our industry. Then who knows. Maybe it will be a smart move to properly embrace a “Smart City.”


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Chicago Valet Operations Fined for Podium Placement

Chicago enforcement has taken a swing at valet parking. It handed out more citations during one month in 2016 than it did during the last two years, reports chicagobusiness.com. The citations were for violations of the placement of podiums and key boxes.

Valet companies received 76 citations for the “storage of goods on public ways” between Feb. 8 and March 10, up from 30 in all of 2015 and 42 in 2014, according to city data provided to Crain’s under an open-records request.

Valet operators are at a loss as to where to move the podiums and how to attract customers without visual cues and a secure place to lock keys. They say the flurry of ticketing was a complete shock.

“I’ve been doing valet for 30 years, and we’ve never been cited for having a podium or a key box in the sidewalk. Never,” says Carlos Vargas, owner of Valet Parking Authority, which runs valet operations at 34 locations in River North, Lincoln Park and the Loop. “All of a sudden, at the end of February, without a warning or a heads up or anything, they just show up and start giving us citations.”

If a municipality makes a law but doesn’t enforce it, people learn to ignore the law. When the municipality, one day, decides to enforce the law, without warning, that is perceived as antagonistic and unfair.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said the ticketing was part of regular enforcement activity.

A meeting between city leaders and hospitality association representatives led to an agreement that the podiums and lock boxes can be used as long as they are not blocking pedestrian traffic.

Read the article here.

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Police Take Heat for Ticketing Honolulu Residents

In Honolulu, residents of Village Park recently experienced an unpleasant surprise in the form of police sweeping the area and handing out 150 parking tickets, reports khon2.com. Parking is always tight in the neighborhood and complaints about illegal parking reached the police department, leading to the ticketing spree. The article reports that most of the tickets were given to cars parked on the sidewalk.

It sounds like people run out of places to park and many in the neighborhood have adopted a “park anywhere” policy. They were unhappy to be ticketed and feel they were treated unfairly. In an interesting twist, the initial complaint reached Councilmember Ron Menor’s office and he passed it on to the police, but took no responsibility for the ticketing sweep. Mayor Menor went so far as to condemn the police department’s response to the complaint.

“I had no idea,” he replied. “I think the actions taken by HPD were unfortunate and unacceptable.” Menor says he received a complaint from a resident, and standard procedure is forwarding the complaint to police.

“I’ve been assured by the major overseeing Village Park that they’re not going to do this again, that they will look into policies and procedures in which they will be dealing with and addressing parking concerns throughout not just my district, but the island,” he said.

What’s confusing to me, as an outsider, is why people who park illegally get angry and blame enforcement. Of course, a “ticketing sweep” is definitely not a good move from a public relations standpoint – consistent enforcement would be much more effective and acceptable to residents. What’s even more confusing is a mayor throwing his police department under the bus, so to speak, for upholding the law.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Parking Problems are all Relative

In Beaverton, Oregon, residents are ticked off because construction at a Nike facility has caused an employee parking shortage that’s effecting their neighborhood. People are so annoyed they are asking Nike to provide shuttles for its staff and are talking about asking the city to apply parking permits to the area, reports kgw.com.

Longtime resident Ray Lee said there are a few other factors that have added to the problems, including high density housing nearby and their street being made into a throughway. But Nike employees traveling though and parking at the curb is making it a lot worse.

What’s mind boggling to me is that residents would even consider a permit parking as a solution to this temporary problem. Nike’s expansion won’t last forever, and when it’s finished, parking in the surrounding area will go back to normal. However, permit parking would continue and it’s a hassle for everyone. I’m not there, so I don’t know what it’s really like, but I think these people might need to relax a little. Sure, it’s not happening on my street, but other things that bug me are – every day. Life is consistently inconvenient. Read the article here.

For a little perspective on a real parking problem, consider the 30-year wait list for a parking space at Seward Park Cooperatives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. According to ny1.com, there are people on the waiting list for parking at the co-op who will probably die before they ever get a spot. Changes to parking policy at the co-op have upset some residents, but the changes don’t include a reduction in the wait time or the length of the waiting list.

