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Smart Parking Tech Might be Paying Off in U.S. Cities

An IBM survey of 20 cities worldwide found that international cities far outpace New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago on “parking pain.”

A new survey from IBM has confirmed what city managers, travelers and commuters already know from everyday experience: finding a parking space in a big city can be a frustrating and sometimes futile chore. And the problem isn’t confined to the U.S. — it’s an issue around the world.

More than half of drivers among 8,000 commuters in 20 cities worldwide said during the past year they gave up at least once when looking for a parking space, and one-fourth of them admitted they had argued with someone about a parking spot. New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago each were represented by 400 commuters in the survey.

This fresh data could validate the need for investment in “smart parking” infrastructure and the projects that are already under way in several big U.S. cities.

The survey found that more than 30 percent of a city’s traffic is caused by drivers searching for a parking spot. This inefficiency leads to more carbon emissions discharged by vehicles (a pollution and climate issue), and can cost businesses and city services money (an economic issue).

In New York City alone, 29 percent of commuters said they spend 20 minutes on average looking for a parking spot and 10 percent spend more than 40 minutes, according to the survey.

“Just in the last month alone in the U.S., people drove an extra million miles just to look for parking spots,” said Vinodh Swaminathan, IBM’s director of intelligent transportation systems for its public-sector group. “That’s 47,000 gallons of gas; that’s almost 38 trips around the Earth — all this to really go nowhere.”

Apparently it could be worse — and is in several international destinations. New York City scored six-lowest among the 20 cities surveyed on a “parking pain index” that assigned an aggregate numerical score factoring in time spent looking for parking, inability to find parking, parking tickets received and other metrics. Chicago got the lowest score — 28 percent of survey respondents said they found parking within five minutes. Los Angeles was second lowest on the index.

Good luck finding an open space in New Delhi, India — the No. 1 city for parking pain. Fifty-eight percent of drivers there said they had gotten in an argument over a parking spot during the past year.

Cities are finding it difficult to build more parking spaces and the physical infrastructure necessary to help ease traffic congestion, so they’re looking to implement smart technologies to better manage their existing inventory of parking spots.

One of leading cities is San Francisco, where the Municipal Transportation Authority launched a pilot project, called SF Park, that allows users to search on a mobile device for available parking spaces and also look up demand-based pricing. Cities are also timing traffic signals and building carpool lanes and toll roads to address the problem.

Concurrent with the release of IBM’s parking study, the company announced it’s partnering with Streetline Inc. on a product called Smarter Parking. IBM’s information management expertise and analytics will be combined with data from Streetline’s parking sensors and applications in a manner that officials said will allow cities to make smarter and timelier decisions related to parking and their transportation systems.

According to Zia Yusuf, Streetline’s CEO, the company’s platform uses wireless sensors to detect when a car is or isn’t in a given parking space. That information is available in real time to a public agency and to drivers on mobile devices. The platform features a smartphone app called Parker that helps drivers find available parking spots. Los Angeles became an early adopter of Smarter Parking and launched the platform last December.

Conversation Starter: How does your city utilize technology to address parking problems?


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