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Sensors Help LA Create Demand-Based Parking Pricing

Los Angeles' smart parking system adjusts pricing for parking spaces using an algorithm based on supply and demand.

Los Angeles drivers competing over limited parking spaces are no longer paying the same rate for every space. With the help of a $15 million federal grant, the city rolled out LA Express Park in May 2012 – a program that utilizes sensor technology in parking spaces to determine which parking spaces are the most in demand.

By analyzing data culled from wireless sensor technology in the spaces, the city was able to deploy an algorithm-based “supply and demand” pricing model. Higher rates are charged for more sought-after spaces, while less often used spaces carry cheaper rates, explained Dan Mitchell, senior transportation engineer from the LA Department of Transportation.

Los Angeles, well known for heavy traffic flow, collects nearly $21 million in revenue from the metered spaces annually, according to the DOT's official website. 

Los Angeles’ downtown area alone has more than 6,000 metered parking spaces and demand for parking spaces can change from day to day, week to week and even at different times during the same day, but the overall goal is keep 10 to 30 percent of spaces available at all times. Mitchell said parking management technology helps increase parking availability and reduce traffic congestion.

Demand for spaces can change seasonally, or due to holidays or special events. Due to the diversity of parking demand, the city wanted a way to view how often demand changes and base pricing for parking on current demand. With the technology, the city typically adjusts metered parking pricing on the first Monday of each month, or once every other month.

“By having different pricing options on the different blocks, we can give our customers choices and that helps better distribute the demand over all the available spaces,” Mitchell said. “If the price is the same everywhere, then there’s no incentive to go a little farther away – everybody wants to get the best parking space that’s closest to their destination.”

Mitchell likened the demand for parking spaces to purchasing tickets at Dodger Stadium. If all ticket prices were the same, everyone would be vying to sit behind home plate – and there wouldn’t be any incentive to sit in left field.

Drivers can use two different free apps for viewing live data on parking spaces. “Parker” and “ParkMe” both allow drivers to view the expected number of open spaces on each block as well as policies that go with those spaces – rates, hours, time limits, etc.

LA Express Park was deployed using Merge technology developed by Xerox – a system that integrates and provides analytics for metered and off-street parking programs. The technology integrates hardware and software to generate real-time information on coin collections, meter maintenance, enforcement and occupancy. The Merge system is connected to LA’s back-end parking systems as well as in-field parking technology.

David Cummins, senior vice president of parking and justice solutions for Xerox Transportation, said in addition to installing wireless sensors in the parking spaces, Xerox and the city had to network the parking meters to create an entire infrastructure of wireless parking meters. Pricing is based on analytics generated by the system’s algorithms, he explained, rather than a staff person on the back-end deciding what parking prices should be.

“It’s a big data experiment,” Cummins said.

Photo from Shutterstock.

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.