Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poor Man’s Performance Parking

We have heard that the ‘new black’ in on-street parking is Performance Parking as espoused by Donald Shoup and we have read about the up sized version of performance parking that is Adaptive Parking as espoused by Paul Barter.  To some local bodies or cities, this is akin to me staring at a Lamborghini through a shop window.  It requires significant investment in infrastructure, marketing and organisational time and effort.  Although held up as the utopia of on-street parking, there are probably a few things we can do to step change our way to Performance and Adaptive Parking or even run that 1960 Ford a little longer before aiming at the Lamborghini.

The general view of parking in the city is one of organic growth around over-crowded or popular activities, such as malls, entertainment, CBD, airports and the like.  These areas start to get restricted time parking, which then moves on to metered parking….. yes I’m generalising.   This creates issues where the city must then decide that it must identify the area, usually reactively by complaint, that requires attention, scope the area and then meter the area as required.  This will curb demand or at least control it.

Metering is the obvious first step in getting to a new paradigm where the prices are estimated and programmed into the machines, and you watch the changes in behaviours to work out if the behaviours are those that would help achieve the City’s growth goals.  This may take a while as you work your pricing systems and responses into the sweet spot of 1 in 8 vacancies on the street.  Unfortunately this generally will not happen as the City executive fear a backlash from the paying public, so parking rates are usually too low, causing little change to congestion and an outcry of profiteering because the public see no demonstrative result from the exercise. It may be best to go straight to a full performance price on street.  The public may be upset (as they were before) but they will SEE a demonstrative change.

 Performance Parking requires clever machinery that has the ability to have its parking rates changed quickly and responsively to the changing, sometimes hourly, demand in the street.  This demand is fed from the in-space units that read the proximity of a vehicle to determine if a vehicle is in the bay or not.  The more occupancy, the higher the fees should change to in response to the demand, to get the 1 in 8 ratio.  Simple really.  Expensive definitely.  So how do you get to a poor man’s version of Performance Parking without the bells and whistles?

Step 1 - I suggest you start a trial where you test for space usage in a typical street.  Meter-Eye or CPT as they are now known, have used a large heavy rubber mat with a detector or Meter-Eye attached to it.  You can throw these mats into typical or strategic spaces and start to collect the data.  It will tell you how many cars parked in the bay and how long they stayed for.  Extrapolate that collective information over the area and you have the first step in the equation, DEMAND.  You also have the second step in the equation, AVERAGE LENGTH OF STAY or DURATION. 

 Step 2 - Monitor the traffic over a number of periods, whether they be day time, as this is the time of worst congestion or in the evening for an area adjacent to evening or event demand.  This will give you the PEAK USAGE and the peak usage will tell you when your parking rates should be at the maximum to achieve your service levels of 1 in 8 vacant spaces.  Be careful here not to miss any double tops or other anomalies in the peak usage.  In hospitals for instance, the peaks are generally twice in a day.  You may have to survey over a period of months to get a complete picture.

Step 3a - If you already have meters on the street, and they allow you to change the rates without too much trouble, then change your rates manually in the most congested blocks, initially for a block of the days that are most congested, i.e. Wednesday to Friday, then change them back from Saturday to Tuesday.  This will introduce Performance Parking on a 'weekly' basis rather than a 'daily' basis.  You have to give up the daily changes until you can afford an investment in the technology that will allow you to do that without incurring wage costs that will wipe out any revenue savings.

Step 3b - If you do not have any meters, then you may want to find the technology that will allow you to amend the rates at your will.  A lot of machines will not allow you to change your charging rates or the supplier will do the change for you but their service is so slow that, in some cases, it takes 2 to 3 weeks to get a simple rate change completed.  These vendors are to be AVOIDED as they prevent Performance Parking.  You may have to go to an RFP to seek competent vendors.  Ensure you reference Performance Parking in your RFP.  This is not the poor mans version but the way to the full blown Performance Parking.

Step 4 -  Set the initial rates.  Most cities appear to have rates that are well under the ideal rates.  They have set rates in the past that still allow circulating in the streets, a clear sign your rates are too cheap.  The level of change in the rates to go up and down by will be difficult to work out.  SF Park is using 50c at a time, but I tend to think that this is a little light as if you move a rate from $3.00 per hour to $3.50 per hour will not deter circulating or behaviour change swiftly enough.

Step 5 - Monitor and amend until you get the ideal occupancy levels.

To summarise the Poor Man's Performance Parking,  find a company that will allow you to use their technology to get a picture of the 'load' on the street over a week (not daily unless you want to go the full blown version), find the demand, Peak, Average Length of Stay, change the charging for parking by the DAY and not the HOUR allowing you to use even cheaper/older/existing equipment, set rates to achieve the required occupancy levels, monitor and adjust.

Kevin Warwood


  1. Interesting article however it needs to be proof read as there seems to be many words missing!

  2. Great article. What are your thoughts on using similar logic for open air lots?

  3. Hi John, do you mean dynamic pricing for an open air lot to compete against other neighbouring lots to ensure performance, or the division of pricing within the lot (assuming it is big enough)?

    The concept of dynamic pricing of lots against each other is obviously not a new one, but technology has lagged until now. By this I mean the technology of linking the customer notification and the pricing mechanics together. I had thought about this about 4-5 years ago and it would actually been very easy to do if you could get the equipment providers to agree to provide the linkages in their hardware to signage.

    Dynamic pricing only requires an algorithm which most parking professionals could come up with in concept anyway. All that is needed is the ‘change of price signal’ which is the result of the stereotypical or average day signal being compared to the actually days signal, then amended by some simple rules, like you cant charge a million dollars for the last car park and you can give the first car park away for 1c, some other simple rule around the speed with which the price can change and a rule around some kind of grace time so that the price doesn’t change while a person is in the queue to enter, having agreed to the price from the street.

    Dynamic pricing against competitors is almost irrelevant in this case as the price being charged is related to the occupancy of your own lot rather than the competitors’ lots, but if the competitor is luring your customers away, then dynamic pricing would adjust to the lower occupancy anyway.

    Performance within lots, such as a large airport site or so, can also be created by using ANPR, ‘transfer gates’ or sensors. Something has signal the occupancy, but if you are trying to promote a section of the site ahead of others, then dynamic pricing will create performance parking just like the on-street model.

    Now finally, if you are talking about the concept of using cameras, then again that would be quite easy to do. I am thinking of setting up a time lapse camera shot over a lot to determine, over time, what the typical occupancy profile might be. Then you could easily adjust your pricing to have it reflect the profile. The interesting thing is whether it consumes more time as the monitoring would mount up.

    Interesting topic. I might write a blog on that soon.