Towards a Smarter City

Dr Therese Cory explores how smart parking technology is helping to meet the challenges facing city authorities.
Cities have existed for millennia and have been the hubs of civilisations, even before the establishment of nation states.  Today cities remain centres of business and industry, produce wealth and innovation, and compete with one another as they have always done.  The United Nations anticipates that the number of city dwellers will reach 6.3 billion by 2050, or 70 percent of the global population. 
This trend is already causing problems for the people who live and work in cities as well as for those who visit them. Simply getting around our cities can be a major challenge but with the arrival of modern communications and information technologies, city authorities are now exploring ways to make their cities work better.  
Whilst transit systems are a vital part of city business and activities, parking is a major problem for cities of all sizes; vehicles circulating whilst looking for a parking place in a city are a significant source of congestion, time wastage, petrol use and emissions. With this situation getting worse, alleviating parking congestion in the immediate term is a major priority to:
· Reduce air pollution –  recognised as being a leading cause of respiratory illness 
· Reduce congestion
· Reduce frustration for motorists and loss of working time 
· Increase  turnover for businesses  in congested urban areas
· Increase parking revenue yields
Current smart parking trials in Europe utilise a Smartphone app provide by the city, which the motorist uses to locate free parking spaces, marked by sensors embedded in the tarmac.  Sensors are installed in selected areas of the city where congestion is heaviest, for example, shopping streets, business districts and touristy areas.  Various technologies link the sensors in the street with central IT systems, whilst navigation technologies lead motorists to the target space.  A similar mechanism is used for gathering and disseminating real-time information to parking enforcement personnel.  
In the longer term, information gleaned from smart parking projects can help cities optimise their parking pricing and policies.  A mixture of the right data and the right policies and interventions could make traffic run more smoothly.  The results of smart parking trials in the US have already helped cities there to match parking fees to demand patterns, as well as helping city managers communicate the value of these changes to business and retail associations and to the public.
Hence implementing smart parking solutions for city drivers has wider benefits than merely helping motorists avoid delays and frustrations.  The data collected could be put towards improving ways to utilise city assets such as:
· Improving public transport and other services in areas where parking space is at a high premium
· Understanding the movements of people and vehicles in the city, according to time of day, day of week
· Developing better traffic modelling and control systems, and road safety measures
· Devising ways of reducing capital and operating costs
All of this necessitates a surprisingly long list of supply chain partners, ranging from sensor makers, M2M (Machine to Machine) technology providers, hardware and software suppliers and integrators, data analysts and navigation technology providers on the technology side; in addition to city authorities and their contractors and subcontractors, and concession owners.  Because of this, the success of smart parking projects is not determined by technology alone and other determinants should not be forgotten, .for example:
· The powers of the mayor – if a new mayor is elected with different political aims, he or she may cancel the project
· Tendering rules and regulations which influence the way a city or council procures services
· The state of the comms infrastructure of the city – are its digitisation, networking broadband assets adequate?
Of course, no trials or full scale rollouts of such schemes are possible without initial funding.  In Europe, sources of funding range from the city or Council itself to large city services providers and sometimes the EU under the FP7 programme - its 7th Framework Programme for Research.
Once the stakeholders agree to go ahead, selecting contractors to carry out the work can be lengthy and may be governed by city interests and existing contracts. It is also important for these to agree as to how they will evaluate the success of the trial and how they will use the data they have collected and proceed thereafter.  In short, without the city authorities to provide the political will, the investors, the public service providers and contractors, smart parking projects will never get off the ground. 
That said, some noteworthy results have been gained so far, for example:
  • In Moscow, where parking evasions are significant, it was found that over half of motorists had not been paying for their parking.  After improvements in enforcement, the savings gained allowed the implementation to pay for itself 
  • Elsewhere the trials found that some spaces were oversubscribed for demand whilst others nearby were underused 
  • Information is also coming to light as to how long people stop at different times of the day, suggesting more appropriate regimes for charging. 
So far, we have noted that for some cities, keeping traffic moving and providing hassle-free parking is a priority while for others, maximising revenues by matching parking fees to demand patterns and driver habits is a key driver.  
Smart parking is only one of the so-called smart cities applications being tested out today, which aim to bring a range of services to citizens utilising digital technologies.  Both citizens and governments should benefit from traffic and parking data, including through increased mobility, reduced emissions and congestion, fuel savings and increased productivity.  Other city projects that could benefit from incorporating smart parking data could include pollution monitoring – linking traffic with the presence of pollutants - and road user charging, to name but two.
Looking ahead, smart cities will become massively networked digital nervous systems where sensors will capture all types of data from a wide range of sources.  This data will be analysed in a number of ways in order to see how a city is performing as a whole.  Whilst being technology based, these services will need to pay attention to social issues and gain citizen acceptance; today citizens are becoming more IT savvy and empowered.  
Set against this is a widespread concern regarding citizen privacy.  There is a huge disparity of understanding by the population as to what constitutes privacy, personal data, consent and related issues.  For example, should cities use information collected for one purpose be put to use in an entirely different way, with a purpose for which the data was not collected originally?  New technologies must be implemented with privacy implications in mind.  These issues are being debated by privacy groups, law givers and authorities; all agree that trust is vital, and city services should be ultimately transparent and understood by all the players and stakeholders.
What is clear is that urgent steps are needed to make our cities work better as populations grow. Harnessing new technologies for projects such as smart parking will play an important role in making our cities smarter, more productive and better places to live and work.
Dr Therese Cory is the principal author of a new report published by Beecham Research.
This feature first appeared in our sister publication, Local Government News magazine. Visit to register for your free copy
The Municipal Year Book gives a range of information on parking including personnel, statistics and finance. For more details about The Municipal Year Book see