Jonathan Newell sees how finding and occupying that elusive parking bay can be helped by sensors, infrastructure communications and imaginative payment methods.
Recent innovations in car parking technology have eased some of the problems that motorists face in finding a parking space and paying for it. These innovations continue to roll out in deployments such as the latest multi-technology systems installed in Lewisham and Portsmouth’s flagship Gunwharf Quays venue by APT Skidata.
To find out how far the combination of infrastructure connectivity, sensor technology and payment options can take us, I spoke to Tom Buck, the Chief Technology Officer of APT Skidata’s holding company, SWARCO Parking and eMobility.
If we try to predict the way we park in the future, it’s possible to envisage a fusion of technologies involving connected cars, smartphone apps, electronic flexible payment and reservation and self-parking automation.
This may seem a long way off given the existing problems of circling to find a space, fumbling for change to feed a meter and suffering elapsed time anxiety in the dash to return to the car. However, the technology is there now to enable this to happen.
APT Skidata has robust vacant space detection sensors, Bosch has demonstrated workable, self-parking autonomy and payment systems can be linked to NFC devices, chip and pin cards and even loyalty cards.
The technology is available to use an app to select a car park, pay and reserve, gain entry through registration number recognition, be guided to vacant spaces and have the car park itself. It’s also feasible to link all this into a transport network so you can leave your car at the railway station car park or the “Park ‘n Ride” and have the parking and public transport tickets all billed to one ticket. Given such a utopian ideal, why isn’t it happening right now?
Barriers to smart, connected transport
Investing now for an uncertain future is something that is difficult to convince councils, car park and public transport operators to do. According to Buck, the infrastructure hardware involved has a typical life-cycle of 25 years and so operators often stick with the familiar pay and display ticketing systems because existing legislation supports easy enforcement.
The ability to enforce parking regulations involves demonstrating that you have a right to be there, either through a ticket in the window or a set of barriers that won’t let you out until you’ve paid. New legislative and enforcement models are needed in order to enable alternative payment, access and ticketing methods.
However, according to Buck, this shouldn’t place the change to new methods on a 25 year investment horizon if the correct equipment is installed in the first place. “Pay and display ticket machines can be supplied that have the flexibility to be upgraded to new systems using barcodes, QR codes and other technology to support future parking models,” he told me.
In terms of connected transport systems, Buck sees the main barrier as being budgets confined to silos. In this situation, all the affected companies can agree that connectivity is a good idea but none of them have the ability to budget for it when ownership partially belongs to another company.
Buck believes a big push is needed in order to overcome these barriers. “There is a lot of excitement about the technology but it needs overarching political willpower in order to make it happen,” he explained.
Part of the difficulty is the scope of technologies involved, such as infrastructure communication, smart sensors and the availability of usable smartphone apps. “The delivery of such systems doesn’t have to be complex and answer all of the questions immediately. It’s important to take a gradual approach and link all the parts together as the technology allows it,” he said.
With London, Stuttgart and other pioneering cities making headway into smart mobility, it’s tempting to think that the provinces will be left behind but APT Skidata’s latest installation in Portsmouth shows that the latest in parking technology is occurring outside the capital effectively.
Central to the new system is APT Skidata’s new Power.Gate control columns to control entry and exit. Power.Gate is a good example of the future-proof technology that Buck advocates. It provides operators with immediate benefits as well as options to adopt alternative ticketing types in the future.
The control columns at Gunwharf Quays will be fitted with optical scanners which will read e-tickets on smartphones or 1D or QR barcodes issued as validations, discounts or promotional vouchers on smartphones. The operators at Lewisham will also have a dedicated parking zone used by retail staff that will be accessed by APT Skidata’s new Lite.Gate barrier.
All the columns will provide full ticket processing using APT Skidata’s proven crosswise barcode issuers, and readers and RFID proximity readers will provide the touch point for registered users and season ticket holders.
Ten automatic payment stations will also be installed, including six Power.Cash machines that use the latest in coin and banknote processing hardware. All payment stations will also be fitted with external optic scanners to enhance the payment experience and support any promotional activity or loyalty programmes that may be introduced.
Another aspect of future proofing at Gunwharf Quays is the installation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems across all the entry and exit lanes, giving the site options for future developments in the way the car park is operated. For example, a membership scheme could be introduced and registered visitors could be given access without requiring a ticket. Alternatively, visitors, having paid at a pay station, could have a direct passage through the exit without the need to present their ticket.
According to Nigel Young, APT Skidata’s Strategic Business Development Officer, the technology at the site has a high technology look and feel to it, including illuminated contour stripes for the control columns and barrier housings.
“The barrier arm will be internally illuminated to cycle through red, amber and green as the barrier moves from being closed to fully open,” he said.
Connected smart sensors
Asked about the future potential at the Portsmouth site, Buck told me that the single space detection system installed at the car park is being used to operate barriers and guide and control traffic. “The next step is to look at other environmental factors so that the same sensors can be used for controlling the lighting as well as carbon monoxide fans,” he said.
Putting intelligence into the infrastructure elements in this way brings significant benefits to the car park operator as well as the car park users and paves the way towards connecting in other smart systems which form the building blocks of a truly smart parking experience.