There’s a Sea Change in Parking Meter Companies & It Begins with the Plate
23 Jan 2014
by Dan Rossiter, Senior Solutions Advisor
The License Plate: The Barcode of Parking Enforcement
Best enforcement practices have developed in on-street parking by leveraging the plate as a common denominator, essentially becoming the barcode of parking….
The Traditional Barcode
What have we bought in recent times that did not have a barcode on it? First patented in 1948, the barcode has been a unique identifier to track the flow of products, parts of products, receipts, etc for 30+ years. It is rare to see any product or any part of a product without a barcode on it. Some coding technology such as RFID is in place for mass shipping but the main identifier remains the linear barcode.
So consider this – In parking, what is it that we track? What is parking? It’s about cars. We park cars. And what is a required unique piece of identification of each and every registered vehicle driving on our streets used by police, parking officials, and other government agencies when it comes to searching, tracking, licensing, or enforcing a vehicle…?
Parking infrastructures in many North American municipalities have become, in the longer-term, a parking patchwork. There are different types of meters for on-street parking depending on what part of town you might be in, different methods of monthly or long-term permitting, various means to enforce parking, various parking rules and sometimes multiple parking rules for the same parking space.
This patchwork has varying impacts on different Cities depending on how much time the people have had to adapt to the patchwork. Visitors? Well, they are often on their own to figure it out. So who are the people we refer to? Who is it that’s impacted by this parking patchwork? Well, everyone is impacted by it – the parker, the parking manager, the enforcement officer, or anyone who has to park a car or manage a parked car.
The Cause of Parking Patchwork
So what’s the historical cause of the parking patchwork?
- > Quickly evolving technology
- > Adaptation of what is happening
- > Removing yourself from the busy day to day for long term planning
- > High cost of infrastructure cannot permit a “change all” in one fell swoop
But, what’s really missing is a combination of all of the above – the long-term vision and a plan to move a City forward alongside technology.
Technology – Forever Changing
Face it, technology is not going to stop advancing. Vendors are not going to stop trying to outdo each other with differentiators – the next “best thing since sliced bread”. Parking technology continues to evolve. The single space coin meter did its thing for decades and remains at least a part of most cities’ on-street parking. The push by vendors to promote multi-space technology satisfied the need to replace the higher maintenance of single space coin meters but the multi-space evolution brought its own patchwork with varying flavors of the multi-space pay stations including pay and display, pay by space, and today pay by plate. What happened in many cities was the process to upgrade on-street parking may have happened in waves over a decade, perhaps over multiple administrations with different priorities and different parking budgets. Pay by plate, available today, wasn’t available years ago when the first paid parking upgrades began. Real-time enforcement wasn’t available 12 years ago and even as recent as 6 years ago might have been cost prohibitive. All to say that parking patchwork is an understood phenomenon.
It doesn’t mean some of those parking managers did not have vision; it can often be the result of limited budgets, changing technology, changing administration over a longer period of time required to complete a City wide vision of parking.
The License Plate – The Barcode of Parking
The solution is to focus all parking around the License Plate—the barcode of parking. It represents uniformity, the same mind set for all people who touch parking, the same focus of all parking technology, a sense of direction for all. It touches the parker, it touches the parking manager, it touches parking enforcement, it touches the parking technology including meters, pay by phone, permitting, vehicle inventory or any other component that is parking.
Integrated parking solutions are not new
Europe has always led the way when it comes to the efficiency of parking. They had no choice. There is simply a higher demand for parking per available space. Identifying efficient parking methods was never an option—it was imperative. Today, many European cities could be a model for the North American parking manager planning for short and long-term solutions. Plate based parking technology installations are integrated, sharing mission critical information all focused on the license plate number. One pays for parking at a meter by entering the license plate; paid parking using a smartphone is by license plate; paperless permitting applies the license plate as the permit number.
Scanning a plate is like scanning a barcode
Enforcement of all of the above is by the license plate. Parking rights, whether long-term or short-term, are all pushed to a common parking rights repository. At the back office where all parking technologies talk to each other, parking rights data is now integrated where it needs to be. The enforcement engine, within seconds receives all parking rights data from all sources; this data can then be used to enforce by license plate with a simple drive-by. There is no need to key in plates. License plate recognition technology either fixed, vehicle mounted, or handheld triggers the enforcement of scofflaw, paid meter, pay by phone, permits, covert law enforcement alerts to police dispatch, or any enforcement process from the scan of a license plate — the parking barcode.
The Common Denominator
Is this far fetched? For some parking managers sitting on their existing parking patchwork, the answer may be yes. Those with longer-term vision and the awareness of available technology may already be on the right path to the integrated City. Is it ever too late? No. It starts with awareness of current and future parking trends, awareness of the providers and the integrators, public education, and a bit of imagination. Parking sustains itself. The parker pays. How can it all be made efficient? By common thinking among all people touched by parking in your City. There is a common denominator in parking – it’s the License Plate, the barcode of parking.