Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

by Thomas Erickson, Social Scientist, IBM Research

Parking is a pain. Searching for a spot transforms time and gasoline into stress and CO2. Studies estimate that 30 percent of the traffic in central business districts is produced by drivers cruising for parking while IBM’s 2011 Global Parking Survey noted that drivers spent an average of 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. This is the driving force (sorry) behind a new wave of urban systems that use sensors and analytics to make parking more efficient.

These new systems bring to mind an experience I had while visiting Dubuque, Iowa to attend a meeting. I’d forgotten that I’d parked at a meter, my meeting went an hour longer than expected, and I came back to see a ticket on my windshield. I was annoyed at myself. But then I looked at the ticket: it was a “courtesy ticket” for $0.” How nice, I thought, ‘Dubuque is a great city!’

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I don’t know if technology was behind it. Perhaps it was my out-of-state plates or perhaps all first offenders get a courtesy ticket. But not all cities are as forgiving. A week later, in my home city of Minneapolis, I got a $42 ticket for a 3-minute lapse—no reprieve for first offenders here. In neither case was a smart meter involved, but I started thinking about how smart parking meters ought to behave.

On a Smarter Planet, what should a smart parking meter do when time is running out? Should it act as a digital snitch, contacting the meter maid so she can be there the moment the flag goes up? Or should it act as a citizen advocate, warning drivers ahead of time so that they have a chance to feed their meters? For drivers who are late, smart meters will know how late –would it not be fair to reflect that in the size of the fine? Make it $1 a minute for overtime, rather than a flat $42, and drivers may be less inclined to curse their luck (and their city) when they’re three minutes late. If a car leaves before its time is up, should the meter leave the extra time as a small gift for the next driver, or should it zero itself out so it can get paid for the same time twice? These are little things, but they make a difference in how people experience their city. As a specialist in social computing, I focus on analyzing the social consequences of systems and the policies they support.

My point is a general one: As cities become smarter, there is a choice about how to apply that smartness. Currently urban systems are run, at least in part, by humans, and as a consequence, are not optimally efficient. But efficiency isn’t everything. Sometimes inefficiency is experienced as flexibility or as luck. It’s nice that if I don’t get back precisely on time, I can sometimes get lucky. This is the balm to the pain of paying $42 for a three-minute overage. But as we use smartness to squeeze inefficiency out of our systems, I worry that we will squeeze out flexibility and luck as well, making cities less forgiving and less comfortable places to live. This need not be so. Smartness can enable efficient systems, but it can also support new types of policies that give systems what feels like empathy, generosity and forgiveness. Efficiency is important—in its place. But let’s also think about how to use smartness to design systems that are empathic, that recognize that we all lead busy lives, and that give people a break when they’re running a bit late.

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32 Comments
 
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Posted by: Heriberto Silversmith
 
August 22, 2012
9:26 am

Well said, Haydee. We really need to get away from thinking of new technologies as somehow determining a particular outcome. Smartness expands the domain of policy options, and particularly in cities that provides options for citizens to weigh in and shape how smartness will impact their lives and cities.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 20, 2012
11:53 am

Thanks for your thoughts Thomas. You are spot on: smart is not the same as efficient. How we apply smart technology, i.e. which values we support / reinforce with this technology, is a matter of choice. “Smarter Designing” of systems, experiences, business models, etc. is hence key to coping with the new possibilities of smart technology. This sounds like an open door, but there are people who perceive ICT as this autonomous force that has a propensity for more efficiency and less privacy. Not so. There is always a designer in the loop, who is a human being with a purpose and values, and who hopefully is getting “Smarter” all the time …


Posted by: Haydee Sheombar
 
August 7, 2012
11:40 am

My first thought when I read this article was why do people not take responsibility for their actions. Don’t spend 20 mins looking for a space, park father away and spend the 20 mins walking. Good for your health and your stress. You park in a meter and go over the time that you know you put in the meter, take responsibiity not with like a lump of coal in your stocking but like an responsibilt adult. When are people going to stop wanting a convinent McDonald life including parking that is exactly right in front of the door when you want it and it’s supersized just for you.

Why do cities and parking need to be smarter? Why are people not smarter and more responsible for their actions and the concesences that come about by the actions.


Posted by: Maria
 
August 7, 2012
4:12 am

I believe it is long overdue that some major cities appear to be waking up to the fact that current parking provisions on street are not only inefficient, they contribute a great deal to congestion misery for the forgotten motorist as well as bumping up the high levels of emissions.
To think that now in 2012 with all the information technology available over the last decade to have thousands upon thousands of people travelling to the same destination without knowing were they can park on street or the spaces availability off street is beyond my comprehension and demonstrate the luck of vision and investment by so many of our large cities. This is particularly bad as it has been allowed to happen during the growth and prosperous economic times.
It is somewhat surprising that now during the leaner financial times we have been experiencing, we are now seeing a few local governments looking at ways to address some of these problems and invest in the technology to make it happen.
I am somewhat sceptical as to well such schemes will be integrated. There are many possibilities to consider, smart real time guidance to spaces by price and availability using not only mobile communications, but also dynamic signs for the non high tec users. Properly integrating the stock of on street spaces with those provided off street whilst incentifying off street garages/car parks to be the preferred point of call. Encouraging off peak arrival and departure times with financial incentives to minimise road congestion.
All the above elements and many more besides have been used in isolation and have delivered benefits. The objectives for a smart city will be to put most of the schemes available in place (even if the city lose out financially) and deliver much improved mobility, substantially less emissions and improve the local economy.