The new capacity is not expected to dent the 30-year wait because many young families with cars have been moving in. The wait list now has 670 names.

Waiting 30 years for a parking space seems a lot more dire than a few months of congestion, but people are easily annoyed and news outlets are ready and eager to make a minor issue into a front page headline. Read the rest of the article here.

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PT Makes Top 10 List of Parking Influencers

I am humbled and amazed. ParkPlus Systems, the result of the City of Calgary’s step into on street parking enforcement, has developed a list of the top people to follow on parking in social media and a list of the top organizations in our industry.

Parking Today and yours truly was honored to be on both lists. Its a pretty heady group including Don Shoup, Mike Civitelli, the UK’s Manny Rasores, Singapore’s Paul Barter, and our own Kathleen Laney.

It seems there is an app called “Little Bird” and it uses twitter as a base and then determines activity based on followers and other black arts. Obviously I won’t be arguing with the list.

I copied the ‘top 10″ below but if you want to see the entire top 100, go here.

Strangely I’m speechless.


10 Top People to follow on Parking

jvhpt John Van Horn
DonaldShoup Donald Shoup
mjcivitelli Michael Civitelli
MrParking Manny Rasores de  Toro
PaulABarter Paul Barter
BrentToderian Brent Toderian
LaneySolutions Kathleen Laney
ParkingDesk Jeff Krusner
gmeansparking Gary A. Means
MyParkingSign Conrad Lumm

10 Top Organizations to follow on Parking

parking_net Parking Network
IntlParkingInst International Parking Institute
WeAreParking National Parking Association
Parkmobile Parkmobile
BritishParking British Parking Association
ParkMe ParkMe
Parkopedia Parkopedia.com
parkingtoday Parking Today
Parkex2015 Parkex
CityLab CityLab
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New Uses for Old Parking

Travelers to London have a new and exciting option for accommodations: and Airbnb listed at just $11 per night. The catch? It’s in a parking spot. The vacation rental offers a  bed and bedside table in an unused parking area, reports foxnews.com.

The bed and furniture are all located in an uncovered, concrete parking lot outside the listing owner’s garage. Unlike some cramped hotel quarters, at least there’s plenty of room to move around.

Sadly, the listing was removed from Airbnb for not meeting its standards for occupancy – namely, plumbing, a roof and four walls. The article says there are other vacation rentals at that price in London that come with four walls and plumbing for those who don’t mind sleeping on a couch.

I don’t want to spend the night in a parking lot, but I have no doubt there are plenty who would be just fine with the experience. Airbnb needs a section for unorthodox arrangements.

Read the article here.

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Wireless Data is at Risk at Parking Meters

An Austin, Texas woman says her credit card numbers were stolen after she used downtown parking meters, reports keyetv.com. The woman, Chelsea, who did not give her last name, says fraudulent charges were made on two of her cards. City officials examined the meters she used and said there was no sign of skimming.

However, it is possible to skim with a wireless device from nearby.

“They are wireless and they do transmit the data so when you put your card in, it needs to go through an authorization process, and I would imagine that some of that data that can be transferred electronically can be captured locally within a reasonable distance,” says Allan Bachman, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Education Manager.

I don’t like to be the voice of doom, but in this area, I will admit to serious doubts about the safety of credit and debit card information in just about every setting. I’ve had my card information stolen at least twice in my life. I use my cards with the full knowledge that they are not safe, but do so because I know the credit card company will reimburse me if fraudulent charges are made.

I’ve read that gas stations are hit most by card skimmers. When I buy gas, I use the card that comes with the best fraud policy and customer service – just in case.

At some point, credit card companies are going to lose too much money to continue this practice. They will either reimburse less, require insurance or limit use in a way that is more secure than current PCI standards. In the meantime, anybody designing meters might want to factor in some extra security measures.

Read the article here.

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Three posts from Parking Today on the Demise of the Parking Meter

Scroll down to see my blog, then comments from readers, then Paul chimes in.


