Circling the lot

We can solve congestion, circling cars, pollution and traffic flow – all with the help of ‘smart parking’

Parking is a tricky beast, no matter where you are in the world. In Houston, Texas, it is estimated that there are 30 – 30! – parking spaces per citizen. In Rio de Janeiro, residents call the city 400 times a day to complain about illegally parked cars. And in the UK, high hospital parking fees (some hospitals are earning around £4 million per year from charges) are a recent point of contention.

Beyond fees and excessiveness, there lies the question of aesthetics. A 2012 article in the New York Times called out for architects and urban planners to consider how to make parking lots more attractive and useful in their city designs – and though there are some that might argue a thousand-strong lot of cars has a pleasing effect in terms of symmetry – there is no denying that it is a slightly monotonous view.

The same article also quoted the journal Transportation Science, which revealed that drivers who parked at the first available spot and then walked to their destination saved a significant amount of time than those who drove around looking for a more convenient opening.

Adding to high fees, inconvenience and aesthetics are also the problems of pollution and congestion – if a high number of drivers are cruising around looking for opening spaces, or stuck behind one-another in a poorly-designed carpark, it is only natural that roads will get busier.

A Dubai-based company, MonPark, is attempting to traverse these obstacles. They have three solutions: the first of which is a mobile payment solution for smart and green city concepts, whereby the driver parks the car and sends an SMS to a specific number with the license plate, receives confirmation on his/her phone (with an expiry reminder and time extension possibility), and then is billed on their phone bill. The Road Transport Authority (RTA)  has already had this up and running in Dubai for quite some time, and has also recently introduced an app to make payment even easier.

The RTA’s Traffic and Roads Agency Director of Parking, Adel Al Marzooki, said: "The RTA has provided a number of options for paying parking fees such as coins, Nol cards, prepaid cards, and seasonal cards as well as paying through mobile phone.The rate of using smart car parking payment means (mobile phone, Nol card and prepaid cards) has touched 60% vis-à-vis the conventional means (using coins).”

"Monpark isn’t behind the mobile payment that is currently deployed in Dubai, but if applied, it would be complementary to the existing payment system and will assist in migrating it to the next phase," said Ahmed Al Muhanna, a business developer for MonPark.

Pointing to examples such as London, San Francisco and Moscow, Al Muhanna explains that smart parking solutions are increasingly becoming the norm in metropolises around the world. On implementing these kinds of solutions in Moscow in 2012, there was a 25% decrease of cars entering central Moscow since paid SMS parking was implemented, the average parking time decreased from 6 hours to one, and driving speed was up 9% on key roads.

Al Muhanna points to that MonPark’s centralised parking management database as one step further into the real of ‘smart parking’: the database offers advanced analysis and regular reporting to municipality planner, as well as enhanced supervision of parking enforcement and control agents.

Circling the lot
In New York City, multi-stack parking is a popular solution to constraints on space

One of the firm’s first projects, explains Al Muhanna, is in Bahrain, where cars are parked 95% of the time, and 30% of urban traffic is caused by drivers circling for parking places. He says that MonPark’s development of applications and services for users and municipality will decrease congestion (which will in turn decrease pollution), increase work force efficiency, improve traffic flow to retail businesses, and have the potential to link parking concepts to public transport in the future.

As for Dubai, the future also looks bright there, with the RTA's Traffic and Roads Agency CEO, Maitha bin Udai, saying: “This move [to smart parking] will have a positive bearing on the business community in the area, as it will ease the traffic congestion at peak hours, and gives priority to company employees to reach their workplaces.”