The Parker mobile app from Streetline is displayed on a smartphone device in an automobile.
A growing number of drivers are turning to a high-tech solution for a low-tech problem - finding a parking spot in the nation's congested cities.
From Pittsburgh to Los Angeles - and dozens of cities in between - mobile applications are becoming available to ease drivers' search for a place to park.
The problem doesn't always stem from too few spots, but from not enough information about where to find available parking, said Kelly Schwager, the chief marketing officer for Streetline, a smart parking provider.
Parker, Streetline's integrated smartphone parking application, feeds users with real-time data of parking availability, pay-by-phone options and alerts for remaining meter times in more than 20 cities, including Reno, Nev., and Hollywood, Calif. Developed in 2010, the application combines pay-by-phone functionality with parking availability data for a "bird's eye view of the city," Schwager said.
Parker, which uses low-powered, wireless sensors embedded in parking spaces to detect when and where a spot opens, is so far the only application to provide real-time, street-parking availability on a national scale. But there are several other city-specific systems in place, some also working in partnership with Streetline.
San Francisco's SFpark program, operated by sensors from a company called StreetSmart, is an automated parking solutions provider, that so far covers about 7,000 of the city's 28,000 metered spots in addition to 12,250 spaces in 14 of the 20 San Francisco Municipal Transportation owned parking garages, according to SFpark's program manager, Jay Primus.
- Using data from the city's public and private garages, Pittsburgh's ParkPGH program combines real-time data and predictive algorithms, developed by Carnegie Mellon University and based on parking trends, to provide current and future parking availability in the city's downtown, cultural district, said Stan Caldwell, the deputy director of the Technology for Safe and Efficient Transportation at Carnegie Mellon.
- Indianapolis' ParkIndy program, powered by Streetline, tracks availability in all metered spaces of the 3,600 spots in the Indianapolis downtown and surrounding areas, said Chris Gilligan, a corporate communications manager for Xerox, a part of the operating team that partnered with the city and integrated with parking providers, including Streetline and ParkMobile, to develop ParkIndy.
- The federally funded program, L.A Express Park, introduced last May and developed by Xerox, offers two mobile apps that track downtown parking availability via Streetline sensors in 6,000 metered spots and 7,500 city-owned spaces. Twenty-eight percent of Los Angeles drivers spend 11 to 20 minutes circling for a parking space, according to 2011 Commuter Pain IBM study found. A 2005 study by Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, found that Los Angeles motorists drove more than 950,000 miles in search of a spot, producing roughly 730 tons of carbon dioxide and using 47,000 gallons of gas.
"Parking in L.A. will always be a problem, but L.A. Express Park has definitely improved the way that we manage parking," said Jonathan Hui, a transportation engineering associate for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. "People can pay easier and find parking easier; it was an attempt to create a better service for citizens."
Indianapolis driver Scott Wise says he loves the idea of mobile parking applications, particularly when running late for a meeting. But the 38-year-old driver questions whether it might be easier to just circle the block given that in the time spent to track a space, another car could "beat you to the spot."
Sensors for Indianapolis's ParkIndy's program take on average 30 to 45 seconds to communicate via the server to the mobile application, said Matthew Darst, the vice president of operations for Xerox's parking and justice solutions department.
Sensor technology to detect parking availability builds upon more widespread mobile payment parking options. ParkMobile, launched in Michigan in 2009, allows users to pay for parking by phone in more than 400 locations and 32 cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles and Houston - three of the nation's 498 most congested cities, according to 2011 statistics in a Texas A&M Transportation Institute Urban Mobility report.
In Washington, the nation's most congested city, half a million users have registered for ParkMobile. The service helps the district's parking managers judge when and how often spaces are turned over, allowing for more efficient curbside management that can alleviate the "oversupply or over demand of parking," said Angelo Rao, the D.C. Department of Transportation's (DDOT) parking and streetlight support manager.
"Over the next several years, you'll see parking managers through North America taking this innovative technology and figuring out ways to be better stewards of the people's public curbside," said Damon Harvey, the DDOT's deputy citywide program manager.
Emma Beck, USA TODAY