By Gorm Tuxen
Parking guidance sensors have become a more common sight on college campuses across the United States. Parking guidance systems provide benefits by helping students, faculty, staff, and visitors quickly, conveniently, and safely find parking. At the same time, they constantly collect data about which spaces are being used, and how they are being utilized. This information can then be used by university planners to develop more effective parking programs, including improving the ways permits are managed, introducing shared parking programs, and updating pricing strategies.
But parking guidance isn’t the only role that sensors can play. Sensor technology can also serve as a Virtual Parking System, making it easier to manage parking behaviors to achieve campus planning goals. The University of Central Missouri (UCM) in Warrensburg, MO provides an example of how sensors can be used to support campus and local businesses, while at the same time better managing parking spaces. UCM was one of the first American institutions to implement a “Shop & Go” program that establishes dedicated short-term parking zones for visitors wishing to make quick shopping runs. There are 53 Shop & Go spaces located adjacent to The Crossings At Holden, a mixed-use facility that provides upper-class housing, a university store, and retail establishments, including a Starbucks and a pizza business. The spaces offer free short-term parking so patrons can conveniently find parking close to their destinations, do their business, and return to their vehicles. The ticketless system permits one hour parking, which promotes frequent turnover of spaces.
The Shop & Go system is managed by single-space wireless parking sensors and a proprietary software system, which monitor the spaces. The ground-based sensors detect the presence of a vehicle and record the amount of time that the parker has remained in the space. If a car overstays the permitted time limit, the system generates an overstay list which is accessible by the enforcement officer via any web compatible mobile device letting, the officer know which parking space contains the offending vehicle and exactly what that vehicle’s status is. The officer can then take the appropriate steps, issuing a warning, writing a ticket, or arranging for the vehicle to be towed.
The University selected an open-standard cloud based software system that could be expanded upon to meet future requirements through the integration of data with current and future third-party parking devices and systems. Their technology provider was able to provide a software system that, in addition to handling enforcement duties, could record utilization data so university planners could analyze usage and determine peak use times. The University is using that data to make more informed decisions about how to manage its existing parking resources and plan for the development of new resources.
The enforcement advantages of the technology are obvious. The system provides for much more efficient and effective enforcement because it doesn’t require officers to constantly monitor the lot. The system records every parking session and can notify enforcement officers in real time when vehicles are illegally parked. It also provides protection for drivers by recording the data for every parking session, thus eliminating the risk of errors on the part of enforcement officers. If there’s ever a question regarding a parking ticket, the data is available to set the record straight.
This program at UCM represents the next phase of sensor-based parking management because the program can allow campus planners to manage parking resources in a way that improves the parking experience while enhancing parking management and supporting campus businesses. But UCM’s program represents just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing sensor and other technologies in this fashion. As sensor programs like this become more common, software developers will be able to develop packages permitting the sensor-based programs to provide even more benefits. For instance, Shop & Go programs can be paired with smart phone apps that allow the sensors to communicate directly with parkers. Those apps will be able to warn parkers when their parking session is expiring and offer suggestions about where longer-term parking may be found close by, or they could share validation and other deals with parkers so they can get the most out of their shopping experience.
The University of Central Missouri parking program demonstrates how contemporary parking technologies can be used to solve today’s parking planning challenges, while at the same time paving the way for serving the connected vehicle of tomorrow. UCM’s program also shows how increasing transparency to the general public when it comes to parking availability and regulations can make parking more user-friendly.
Tuxen is president of IPsens, LLC, a provider of cloud-based parking solutions with corporate offices in Branson, MO.