Time to Consider New Downtown Parking Models in VA

Cost of parking in downtown L.A., 5:21 p.m., July 1, 2013. (Click for larger image.)

In May Richmond City Council voted to increase the hourly rate for street  parking downtown from $.50 to $.75 per hour with the goals of netting an additional $250,000 yearly in revenue and helping downtown businesses by increasing the turnover in parking spaces. By way of market research, according to the Times-Dispatch, city officials had surveyed ten other comparably sized cities and found that Richmond’s hourly rate was lower than any other.

Think about that: City council acted based upon the experience of other cities rather than upon any insight into local supply and demand conditions. Furthermore, by setting a uniform rate for the central business district, Council almost ensured that the rate will be too high in some locations and too low in others.

There’s no excuse for such ill-informed decision making and such one-size-fits-all parking policies anymore. New technologies are making it possible to adjust parking prices based on street-level changes in supply and demand in order to ensure optimal results. If Richmond wants to remain a competitive business location, it needs to explore such “smart cities” technologies more aggressively.

To get a better sense of state-of-the-art thinking in the parking world, I chatted last week with David Cummins, vice president-parking solutions for Xerox Corp. Xerox was the systems integrator behind L.A. Express Park, an $18.5 million overhaul of on-street parking in downtown Los Angeles.

The parking meter was introduced in Oklahoma City in 1935 and parking technology barely changed until the late 2000s, says Cummins. Then all hell broke loose. He counts at least 20 new technologies and innovations that are roiling the world of parking. Indeed, he asserts, “Parking has been the most innovative of all the transportation sectors in the past five years.”

Xerox parking systems can help cities boost ticket collections, if that’s their goal, by installing sensors in parking spaces, notifying meter enforcers and even optimizing their routes. But Xerox also can help cities make parking a more pleasant experience that makes people more comfortable doing business downtown.

Says Cummins: “Parking is a painful process, from the moment you think about where you’re going, to looking for empty parking spaces, understanding the signage, figuring out if you have enough coins in the glove box, going to a restaurant and having anxiety over whether you’ll have a ticket on your car when you get back. Our goal is to take the pain out of parking … to make parking a non-event.”

The key feature of L.A. Express Park is dynamic pricing that varies block by block. The goal is to keep street parking spaces between 75% and 90% full. If occupancy drops below 75%, Xerox’s proprietary algorithm drops hourly rates to encourage more people to park on the street. If occupancy exceeds 90%, the system raises rates. The algorithm recognizes seasonal and time-of-day variations as well as spillover effects from one part of downtown to another.

It is critical, says Cummins, for people always to be able to find an open space. Otherwise, they will cruise around looking for one, contributing significantly to traffic congestion. “Parking is tightly integrated with congestion. If you have parking congestion, you will have street congestion.”

In L.A., apps such as Parker, Parkme and ParkMobile allow drivers to locate empty spaces and compare prices for street, lot and garage parking. New pay-by-phone and other payment systems make it easier than ever to pay for parking, “feed” the parking meter remotely and, if necessary, pay parking fines.

Xerox stores all the parking data in a data warehouse. “As you build your data over time, your algorithms get better,” Cummins says. Xerox mines that data to recommend performance-enhancing tweaks to the system.

While L.A. is a pace setter in smart parking, Cummins predicts the technologies will spread. As citizens see the system at work in L.A., San Francisco, Washington or Indianapolis, they will demand the same convenience in their own cities. Retrofitting an entire downtown can run into the millions of dollars; a federal grant covered most of the cost of L.A’s pilot project. One way other cities may be able to justify the investment based is through improved ticket collections. The City of Los Angeles was hoping in 2012 to boost parking-ticket collections by $8.4 million yearly.

Admittedly, writing more tickets is not calculated to engender warm and fuzzy feelings for your downtown. But Xerox contends that new technologies also can drive down the cost of enforcement and billing. Ideally, in my book, those administrative savings would finance the smart-parking upgrade, giving a municipality what amount to free tools to manage its parking assets more effectively.

In closing, I asked Cummins if he sees “smart parking” as a natural adjunct to “smart growth.” It’s a possibility, he says. “From our perspective we’re making more livable and sustainable communities” by optimizing parking space utilization, reducing parking congestion and, by extension, reducing traffic congestion and pollution. Some people think that anything that makes parking and driving more attractive is counter to smart growth goals such as walkability and mass transit. But Cummins is confident smart parking can advance smart-growth priorities like car sharing and bike sharing.

A conservative philosophy of smart growth, like that espoused by Bacon’s Rebellion, recognizes that automobiles and parking are likely to remain part of the urban fabric for a long time. Smart growth thinkers should jump on parking technologies like those used in L.A. Express Park to advance their vision.

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7 responses to “Time to Consider New Downtown Parking Models in VA”

  1. larryg Avatar

    I agree partially.

