What’s the best way to levy and collect fees on parking spaces in congested urban areas? Ten years ago the common pattern in the areas I frequented was a parking meter at each parking space – which required coins of a variable amount depending on the forecasted demand for the parking space. A car park in the central city might be $4.60 per hour, while another park several kilometres out of the city might be only $1.20 per hour. But these amounts were fixed in quantity, and were not at all sensitive to peak demand patterns. And they required someone to empty them of the deposited coinage.
Then we started to see the introduction of several new innovations: parking meters that covered a number of parks via a printed slip to go inside the car. Rather than the parking meter at each park defining how long the parked car was allowed to be there for, now it was a slip from the new style meter. Paying via coins was still possible, but credit / debit card payment was also available, or even paying by text message so the charge showed up on the user’s mobile phone bill. These approaches still required the person parking the car to pre-specify how long they would need the park for, and to select from a pre-defined set of options – e.g., 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc. You couldn’t select 18.5 minutes. And if no one patrolled the parking space, you could avoid paying entirely, which, from one perspective, is purely an exercise in probability. If it costs $4.60 per hour to park or a $60 fine for not paying, what’s the likelihood of being caught? .If it is less than once out of every 13 times you park, based on probability, it would be cheaper to just pay the fine.
But now we have available another new set of innovations. In a blog post on my other blog, I wrote last year about the Siemens Intelligent Parking Solution, ending with:
One future possibility is that parking bay meters could be removed altogether. Drivers could be billed directly by the city parking authority for their actual parking time, and the removal of parking bay meters would improve the footpath experience and navigation for pedestrians.
Last time I checked, Siemens didn’t yet offer this. But this morning I came across a video of such a scenario in China. Powered by gutter level cameras at every parking space, the camera reads the vehicle’s number plate and bills the driver for precisely the amount of time they parked in a given space. No parking bay meters. No need to carry cash or other forms of payment. No need for someone to refill the parking meters with a roll of paper for printed slips. No rubbish generated from requiring a printed slip for each vehicle.
It is unclear how robust the cameras are, and whether a vehicle driving into the camera would break it (and if the driver would be billed by the city government if that did happen). And while we must assume it is weather-resistant / water-proof, the degree to which that is the case remains to be tested in real-world situations.
It also remains to be seen how these new cameras will be linked into current surveillance approaches in China (which are extreme by Western standards). If a given vehicle was on the “wanted list” and was identified in a certain park, do the police get advised to move in?