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Innovative Parking Plan Could Clear Traffic and Skies

Naveen Lamba, Global Smarter Transportation leader, IBM Global Business Services

By Naveen Lamba

Circling for a parking spot, worrying about feeding the parking meters, and ultimately wondering if you should just turn around and go home. These are familiar feelings for anyone who has ever had to find a parking spot in a hurry. Not only is it frustrating, but the time spent looking for parking also contributes to traffic congestion – some research suggests 30% on average – and air pollution.

Parking is an area of transportation that had seen little innovation until a just a few years ago. With today's technology – from sensors to smarter meters to advanced analytics – cities can reinvent parking to help reduce congestion and make our cities more livable. 

Enter Streetline, a Silicon Valley start-up that provides Smart Parking solutions to cities, garages, airports, universities and other private parking providers. The company is the creator of Parker™, a free smartphone app that guides drivers to available parking spaces in real time.

The company won the 2010 IBM SmartCamp, a global entrepreneurship program that identifies early stage start-ups in the Smarter Planet industries. Through this program, Streetline had access to a global network of experts and advisors. Since then, Streetline and IBM have continued working together.  

Now, IBM and Streetline are joining together on a Smarter Parking pilot project in Birmingham, England, with Amey, an infrastructure company that works with the Birmingham City Counsel to maintain the city's roads. 

With a population of over one million and 160,000 thousand people commuting to the city daily, Birmingham officials want to relieve the traffic congestion that is impacting the economy, local businesses, and citizens. Analytics software will help Birmingham understand its parking patterns so it can better manage congestion, improve parking efficiency and make it easier to find parking in the city's Jewelry Quarter. 

Ultra low power wireless sensors have been implanted into the road surface of existing parking spaces in an initial 10-block area of the city. These sensors detect the presence of a vehicle and transmit the data, which is collected and analyzed in real-time. This information is then made available to both the city transport authority and drivers.

Drivers who download Streetline's Parker app can check on parking availability via their computers or mobile devices. Drivers can also see pricing, pay for parking using their mobile phone (where available), and get guidance back to their car when they finish their activity.  A voice-guidance system and hands-free feature encourages safe operation while driving.

Combining information management and advanced analytics from IBM with data gathered from parking sensors and applications from Streetline will give a view into what parking is like in the area by analyzing factors such as hourly occupancy, occupancy by block, parking duration, and trends in a particular neighborhood or business district.

"After a great experience as a SmartCamp winner, we are delighted to be teaming up with IBM and Amey to expand our Smart Parking services into the U.K. and to deliver compelling solutions for cities and consumers," said Zia Yusuf, CEO of Streetline. "By providing Birmingham drivers with solutions like Parker by Streetline, we're working together as a team to help solve one of the most pressing concerns facing our cities today – parking."

With the smarter parking solution in place,Birminghamcould better manage the supply and demand of parking, as well as help the local chamber of commerce determine the best parking and transportation mix for a local shopping district to increase foot traffic. It could be connected with payment systems, to allow drivers to access travel data, plan their journey and then upon arrival at a free space, have the convenience of cashless payment.

IBM UK Smarter Cities leader Nigel Milton, who has worked with the City of Birmingham on this project and others, says "this Smarter Parking trial, which follows close on the heels of an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, puts Birmingham one step closer to its goal to exploit the latest advances in technology for the benefit of its citizens and to improve city services."

All of this adds up to easier and less frustrating parking for drivers and it's one more step to a smarter city.