Posted by: Manny Rasores de Toro (Parking Consultant)
 
August 6, 2012
10:12 pm

Hi Arnon. While we can (and are) making parking a bit more convenient, we need to think more broadly and systematically about how to deal with our cities’ problems. Public transit, ride sharing, bicycling, even (gasp) walking. I think technology can help us improve all these systems, not just by making them more efficient but by making them friendlier and more approachable. Thanks for your comments.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 6, 2012
8:41 pm

Thomas, thank you, indeed the social impacts of technologies are often overlooked.

Resolving the parking search is somewhat like eliminating the long lines in a theme park. You might spend 10x more time waiting in lines than on the rides. However, the rides do work at full capacity. So unless the rides capacity would increase tenfold, there is simply no room for everyone to be on the rides all the time, so 90% of the people have to be waiting, in line or walking around. Same thing when there is not enough parking at a busy city center. Perhaps the solution is to take a ride? :-)

As for parking payment applications, Pango is an example for a service with smart-phone application for parking payments, used in Israel. It includes pay by phone, pay for actual use, txt reminders of time limits, automatic GPS-based detection when driving away (and a reminder to turn off the parking service) etc. It is an alternative to old curbside meters and parking punch-cards, used state-wide.

http://en.pango.co.il/services/on-street-parking/


Posted by: Arnon
 
August 6, 2012
5:29 pm

Thanks Bob. That’s a lovely example.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 6, 2012
5:13 pm

Re: extra time on the meter

In my local town, the centralized smart meters give timed receipts which one places on the dashboard. Many of us, if we have time left when we are leaving, will offer the receipt to someone else. On more than one occasion, that has given rise to a conversation about how much we like the friendliness of the town.

This system also allows one to move ones car, out of laziness or necessity, without having to pay twice for the same time.


Posted by: Bob Philhower
 
August 6, 2012
10:56 am

Dan: Thanks for the information. I am a big fan of Shoup’s work — for those not inclined to wade through his 700 page opus, The High Price of Free Parking, the “30 percent” link in the third sentence will take you to a very readable overview in the NYTimes.
And I agree that with dumb meters there’s no choice but to levy a big enough fine to prevent people from parking all day, but the big point here is that with smarter technologies we have a lot more latitude in designing policies, which is good news because it gives the inhabitants of a city more of a say in turn.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 6, 2012
10:49 am

William: Thanks! I like the QR Code idea. Simple and easy.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 5, 2012
5:28 pm

Thomas, the technology is farther along than you think – There are hundreds of cities using cell phone applications to allow motorists to pay for parking with their cell phone, get a text message when the meter is expiring and offering the opportunity to add more time via cell phone (assuming it’s within the maximum limit posted by the city). These systems are called pay-by-cell (PbC). There are also cell phone applications advising where available parking is, how much it costs and enabling pre-payment, as well as hundreds of parking facilities offering parking guidance systems (PGS) that direct motorists to facilities with open parking spaces, and facilities that direct you to a floor, a row, and even individual space sensors with red lights if the space is occupied and green if it’s available.

Regarding your parking ticket for a 3 minute overstay, you’re right – ‘smart’ meters will have a record of your transaction and could ‘decide’ to be lenient, but you said it was a conventional parking meter. This means the ticket writer could not know how many minutes late you were – they only saw an expired parking meter. The amount of the fine is not calculated as a per minute fee, but is set high enough to be a deterrent – not unlike other fineable offenses. You could try appealing the fine, but unfortunately for every person like yourself who over parked for just three minutes, there’s someone who over parked for twenty or thirty minutes, or didn’t pay at all, and ‘remembers’ it as only three minutes.

Parking has long been seen as an entitlement, with most people blaming their local governments for charging fees and assessing fines for violations. You started your blog with “Parking is a pain”. One of the reasons is supply and demand. Many cities simply do not have enough parking spaces where everyone wants to park. Donald Shoup, a professor at UCLA, wrote an excellent book aptly entitled “The High Cost of Free Parking”. Shoup suggests that cities have traditionally underpriced on-street parking, regardless of the demand, leading to people “cruising for parking”. If the hourly parking fees were raised until the prices convinced some of us to park farther away and walk a little, we could reduce a lot of the traffic and CO2 caused by all that cruising. We would also be a little healthier from all that walking, and there would be a space available for those of us who could afford it. The city would likely bring in more revenue, which could be used to improve lighting, landscape, etc. Not a bad solution for a capitalist society!


