Just how much technology do you need?

I had a conversation with a parking technology expert the other day and she reminded me how Smart Cities will begin to change the face of parking as devices (sensors, meters, etc) begin to provide information about available space.  She said that programs like the now defunct SF Park and LA’s Express Park were leading the way to a Smart Parking in a Smart City program.

This reminded me of a conversation I had when SF Park was in its infancy. I was in the ‘City by the bay’ visiting their coin counting operation and was introduced to the head of their meter shop.  I asked him if he was excited about all the information they were going to get from SF Park and how they could use it to provide dynamic pricing for the city.

He rolled his eyes and said “I can give you that information now.”

It seems that he has been tracking meter income, and by looking at that information, he could tell which areas were full, which areas had available parking and then predict what the change in pricing up or down would mean to occupancy.

He noted that he really didn’t have to go to the meter level, that the information by block face was adequate and that he and his staff could show through a revenue study just how onstreet parking flowed in the city.

I asked him why he didn’t supply that data to SF Park. “No one asked.” he said.

I have thought a lot about that conversation over the years. San Francisco spent upwards of $27 million in federal funds and adjusted some pricing in some meters. I’m not sure we have ever seen just how well the project worked. But that is typical of what I think happens when technology begins to rule common sense.

If you remember the program was to use in street sensors to provide app users real time parking availability and at the same time enable the city to adjust rates quickly to ensure on street parking availability. As you know, the sensor program never really worked and the on line app program was abandoned early on.

It might be interesting to compare the information garnered on excel spread sheets in the meter shop with information used by SF Park to see if the city already had enough data to make the pricing changes.

A tremendous amount of technology was brought to bear on this project. Was it necessary? Did the data pretty much already exist? Was technology used for technology’s sake?

To be fair my tech expert told she doubted that many cities had collected the data the way the fellow in San Francisco did. I wonder if she ever asked.


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