A Smart Traffic Solution for Smarter Cities

There’s a new technology in town that helps frustrated city drivers find elusive open parking spaces, parking attendants find offenders and planners find the right price for an hour of parking to reduce congestion.

San Francisco-based Streetline mounts low-cost sensors in parking spaces, retrofits existing meters and ties them into a mesh wireless network to draw a real-time picture of the spaces available, the cars needing tickets and how much to charge for parking. The system is being tested across the United States and may be coming soon to your city.

“It’s a sector where not much innovation has happened over the years,” said Streetline CEO Zia Yusuf. “From a consumer perspective, it’s one of those great painful experiences. On a daily basis it can take you 20 minutes to drive from Point A to Point B, then 10-15 to park somewhere.”

Yusuf estimates that 30 percent of congestion in an urban area is linked to the search for a parking space. In a city equipped with Streetline, signs would guide motorists to open spaces and alleviate congestion. An iPhone app has already launched, and Yusuf says the company is currently in talks to makers of in-car navigation systems.

“The hope here is that guided parking becomes part and parcel of a next generation of services for citizens,” Yusuf said. “That in seven to ten years, people will look at you funny when you say you used to have to drive around looking for a space.”

Despite the high-tech setup, traditionalists with rolls of quarters in the ashtray don’t have to buy a smart phone, since Streetline’s services can be added to existing meters in under four minutes. After the upgrade, existing meters can take quarters and payments by credit card.

On the back end, parking departments get a view of where to send attendants to write tickets, with expired meter locations overlaid on a Google map. For legal reasons, municipalities still have to send an attendant to write the ticket and ensure the system isn’t malfunctioning or the car doesn’t have a handicap placard or other permit. Still, the process has been greatly simplified.

“We’re completely taking out the process of looking at every meter,” said Yusuf, who estimates a 200 to 260% increase in enforcement. Multiply that by the cost of a parking citation and it’s some real revenue for a city with 20,000 spaces, especially compared to the cost of installing the system: $25 to $30 per parking space depending on volume.

Streetline’s next move is to create an integrated parking platform to connect parking providers, such as garages, shopping malls and universities, with parking consumers. Providers will be able to set rates and offer reservations, while consumers will be able to check real-time parking availability and make mobile payments, among other capabilities. Such forward thinking in ever-expanding cities is certainly a necessary addition to any intelligent transport system and it’s interesting to wonder in which other ways our future cities will be optimized.