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Smart parking systems have redefined the way that we park, making parking easier and parking fines easier to avoid. And while smart parking is a pretty new concept, we can already see the impact that these systems have had on some of our major cities. With technology advancing all the time, we’re well on our way to enjoy more smart cities throughout the country. 

We at Spacer love to see the overlap of technology and parking, so in this article, we’re going to explore how smart parking works and what the future implications are. Put your car in park and let’s get started!

What is smart parking?

When you think of smart parking, the first thing that comes to mind might be self-parking cars (who could forget this year’s superbowl Hyundai commercial for the self-driving “smaht pahk” car) or perhaps automated parking systems in which a fancy machine transports your car to a designated parking space. While those can be considered movements in the direction of smart parking and smart cities, the technology that we’re covering here is slightly different.

Smart parking refers to a number of data collecting systems that can make parking more efficient and information-driven. If you live in a smart city, you might be able to see exactly how many parking spaces are available in downtown at any given time through an app or a website. The available parking spaces show up in green, the taken spaces show up in red. These systems even sometimes allow for online booking and online payment. 

And parking garages are also making use of this smart parking technology. Ten years ago, you might drive around Santa Monica hoping that the beachside parking garages didn’t have that dreaded a-frame sign in the entrance signifying that the lots were full. Today, you can see plenty of parking garages with an electronic marquee showing exactly how many parking spaces are left. 

There are a few different ways that smart parking companies have made this new norm into a reality. Many use smart parking nodes which adhere to the concrete floor of a parking space. We won’t bore you with too much of the technology (although it is very interesting for all of our fellow tech nerds), but the basics are that these nodes have sensors to detect ferrous material, or the metal parts of a car. Some use radar, some are magnetic, and others still use infra-red technology, and all are fairly accurate when detecting whether a car is parked in the space or not. 

These nodes then send the data that they gather - either yes the parking space is occupied, or no it is not - to a cloud-based network. Then, third party companies work their magic and share the data with a user-friendly app or website. In some cities, the systems can also allow for mobile payments and even notifications when drivers are going to be issued parking fines.

Sometimes these nodes are installed at parking meters to let the parking meter know when the parking space is occupied or unoccupied. That way, even if someone overpaid their stay, the meter can reset back to zero for the next customer. 

And smart parking systems can rely on other data-gathering methods, too. Some incorporate license plate recognition, car counting plates at the entrance of the parking garage, or overhead sensors to provide reliable and up-to-date information. 

What are the benefits of smart parking?

Everything about smart parking is designed to make parking easier and more convenient. 

On the part of parking space owners, this technology allows them to know exactly how many parking spaces are being used in a parking garage at one time. For a city, it helps them to track where parking hotspots are located. And for city planners and developers, they can use the data to bring more parking to areas that need it.

In Los Angeles, the smart parking system is unique in that parking officials use the data to encourage specific parking decisions in order to evenly distribute parking across the city. Sound complicated? Let’s break it down. Say that a certain area, such as Downtown LA, has been experiencing congested traffic and constantly filled parking spaces. The smart parking system alerts parking officials that the area is overcrowded, and the officials decide to raise the rates of parking in that area. At the same time, drivers can see that just a few streets away from where they would normally park to go downtown, there are parking spaces open with lower prices. This allows the City of Los Angeles to constantly monitor and adjust the parking landscape to benefit LA drivers.

And how about other advantages for drivers around the country? Smart parking offers plenty of advantages. With smart parking systems that allow users to monitor available parking spaces remotely, you don’t have to worry about driving around the city looking for a parking spot. In high density areas, it can sometimes be tempting to park in a space that is far from your destination or has a shorter time bracket than you actually need simply because you’re not sure if you’re going to find a better parking space. Not only is that frustrating and time consuming, but, as we’ll talk more about in the next section, it also increases the risk for parking tickets.

And smart parking can be better for our communities as a whole. According to some estimates, smart parking systems can lower greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. In Washington DC, smart parking systems lowered congestion in busy areas by as much as 20%! By allowing us to make smarter parking decisions and avoid driving around looking for a parking space, the environmental impacts are obvious.

What does smart parking mean for parking fines?

Let’s see if the following scenario is familiar to you:

You drive around downtown looking for a place to park but everything seems to be filled and you’re starting to run late to your appointment. In your haste, you park in a parking space that is about three blocks away from the office building where you’ll be going. It’s not so close, but you think that you’ll probably be able to walk the distance in about ten minutes. The parking sign says that you have 90 minutes of parking - should be just enough to walk there, have your hour long meeting, and walk back.