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Meters Will Stand as Long as We Carry Cash

I couldn’t help add my two cents to the discussion about the end of the parking meter. All the technology for this transition is available, but a huge component in the parking process isn’t ready for the shift: the municipal government and the user.

According to global.handelsblatt.com, the end of cash is closer than the end of the meter. The website reports that Sweden is at the head of the cashless society movement in Europe, with well-known former-ABBA band member Björn Ulvaeus championing the cause by going an entire year without using cash. Just about the entire country is set up for cashless living.

“We prefer credit cards” is written in large letters on signs in many Swedish supermarkets. The Stockholm Public Transportation Company no longer accepts cash payments, and even newspapers or a few bread rolls can be paid for with debit or credit cards or by mobile phone. And parking meters were switched to a cashless payment system a few years ago.

Read the article here.

It would be easy to expect the fall of the parking meter in a place where pretty much everyone expects to pay electronically. But I think credit card capabilities will keep the meter from reaching obsolescence for a long time even if people stop using cash. It’s only when mobile phone payments become the norm that machinery for accepting parking payments can be eliminated all together.

In the United States, our emphasis on state and local governments will also lengthen the life of the parking meter. It might be easy to implement a country-wide parking policy in Sweden, but it won’t be simple here. I can see a state like California or New York going cashless years ahead of other states. While they are tearing out meters, places like Phoenix, Ariz. will still be installing them. They’re installing new meters in Phoenix just this month, reports downtowndevil.com.

The 180 parking meters were requested by both Roosevelt Row Merchants Association and the Evans-Churchill Neighborhood Association through their commissioned non-governmental parking committee.The 180 parking meters were requested by both Roosevelt Row Merchants Association and the Evans-Churchill Neighborhood Association through their commissioned non-governmental parking committee.

I’m not against a cashless society or mobile-phone payments, but I think it’s most realistic to expect these changes to come about when the Millenial generation reaches middle age. Those who are used to carrying cash will want to do so for many years to come. And they will all need to park and have a way to pay for their parking.

Read the article here.

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People Agree with Me…

I received a number of comments on my post yesterday about Pay by Cell. I thought I would bring them out of the ‘comments’ section and into the light of day.  JVH


Here in the UK phone parking started over 12 years ago and although we now have many thousands of locations after all this time, these systems are offered by companies not able or willing to provide and share a common central data bank to enable consumers to have one app or one common phone number and this continue to hold back their expansion.

To make matters worst, we also have the situation that consumers not only having to pay for the phone call, but much worse, many of these phone parking providers just add a service charge on top of the parking to the consumer when the best business model would be to provide the service free and preferably at a lower charge per hour reflecting the lower cost to the operator. As a result, in many UK locations the phone parking penetration has stalled at between 10 and 20% and in theory this should not be the case.

My prediction is that unless things change dramatically in the future and the service is provided on one account and number and at a lower cost than paying the machine, this will remain just one more option for some users for the foreseeable future. I am confident other type of technology mounted to vehicles will materialize in due course were people don’t have to phone to book and pay, a system that will allow you pre-book the most suitable parking to your destination, will detect when you arrive and depart and will automatically debit the payment from your account. I just hope when these user friendly systems arrive, they would have learn the lesson to make them simple and cheaper for users.
Not really much to ask?


It may be that the eventual answer is that apps that enable you to pay for one thing (parking) will go the way of the dinosaurs. If Apple Pay or Google Wallet had a “pay for parking” method and cities adopted it, we would be able to buy lunch, pay for parking and then drinks in the next city over, all from one app on our phones. The more we can pay for, parking transit, lunch, etc. with one app, the higher the chances are for wide adoption.


I recall several years ago at a company management retreat telling the team that cash-less parking would be the norm very soon. Customers would either pay with a credit card or by phone. Operationally, this is the best method as each transaction has a paper-trail. Cash shrinkage is a non-issue as there is no cash to handle. Labor savings are an added bonus.

The argument about a customer not having a phone or card was easily handled. Those people can park with the “other guys”, as there are too few customers to worry about in that position.

Of course, things move at a glacial pace in our world, but it appears that we are finally reaching the tipping point.

Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that operators would accept credit cards…



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