Google ImageAt Living Labs Global, we’ve already identified several innovations in the arena of automobile parking.  These cover solutions such as the Municipality of Copenhagen’s text-based parking spot finding system, Estonia’s parking payment solution emt, The Netherland’s RFID-based parking payment system Park-Line, and Spot-Scout, an eBay-like exchange for renting parking spots.

Of all the parking solutions we’ve showcased so far, 9 are focused on modernizing parking payment, but only 3 are focused on helping a driver find a parking spot in the first place.

Here in San Francisco, our Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is working on a program called SFPark.  SFPark is a comprehensive parking solution and includes components to help drivers navigate quickly to the nearest open spot.  It will also enable the SFMTA to dynamically price open spaces with the intent of keeping a few spaces open in each neighborhood for those willing to pay more for higher-demand areas.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVq9pdam14M&hl=da_DK&fs=1]

But, as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, the innovation process is slow when it has to be vetted through city government.  To their credit, it’s not a simple system and includes many features other than spot-finding aids to help solve the problem of idling and circling automobiles.  That’s why I was glad to hear that Google recently entered the game with their Open Spot app.

Open Spot is now available in the US, Canada, and The Netherlands for use on mobile phones using Android 2.0 or higher.  Users of the app report when they’re leaving a parking spot.  Searchers for parking will then see a balloon appear on the map of their neighborhood.  Red balloons indicate a freshly-vacated spot, orange spots were vacated 5 minutes ago, and yellow spots are 10 or more minutes old.  After 20 minutes, the map indicators disappear.

For it to be successful, it requires widespread adoption and user altruism.  I think it’d be great to link Open Spot’s technical functionality with the SFPark program’s parking data.  SFPark’s sensors, installed in most parking spaces across San Francisco, could inform the app rather than casual users.  This gets rid of the need for large network effects and puts two already-developed technologies to work symbiotically.  Agree with me?  Contact SFPark and let them know!

-Terra Curtis

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