    Today’s technology allows parking to work like HOT Lanes – that is dynamically adjusted according to demand AND it should be payable by transponder and/or credit card, paypal, smartphone, etc.

    Of all the things I can think of that are a true commodity that has a real supply/demand dynamic, it is city parking.

    businesses that don’t want the charges to be a deterrent can rebate the fee via the same transponder, credit card, paypal, etc.

    but I think the whole thing should be done by a private entity with a performance contract that amounts to an agreement where the city gets taxes and/or a percent of the “take”.

    In order for this to work properly IMHO, there has to be a genuine profit opportunity – which would include even autonomy to control the system and it’s cost/overhead aspects.

    And if it were going to REALLY be POWERFUL – it might be coupled WITH HOT Lanes in that paying to use the HOT Lane may ALSO GUARANTEE you a parking spot somewhere perhaps at a discount rate.

    Perhaps there is a Cordon Toll and you buy a “bundle” of HOT/Cordon/Parking and it’s less than each separately – an it essentially guarantees you a reliable trip and a reserved parking spot!

    You key in your destination – you get on the HOT Lane, your phone / GPS takes you directly to your reserved parking spot!

    this is WHY I think these kinds of things should NOT be done by govt but instead by private sector entities who will opportunistically determine the value propositions that will attract customers (rather than just make whoever shows up – pay)…. and provide a natural profit incentive to invest an innovate instead of the company seeking to just recover it’s expenses from the city and the city arbitrarily determining the cost structure.

    THAT would be a TRUE “Conservative” vision instead of these weak-kneed FAUX RINO visions!

    Let’s INTEGRATE the various disparate components of MOBILITY to offer value propositions to people depending on what they want/need and are willing to pay for!

  2. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    These are wonderful systems with a future. Parking is a valuable asset. The better that valuable asset is managed, the better off we all are, whether is be auto driver, the city, the urban office or store owner, the environment, mass transit, or whatever.

    There is a big caveat to this statement however. Beware of the ideologues. They will try to use this tool not to efficiently manage a valuable asset, but to push a hidden or unrelated agenda, such as to destroy the automobile and/or peoples’ convenient use of their automobile.

    This ideologues will try to put parking meters in residential neighborhoods. This way they can deprive homeowners of on street parking. They will try to up parking rates, including imposing them on homeowners, to drive down the affordability of the auto, driving a stake through auto use, particularly by by middle income wage earners.

    The various hidden or crony agendas are limited only by the human imagination. So, for example, Government types will use sky-high parking to fund their pet crony public project, one that may well be totally unrelated to parking or even transportation. Thus the ideologue uses his favorite mangy tail to wage the dog that belongs to someone else. And the ideologue will keep on waving that mangy tail unless he destroys the dog that belongs to someone else. In effect he’s found yet another way to use his fellows citizens as cash cows in order to promotes his own special interests. This sort of thing is on its way to being the wave of the future unless resisted.

  3. larryg Avatar

    Reed – how would you delineate “ideologues” from “profit seekers”?

    I don’t see the two as having the same goals myself.

    “crony” sort of implies the OPPOSITE of idealog – that some business is in bed with govt – to make a profit … not impose arbitrary costs on others – with no profit to themselves.

    the whole idea of having a commodity priced to supply and demand is the very opposite of ideologically-driven solutions.


  4. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I put ideologues and crony operators in the same basket. For me, they both abuse the public commonweal, using hidden agendas to benefit

  5. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I put ideologues and crony operators in the same ugly basket.

    For me, they both abuse the public commonweal, manipulate its systems by using hidden agendas and subterfuge to benefit themselves.

    Money perhaps is typically the primary driver of the crony operator. And Power might be the primary driver of the ideologue. Although, I suspect that typically both greed for money and power are intertwined in both cases so work concurrently, with varying degrees of force, intend, and direction.

  6. larryg Avatar

    For a given idea/proposal, how would you determine if it was profit driven or ideological-driven?

    For instance, are toll roads and HOT lanes profit-driven or ideological-driven?

    for dynamically-priced parking via Smartphone – would you consider that ideologically-driven or profit-driven?

    I would oppose charging a price for on-street parking in residential areas although it’s possible to use that approach to benefit the homeowner if people outside that area are poaching parking.

    but in a commercial retail district – how would ideology trump profit if it was agreed to charge only what demand was willing to pay – as opposed to charging more than people are willing to pay and therefore discourage people from coming at all?

    is there something wrong with charging what people are willing to pay and that in turn results in good utilization of existing parking?

    If you were going to consider doing this – how would you insure that it was a fair system that did not allow ideology or excess profit-seeking to damage it?

  7. […] Time to Consider New Downtown Parking Models in VA Bacon’s Rebellion (VA) – July 1, 2013 “From our perspective we’re making more livable and sustainable communities” by optimizing parking space utilization, reducing parking congestion and, by extension, reducing traffic congestion and pollution. […]

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