It may (or may not) surprise you to know that the first parking meter was installed way back in 1935. Even at a time when the majority of people were not driving, opting instead to take public transport or even horses, the need to regulate parking became a necessity. Mass production had come into full force, making the production of cars and consumer goods easier and more efficient. Shopping strip patrons were now on the hunt for prime parking spots, and for retailers this new meter system encouraged turnover of cars and more potential customers. What started with just a few spaces that cost a nickel per hour, quickly amassed to over 140,000 enforced parking meters in the US by the early 1940s(i).
While there are still many cities and towns still using coin meters and officers using chalk markings to keep track of vehicles in time-restricted zones, we can also now pay for parking by using a mobile phone, pay at a machine with a credit card, install a sensor that automatically charges vehicles when a car enters/exits a lot or buy a permit. We’ve made incredible progress and come up with great innovations in the world of parking to try to bring the parking industry out of the 1930’s and into the 21st century. In terms of enforcement, we now have officers who carry automatic ticket dispensers and Licence Plate Recognition technology mounted into parkades and on moving enforcement vehicles… when it comes to optimizing man hours, these sure beat walking around chalking tires!
The truth is that we didn’t get to this fancy tech overnight. The parking industry had to do a lot of trial and error before finding systems that worked. And even now, the industry is continuously pushing the boundaries on how we can implement smart tech into cars, parking lots and parkades to make parking more efficient. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of enforcing parking is the incredible amount of data that can be collected. Whether you want to know what areas are highest trafficked, in which ways people are violating bylaws, how to target customers in a retail area, how to help people find parking (wayfinding), and even know when parking infrastructure is due for maintenance, the data is where you turn to. In the past, we published an article with some broad ways that parking data can be used (ii), but we wanted to take an in-depth look at one of the biggest sticking points for people when they think of parking: enforcement.
To do this we interviewed two staff at Calgary Parking Authority: Todd Sullivan (Enforcement Support Coordinator) and Ben Pisch (Park Plus Coordinator) to get their take on the ways that enforcement uses parking data, what we are still missing from the data, and some tips for parkers on how to avoid getting those pesky parking fines. So buckle in, and let’s begin!
PP: How has the way you enforce parking changed based on parking data?
Ben: Parking data has been extremely beneficial when it comes to planning enforcement routes, scheduling staff and identifying peak parking times. We are able to schedule our staff in the most effective manner to ensure that the proper number of officers are present during the busiest times. Parking data allows us to understand parking trends and to identify where people actually park during different times of the day.
PP: So what types of data need to be combined to schedule those patrols?
Ben: Demand throughout the day, parking restrictions and compliance. Not all parking zones have the same rules; for some, parking is allowed for a length of 9 hours, whereas some are just 30 minutes. Understanding where these zones are located allows you to best plan a route that does not over enforce a certain area, or under enforce another. Compliance is another key piece to planning routes. Some zones or location historically offer low compliance. We plan our routes in a way to ensure these key areas are being observed regularly to help achieve compliance.
PP: What are surprising things that you’ve uncovered or found useful in parking data for enforcement?
Todd: Potentially the most surprising is just how much of our officers time is spent enforcing parking on private property in the city. Of all the events we attended last year, 30.3% were complaints involving private property. This number has been borne from the data over the last few years. While some of this is helping private citizens who encounter problems on their property, the vast majority is working with [post-secondary institutions] or corporate entities like shopping centres. It really emphasizes both the value that these entities have, and the amount of time they take officers away from ensuring safe and compliant parking on public roadways.
PP: What has parking data in Calgary shown as the highest enforcement targets?
Todd: Private Property is our largest enforcement area. But one of the targets Enforcement is working on is to increase the efficiency of our response to Abandoned Autos [AA], or vehicles which have been parked on a public roadway more than 72 consecutive hours. In 2017, it took than 4 man hours for every AA tag issued. A focus in 2018 will be making this process more efficient.
PP: That sounds like a big job! What are enforcement’s biggest obstacles? How can this data help?
Todd: Time. Response times and efficient use of time. For the members of the public sending in complaints and the amount of time it takes us to respond [to them] is often a concern. But with our staffing levels and the size of the area we cover, 2+ hour response times are a constant inevitability. On the flip side, how well we use officers’ time is an issue, maximizing the amount of time an officer can be out of their car writing tags vs. in their car driving around is a constant battle. If we were able to predict at least some of the hot spots and have officers there in advance we could save time for the officer and better meet public demands.
Ben: Also, not being able to be everywhere at all times. Calgary continues to grow, and with that so does parking. We do a great job covering the city with the resources we have, but being everywhere at once is still not possible. With data we plan the most efficient routes possible to cover the most important areas during peak times to best serve the public. The data is constantly reviewed as trends can change, as we get better at collecting data, we are able to make adjustments on a more real time basis, which is allowing us to be in the right place at the right time.
PP: What parking data is missing?
Ben: Parking changes on an hourly basis, so achieving compliance everywhere at all times is very challenging. Although we use historical data to predict where low compliance is, having the ability to know when low compliance is occurring real time would help us stay on top of parking issues to better serve the public. We are getting data at faster rates now than a few years ago, so the better we get at collecting data, the better we get at enforcing.
Todd: Yes, at the moment we are really good at analyzing our own data to see what has happened, but we are a few steps away from being predictive and being able to say what will happen next. I think what we need to get over that line is to start collecting and looking at outside data and its effect on our calls, tags and facility utilization. We have gaps in our understanding of why we are needed and when, and they may be filled in with anything from weather and public school holidays, to private parking pricing, the price of oil, road construction and the Flames [Calgary’s NHL hockey team] home and away schedule. Ideally, if we find the right combination of factors we could have officers or ParkPlus cars in place, before the calls even come in.
PP: Now, for those readers who are from Calgary or may be parking here in the near future, has data shown certain places and times to avoid, if so where/when?
Ben: 4434 is a Zone located along 16 Ave SW between 8 and 7 St. This is a one way road right in the heart of a popular shopping area. We find the compliance rate in this area is very low. This trend can be said for most areas where there are coffee shops, restaurants and shopping.
Well there you have it folks, make sure you are paying in that zone (and every zone where it is mandated by law) if you want to avoid getting a parking ticket! As a semi-related note, I had the opportunity to be a Parking Elf over the holiday season (Calgary Parking Authority has Parking Elves that will give away free hours of parking for visitors of certain areas during holiday season), and I was shocked by the amount of people that didn’t know that they had to pay for parking, even with multiple signs stating so!
In any case, it is clear that as technology has progressed so has our ability to collect parking data. This data can help optimize available man hours by scheduling patrols and enforcement routes around peak times and low compliance areas. This in turn can help to increase an organization’s revenue through increased compliance and being able to distribute more tickets per hour per officer. By streamlining all relevant data we can make enforcement even more effective. Some things to look at would be integrating enforcement systems with key city events that have expected high parking demand, scheduling patrols in line with holidays (school and public), integrating systems to update in real-time with construction areas and base snow route patrols on weather forecasts. All in all, the parking industry has gone a long way in making parking a well-oiled machine. So let’s keep it up, and start making connections with more data to truly push us into the new millennium!