Turns out, you miscalculated. The walk actually takes 15 minutes, the meeting runs long, and you have one of the dreaded yellow slips under your windshield when you get back. To add insult to injury, you notice as you’re walking up to the office building that there are actually a few open parking spaces that you missed out on.

Smart parking would have allowed you to pinpoint where the open parking spaces were before the flustered search began. 

And in some parts of the country, cities are partnering with smart parking apps to make parking fines a thing of the past. San Francisco, for instance, has made street parking bookable with apps like PaybyPhone. You simply pay the meter through the app and keep adding money as you need it. 

Unfortunately, these kinds of online payments for street parking aren't utilized everywhere, which is a bummer for anyone who was hoping to lower the risk of NYC parking fines. But smart technology can still help drivers in those areas find available parking in busy neighborhoods by showing them the perfect parking space for rent in their neighborhood.

While smart parking systems can make it less likely for you to have to deal with parking tickets, we should mention that it’s not always the cheapest solution. Monthly parking through sites like Spacer are generally cheaper and can help you to avoid the hassle of dealing with parking fines, altogether. 

If you take a look in San Francisco, for example, where average monthly parking can easily exceed $500, Spacer offers plenty of parking options under $400. Motorcycle parking can be as low as $200 a month. Even in notoriously expensive parking cities like New York, there are monthly parking options for around $300. Chicago has even lower rates of around $200 per month. 

Where are smart parking systems most popular?

A lot of major cities have rolled out smart parking options to help drivers reduce their parking fines and help all of us live a greener lifestyle. But where are you most likely to find these systems set up and how can you tell if your area has them?

So far, we’ve seen smart parking systems sprout up where parking has historically been a problem. Places like San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, and Boston have all introduced their own versions of smart parking in their transition towards becoming smart cities. Boston jumpstarted their program in 2013 by installing 330 sensors in the Innovation District. Miami’s system is even older - that sun-soaked city started accepting mobile parking payments as far back as 2008. And San Francisco’s smart parking system may just be the oldest, dating back to 2004, where sensors were added to a parking lot in Oakland. 

You can also find smart parking systems in Austin, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Denver. And there are more smart parking systems being installed all the time as cities recognize the advantages. 

Figuring out if your city has smart parking programs is fairly easy. If you’re in the loop with local news, you’ll have heard of local city councils moving forward with smart parking measures. After all, the sensors have to be installed and are usually funded by the local government. 

But there’s another easy way to tell if your city has smart parking in case you recently moved there. When you search online for smart parking in your area, you might see apps for street parking booking or real-time street parking data to tell you where the available parking is. If that kind of information or booking possibility exists in your city, somewhere down the line, city officials installed a smart parking system. 

Why aren’t smart parking systems the norm everywhere?

You might have noticed that we’ve been a bit quiet about certain cities - looking at you, New York. Surprisingly, New York is one of the only major cities that hasn’t installed smart parking nodes for data collection. That’s not to say that they’ve turned their back on smart parking completely - they did unveil a mobile payment service, and there are plenty of parking garages utilizing smart parking measures on their own. But the kind of city-wide parking data collection and real-time street parking information for drivers? Drivers are still waiting, and risking those high NYC parking fines in the meantime.

So, what’s with the wait?

Well, it might be the cost. Smart parking systems are not cheap. There is the initial investment in the technology infrastructure and physical node installation. And then there are the ongoing operating costs, from data security to the operation of the platform to the costs of calling in engineers and technical assistants when things go wrong.

Yet, even the most budget-conscious municipalities have changed their minds about smart parking when they considered the advantages of being smart cities. And we predict that in the coming years, all major cities will have at least some form of smart parking or plans to integrate smart parking into their infrastructure. 

How to make the most of smart parking to avoid fines

Whether you’re in a city with mobile payments, parking space for rent online bookings, or any other version of smart parking, there are a few things that you can do to streamline your trips and lower the risk for parking fines. 

The first thing you should do is look to see if there’s an app for street parking in your area. As we mentioned, some cities utilize mobile parking apps, in which you may have to register your license plate, while others use sensors and smart meters. It’s good to iron out those details before you drive.

Then, do some parking price shopping! If your smart parking system tells you how much individual parking spaces cost, you can start comparing prices in the areas where you’ll visit. 

Finally, don’t overlook any information about parking fines. You may still be subject to parking tickets even with smart parking systems, so read the fine print, know when street cleanings are scheduled, and make sure that you get back to your car before your meter runs out.

With these simple tips and a super smart parking system at your fingertips, you can avoid parking fines, cut down on your driving time, and park with peace of mind!

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