Companies pitch high-tech parking to cities


Pay-by-phone technology has been installed in 17,000 District meters. (Michael Williamson/The Washington Post)
October 9, 2011

Spurred by an increased interest in high-tech parking options, contractors are pitching new systems to cities meant to make better use of existing spaces and get more cars off the road.

The District became one of the latest to adopt new parking technology, signing a contract with Parkmobile earlier this year to allow drivers to pay their meter fees by phone. The pay-by-phone system, which was installed in 17,000 meters about three months ago, also can send users reminders when their time is about to expire.

Parking companies say smarter systems not only can help cities avoid building more spots, they can ease traffic by reducing the number of drivers circling a block looking for parking. Making it easier to park can help attract more visitors to a town and cut down on emissions.

“It’s not been so long ago that our industry was just very rudimentary,” said Casey Jones, chairman of the International Parking Institute, an industry group. “It used to be just about storing cars, and it’s not about that anymore. We are mobility managers, we are access managers.”

Greg Stormberg, chief operating officer at Parkmobile, said the company’s success in the District — about 105,000 people have already signed up for accounts — is resulting in interest from neighboring jurisdictions such as Arlington and Alexandria.

The company has deployed its technology in Houston and Indianapolis and was awarded a contract in Oakland, Calif.

Interest is widespread, Stormberg said: “It doesn’t matter the size of the city.”

Siemens, which bases its U.S. headquarters in the District, recently established a new cities and infrastructure unit designed to focus on using its wide range of products — from commuter rail to Smart Grid technology — in cities.

A key part of that sector is a parking product that installs sensors in all of a city’s parking spots, then links those sensors with the meters. A smartphone application allows drivers to call up a map and see where spaces are available.

Terry Heath, president of the North American mobility and logistics division within Siemens’ infrastructure and cities sector, said the company is pitching its offering as a way to improve the parking experience.

Additionally, he said it allows city officials to consider variable pricing depending on the demand for spots.

IBM, too, has announced a similar parking product. The company said recently it is partnering with Streetline, which produces parking sensors, to offer a system that will allow both drivers and city management to get a real-time, comprehensive picture of a city’s parking.

IBM will then be able to analyze the data to optimize revenue or better understand which areas are underused.

“If there is a more efficient parking system, it benefits all the parties involved,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global industry leader for intelligent transportation. Though the systems cost money to install, the improved efficiency “very quickly can cover the cost of these systems.”

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