SFpark Launch

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/22610428 w=440]If you're having trouble with the video, see this link.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about several “parking 2.0” solutions around the world.  One of those solutions is SFpark, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) dynamic- and data-driven parking management system.  It is intended not only to improve drivers’ experiences while trying to find a spot to park, but also sets such laudable goals as improving congestion, speeding transit, and improving bicycle and pedestrian travel.

The theory behind these benefits stems largely from the research of Donald Shoup, an economist, UCLA professor of urban planning, and venerable expert of parking who has promoted the idea that free parking is the bane of urban environments.  His theory has extended into practice in other areas as well, including Arlington, Virgina and Petaluma and Old Pasadena, California.  Pasadena has served as the prime example – creating and sustaining a vibrant commercial area, funded in part by the higher parking fees that arise due to high demand.

Back to San Francisco, the Federally-funded pilot project is a further statement of the City’s commitment to open data and government 2.0.  They’ve launched an iPhone app (with Android coming soon), displayed parking rates on sfpark.org, and opened the data stream to private app developers (here).

Some early adopters have been critical, citing the app’s strange “extreme memory warning” and the need to better understand why people are avoiding certain parking areas (crime?) rather than pricing these spaces to encourage their use.  My own criticism is of the map itself; “high” and “low” are labeled on the map, but it unclear whether this represents high availability or high prices.  The two should not be confused as they are actually inverses of each other (when availability is high, prices should be low to encourage parking there and alleviate parking in the low availability areas).  This is further confused by the pricing chart to the right of the map, which, correct me if I’m wrong, but appears to display the scheme incorrectly.  Low availability means higher prices, right Shoup?

Despite this nit-picking, I think the program is very forward-thinking and stands to set the example for other cities in the US and abroad.  For the initial pilot (running now until the summer of 2012), 7,000 of San Francisco’s 28,000 metered-parking spaces and 12,250 garage spaces will be covered with the potential to expand in the future based on the results of the pilot.

-Terra Curtis


Parking 2.0

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