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New technologies are innovating parking and transit services in cities

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The idea of the Smart City focuses on creating an urban competitive advantage by developing a sustainable, integrated economic plan for each city, while addressing key challenges in the areas of economic development; water, energy and environment; health and social services; transportation; and public safety, as well as improving municipal services.

In 2011, IBM initiated the Smarter Cities Challenge - a grant program for local governments, which funds the deployment of IBM's experts to contribute to municipalities around the world in solving problems. To date, IBM has deployed expert teams to provide strategic and practical advice to 100 municipalities, all paid by the corporation. Through the Challenge, IBM offers skills in marketing, communications, technology, research and development, government, human resources, finance, business, legal issues, and specific disciplines, such as transportation, energy and public health.

At the SVForum Clean Tech Innovation Breakfast on December 12, speakers from IBM, Qualcomm, and Streetline talked about traffic and parking initiatives, as part of the Smarter Cities, Smarter Planet concepts. Speakers included Justin Bean from Streetline, Kiva Allgood from Qualcomm, and Deborah Magid from IBM Software Strategy Director (Moderator).

In the future, connecting street lights, parking locations, electricity and water meters, city transit services, etc. into a networked ecosystem will drive sustainable economic growth by utilizing big data and analytic tools for better decision-making and problem-solving. While solutions need to address the city as a whole, traffic congestion, parking management, and transportation systems are the focus of new sensing-based solutions. Streetline is a leading global provider of 'Smart Parking' solutions. Their technology brings together all aspects of parking management technology in one integrated system that includes street-level parking sensors, mobile apps, analytics and real-time parking management. Streetline sensors are placed in the asphalt, at each parking spot (see image), to determine occupancy and not meter-based sensors. According to Justin Bean, the distinction is important because the technology can provide information in any type of a parking space, regardless and independent of any meter.

Streetline ParkSight™ solution helps to improve municipal operations by making cities more efficient, improves people’s lives (for example, for locating available parking spot easily) and lessens transit-based environmental impact. Streetline also offers ParkerMap, a free and user-friendly, embeddable map that displays parking locations near a particular address, place of business, or neighborhood. Merchants, retailers, offices, community or public venues, etc. can use the app and imbed it on their website to show patrons where they can park, how much it would cost, and the availability of on-street parking in real time near the venue. On the driver's side, Parker is a mobile-device app that let’s users know of real-time parking availability, and the ability to easily find, pay for, or reserve available parking.

The speakers talked about the challenges in reinventing cities. One difficulty is to get local governments to understand what technology can do today to improve operations and save money. Generally, decision making processes in cities move slower than in business. Through a simple deployment of a sensor at each parking meter, the technology enables the transportation department to make more revenue since it minimizes unpaid parking and helps maximize utilization of each parking spot. Sensing-automation also enables setting different fee points throughout the day at the meter: for example business hours will be at a higher rate than evening parking; or setting special parking rates for sports or art events.

One of the challenges today is that cities own the transactional data they collect, however, most city governments are not interested in managing the data, servicing it, or owning the technologies that will enable us to get intelligence out of the ‘big data’ repositories, or own the analytics solutions. In European countries there is more synergy between the telecom and their local utilities due to their governing structures, which is conducive to effective collaborations, to promoting standards and getting consensus. The dynamics between telecom and utilities is different in the U.S. As a result, we are a long way from having a number of needed standards. The speakers agreed that it'll be an advantage for the U.S. to look at the principals set in European models.

Operating in silos in municipalities organization is another challenge, where various departments don’t communicate with each other. However, when value is created for transportation and parking management, the sustainability and economic development functions get engaged and it becomes easier to secure funding and move faster along the implementation lines.

Can standards in the various communication technologies Wi fi, blue tooth, cellular, GPS will address industry verticals or can go across business spectrum?

Standardization of sensor technologies is important in order to simplify connectivity, deployment and operations. When looking at the past, a similar concept was introduced with SMS (Short Message Service which is a form of text messaging communication on phones and mobile phones): initially, it was limited to a few carriers. However, once all telecom carriers opened their capabilities to a standard SMS - the service took off globally. If every parking garage, spot or lot use different sensor technologies for the same application - it creates an integration challenge and increases the cost, essentially becoming an obstacle for mass adoption and user convenience.

The connected car is giving a forceful push toward standardization. The autonomous car utilizes sensing technologies to address driving safety. Automakers realize the benefits of all manufacturers to talk to each other about ways to achieve similar goals. The autonomous car is viewed as the ultimate future mobility and in 2014 we will already see several models incorporating various driving safety apps.

Big data takes a key role in progressing toward a Smart City. Sensors in different city operations collect data and new technologies are able to demonstrate to officials the value in analyzing and extract value, creating opportunities to solve problems, save money and promote efficiency. Further, analytics models can help city operations to move from being purely reactive to predictive models. For example, Most accidents in the city are rear-ending events of the vehicle in front, many times at a red traffic light. Having visibility to these accidents can help in the design of intersections, traffic flow, roads, etc. Some countries, such as Brazil, have advanced regulation that requires vehicles to have sensors for the purpose of reducing kidnapping incidents and the ability to track down highjacked cars.

Los Angeles County has over 7.4 million registered cars, but only a fraction of that number of parking spaces. This year, Los Angeles started to use a pay-per demand parking model, where fees are set by demand in real time. In high demand areas prices have been raised and in low demand areas prices have been lowered. Overall meter prices have dropped 11%, while revenue has grown 2% due to better utilization.


1., a privately held company headquartered in Foster City, CA with over 40 smart parking deployments in Europe and the United States including California. The company was named one of Fast Company’s 10 Most Innovative Companies in Transportation, as well as IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year. Streetline was named Best Mobile Innovation for ‘Smart Cities’ for Parker at the 2013 Mobile World Congress.

2. SVForum, a non-profit organization that is devoted to creating connections and providing education to the Silicon Valley ecosystem of innovators, entrepreneurs, and business professionals participating in emerging technologies.

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