Posted by: Dan Kupferman (Parking Consultant)
 
August 5, 2012
5:26 pm

Thomas, the technology is farther along than you think – There are hundreds of cities using cell phone applications to allow motorists to pay for parking with their cell phone, get a text message when the meter is expiring and offering the opportunity to add more time via cell phone (assuming it’s within the maximum limit posted by the city). These systems are called pay-by-cell (PbC). There are also cell phone applications advising where available parking is, how much it costs and enabling pre-payment, as well as hundreds of parking facilities offering parking guidance systems (PGS) that direct motorists to facilities with open parking spaces, and facilities that direct you to a floor, a row, and even individual space sensors with red lights if the space is occupied and green if it’s available.

Regarding your parking ticket for a 3 minute overstay, you’re right – ‘smart’ meters will have a record of your transaction and could ‘decide’ to be lenient, but you said it was a conventional parking meter. This means the ticket writer could not know how many minutes late you were – they only saw an expired parking meter. The amount of the fine is not calculated as a per minute fee, but is set high enough to be a deterrent – not unlike other fineable offenses. You could try appealing the fine, but unfortunately for every person like yourself who overparked for just three minutes, there’s someone who overparked for twenty or thirty minutes, or didn’t pay at all, and ‘remembers’ it as only three minutes.

Parking has long been seen as an entitlement, with most people blaming their local governments for charging fees and assessing fines for violations. You started your blog with “Parking is a pain”. One of the reasons is supply and demand. Many cities simply do not have enough parking spaces where everyone wants to park. Donald Shoup, a professor at UCLA, wrote an excellent book aptly entitled “The High Cost of Free Parking”. Shoup suggests that cities have traditionally underpriced on-street parking, regardless of the demand, leading to people “cruising for parking”. If the hourly parking fees were raised until the prices convinced some of us to park farther away and walk a little, we could reduce a lot of the traffic and CO2 caused by all that cruising. We would also be a little healthier from all that walking, and there would be a space available for those of us who could afford it. The city would likely bring in more revenue, which could be used to improve lighting, landscape, etc. Not a bad solution for a capitalist society!


Posted by: Dan Kupferman (Parking Consultant)
 
August 5, 2012
4:44 pm

Thomas
A great article demonstrating the core of IBM. Say you put a QR code on the meter to allow for someone with a mobile phone sign in, pay, and set up alerts based on time in place. Overages would be almost forgotten due to accuracy of the payee or the lack of care for an aloted time slot. The city could recuperate all of the extras and use them for the city


Posted by: William Aldridge
 
August 4, 2012
10:29 pm

Hi Diane. Thanks for your comments. And yes, there are already systems — at least being piloted — which show drivers where currently open parking spots are.

In the long run, I hope we can also do things to make other forms of transit — buses, trains, car-sharing, etc. — more convenient and more comfortable.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 4, 2012
10:00 pm

Hi Thomas. Sounds like we will soon be one step closer to sustained development! As I read your story, I discovered that beyond the economic dimension that a parking meter symbolizes so well, it could be programmed to be more social, more equitable as you illustrate. And flushing the balance at departure to compensate the potential revenue loss of being forgiving, makes your the story more credible. To help the ecology, perhaps the sensors and analytics can work with the GPS to show the driver the way to available parking spots!!! Where do I sign?!!


Posted by: Diane Morneau
 
August 4, 2012
1:18 pm

Thanks, George. Someone else told me that Dundee, Scotland, does the same. It’s nice to hear.

It would be interesting to do a census of how cities are using their newly acquired ‘smartness.’


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 4, 2012
2:01 am

DC parking meters do both warn of timing and also allow you to top us remotely. System is quite efficient.


Posted by: George
 
August 3, 2012
4:41 pm

$840/hour — I hadn’t done that math. That parking space makes a heck of a lot more than me!

“Grace is attractive.” Yes, I like that. Well said.


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 3, 2012
4:26 pm

Thomas, right thinking. Your $42 fine for a 3-minute parking is at the rate of $840/hour.

At these rates, cash strapped and perhaps poorly run cities, are unlikely to make the sensible, enlightening changes you wisely suggest.

Perhaps one way to sell the idea to cities, is that by embracing your idea, they will encourage more visitors, shoppers, and others into their towns. Grace is attractive.

A financial analysis could prove helpful if it’s positive for both city and occupant.

Citizens need to voice themselves towards your great ideas!!


Posted by: SmartPlanetORelse
 
August 3, 2012
2:49 pm

Yes, that’s another good example of how ‘smartness’ can make cities more convenient and comfortable places to live.

On the other hand, if the City is trying to ensure the availability of parking by limiting each car to no more than, say, an hour, allowing parkers to remotely feed the meter might undermine that effort. My preference – as a citizen and occasional parker – is if my plans go awry and I need 10 or 15 minutes over the maximum, I could pay a fee that gets more painful as I go farther over the limit.

But the bottom line, which your question illustrates nicely, is that “smarter stuff” offers new possibilities for cities’ policies. And that this is something that we, as inhabitants of cities, have a voice in.

Thanks for your comment!


Posted by: Thomas Erickson
 
August 3, 2012
1:56 pm

Could the smart meter not only warn that time will be up, but accept remote payment for more time?


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