Apps, sensors, and common sense

I had lunch the other day with an expert in on street parking. The person asked to remain nameless, however so I can refer to him or her in the future, I shall use the sobriquet Yoda, due to the sage knowledge the person imparts.

Yoda and I were discussing the parking apps that are proliferating around the world and just how accurate they can be.

“Think about it, even if the sensors work 100% of the time and every space that is available is reported instantly, the odds are that by the time you get to the space, it will be gone. Let’s face it, in places where the app is needed, there is no parking space, and in other places, there is always a parking space. “

Well, Duh. I’m told that some sensor manufacturers are trying to get expectation levels of cities set so they understand this problem. People are looking for a parking space. They see someone getting in their car. They pull over and wait a minute while that car leaves and then pull in. Time the space was available, none.

Manufacturers have recommended that the apps simply show where spaces may be available (say only if there are more than two or three on a block face).  I note that the app used in SFPark also shows spaces available (and pricing) in the city’s off street lots. Now perhaps that makes sense. But to show on street availability, Yoda isn’t so sure.

“After a person goes to where their Iphone shows that there is a space and it isn’t there a couple of times, they will begin to believe that the app doesn’t work and that will be the end of it. Of course there is that pesky little law which prevents you from using your smart phone in your car while you are driving.”

Yoda tells me that her (yes I know I’m mixing both male and female pronouns, just to keep you guessing)  experience is that sensors seem to work best when they are transmitting data a short distance (say to an associated parking meter or to a hand held device carried by enforcement). The communication issues of having a device running on a small battery, buried in the street, with tons (literally) of magnetic interference (street cars, buses, trucks, etc) is a difficult problem to tackle. As one company found out to their peril, it’s one thing to work in the lab, another to work on the street.

I will provide more info from my buddy Yoda as appropriate. Other topics include enforcement, public private partnerships, and when instituting market based pricing,  just how ofter should rate changes occur.


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