By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
Ask Zia Yusuf what he does for a living and he’ll likely say, “I’m in the parking business.” More precisely, he’s in the business of trying to put an end to parking as we know it and utterly transform one of the most familiar and frustrating acts of daily life.
According to Yusuf, an estimated 30 percent of traffic in cities is caused by people driving around in search of parking. As CEO of San Francisco startup Streetline, Inc., Yusuf is working to deploy sensors in cities around the world to guide drivers to open parking spots and help municipalities better manage their parking and traffic resources.
Yusuf’s ultimate goal is nothing less than to change how people work and live across the world. “Pointing drivers to available parking will save them time, alleviate congestion and reduce carbon emissions,” Yusuf said. “It means happier drivers and greener cities.”
Envisioning cities filled with sensors
Streetline pioneered wireless parking sensors, according to Yusuf — but parking is just the first step in his vision to use low-cost sensors to create smarter cities. Once Streetline’s network is initially deployed for parking, it can easily be adapted to support other types of sensors, such as pollution monitors.
“An informed planet is a smarter planet, and sensors hold the key to getting the information we need to support better decision-making and improve the quality of life in our cities,” Yusuf said.
“We started with parking because it provides a large return on investment that we can use toward future initiatives,” Yusuf said. “Parking may not sound glamorous, but it’s a huge challenge for cities and consumers and is a significant business opportunity. It’s a sector that has changed very little in decades and is ripe for innovation.”
From big banks to small change (as in parking meters, that is)
Yusuf did not start out as a start-up kind of guy. In joining Streetline as CEO in July 2010, he made a sharp turn from a career that included Goldman Sachs and The World Bank, followed by ten years as an executive vice president at business software giant SAP AG.
“I joined Streetline because I wanted to do something that used very high-end technology to solve some very basic problems, and I wanted to do it in a way that impacts people’s lives on a day-to-day basis,” Yusuf said. “There are very few times in your career that you have the opportunity to potentially change an industry — and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Yusuf’s passion for making a difference extends well beyond the workplace. As an associate consulting professor at the Stanford University Institute of Design, he teaches “Liberation Technology” — a course where his students, in conjunction with the University of Nairobi in Kenya, develop mobile applications to support health, education and economic development.
When parking becomes a pleasure
Looking ahead, Yusuf is confident that guided parking will become the norm within the next few years. It is currently available in parts of New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and many other US cities, with growing interest in cities worldwide.
Streetline’s next move is to create an integrated parking platform to connect parking providers, such as garages, shopping malls and universities, with parking consumers. Providers will be able to set rates and offer reservations, while consumers will be able to check real-time parking availability and make mobile payments, among other capabilities.
“The whole concept of guided parking really captures the imagination,” Yusuf said. “When I’m driving and say that I am now going to make a right turn and there will be three empty parking spaces — and there they are — it blows people away.”
Streetline uses sensors to guide drivers to open parking spaces and provide cities with valuable data to help them strategically manage their parking assets. Drivers in a growing number of cities can use Streetline’s Parker™ application, available for iPhone and Android smartphones and compatible tablets, to receive real-time data locating open parking spots (integration with in-car navigation systems will be coming in the future). Cities use Streetline’s live sensor data to get an accurate picture of parking occupancy and turnover and to put parking data into the hands of residents and visitors. Streetline won IBM’s 2010 SmartCamp competition and was named IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year.
Streetline CEO Zia Yusuf, who grew up in Pakistan, is also on the board of Developments in Literacy (DIL), a non-profit organization that provides quality education to disadvantaged children in the underdeveloped regions of Pakistan. In addition, he co-founded IMUKA, a Tanzania-based music group whose mission is to share the music of Tanzania with the world and foster economic independence across the country’s rural communities.