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Omaha Will Launch ‘Smart Loading Zones’ to Maximize Curb Use

The Nebraska city will partner with Automotus to set up the smart loading zones, which will use video and other technologies to better manage the curbs serving on-demand deliveries, drop-offs and other parking needs.

Parking officials in Omaha, Neb., plan to use video analytics to better manage city curbsides. The move toward the new tech comes as drivers vie for a spot at what is considered one of the most sought after pieces of urban rights of way.

Behind this rising demand is the blizzard of new on-demand services — from food deliveries to new forms of mobility.

“The curb is no longer just utilized for the passenger vehicle to park at,” said Kenneth D. Smith, Omaha City Parking and Mobility manager. “We’re certainly seeing a growing need for smartphone-based ordering, where you can get anything you want from your phone … and have it delivered right to your front door."

Omaha will begin a partnership with Automotus to deploy up to 100 “smart loading zones,” which will include cameras gathering data related to who’s using the curb, length of parking duration, type of vehicle and other data. The technology works much like automated toll roads, reading license plates, automatically billing the driver and eliminating the need to pay a meter or open an app.

“We’ve heard from those fleet managers saying, ‘we don’t want our drivers messing with those things, because time is money,’” said Smith, referring to any obstacle in the way of making a delivery. “They don’t want to have to mess with an app. They don’t want to have to do anything. They want to be able to park their vehicle, run in, get their job done and get back in.”

Faces are blurred, as well as “all nonrelevant license plates for transactions," and video footage is not saved, said Jordan Justus, CEO and co-founder of Automotus.

Traditionally, cities have had a hard time gathering accurate data related to who’s using the curb and when. Technology companies have stepped into this void with an ability to provide high levels of nearly real-time data around curb use.

“In Omaha, we’re using our technology to help the city better understand who’s using their curbs and how, and then to automate transactions to ensure that everybody’s paying their fair share,” Justus added.

The movement to better manage curb space is not new to Omaha — or countless other cities for that matter. The rise of delivery activity stemming from e-commerce and on-demand everything from rides to food has made curb management more of a priority than ever.

About a year ago, Omaha began a three-month pilot project with Coord to establish five “smart zones” at key downtown intersections that are frequent stops for deliveries.

Smith stressed the city was pleased with the project, but ultimately decided to go with Automotus’ technology, which will be deployed early next year. The city is currently going through the process of determining the best locations for the cameras and zones.

“Certainly, there’s some good data we’ve seen from our previous studies, as far as the higher-use areas. And that’s where we’re going to focus on,” said Smith. “But it’s still a process in play.”

Digital curb management helps to reduce double-parking and other safety hazards, but it also turns the curb into a much more dynamic space that is able to serve deliveries during certain windows, while transitioning to pick-ups and drop-offs during other parts of the day.

“That’s a big component of this, giving the city the data to reallocate space, based on that demand,” said Justus.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.