Ideas Worth Stealing: Real deal real-time parking information

     The ParkRight app shows the availability of street and garage parking and can direct the driver to a nearby open spot using their phone's GPS.

    The ParkRight app shows the availability of street and garage parking and can direct the driver to a nearby open spot using their phone's GPS.

    London has an app that shows realtime availability of parking spots to driver. Could this make driving better in Pennsylvania cities? 

    Ideas Worth Stealing: Every week, Keystone Crossroads will look to cities across the world for lessons in urbanism and municipal governance that could benefit Pennsylvania. No city does it all right, and we hope these examples from metropolises near and far inspire and encourage cities here to think outside the box. 

    Driving in a dense, traffic-ridden city can be a hassle and a rage-inducing bummer, but parking in town can be even worse. Streets can become congested, with cars engaged in an uncoordinated dance of circling spot seekers and drivers losing time and money searching for parking and paying for garages. The whole process can be especially frustrating if you’re doing it in a city you don’t know well. 

    The worst part? It’s unpredictable. Sometimes you luck out and find a spot right away, other days you circle for eternity until you miss your appointment or finally give up and pay up at an expensive lot.

    London is trying to change that. 

    Westminster, in the west end of London, has an app that lets drivers check the status of over 3,000 parking spaces and then can direct the driver to the chosen space using GPS. The app also shows the location of an additional 40,000 on and off-street parking slots, breaks down spots by cost and hours, and lets users pay for parking and leave comments about specific parking facilities and/or locations.

    The app works by checking sensors – which can see if a car is parked over them – installed in parking spots.

    The convenience isn’t cheap. The city invested just under $1.4 million of parking revenue funds for the 3,000 parking spaces currently tracked with sensors. Another 7,000 spaces could be added if the current project is deemed successful.

    Philadelphia and Pittsburgh officials have clearly thought about the potential conveniences of such a system.

    In Philadelphia the Parking Authority maintains a parking locator that catalogues the city’s facilities and lists the address, number of parking spaces, and the average price of using the facility. It does not show real time data on the facilities’ capacity or street parking. The locator is also not available as an app on mobile devices (though it does appear that it’s coming), which means you really have to plan ahead. Another website and app called Best Parking lists parking facilities as well, but its primary focus is to compare prices so drivers can choose the most economic parking facility in a given area.

    Best Parking also operates in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority has an online facility locator (no mobile app though). An app called ParkPGH provides real-time parking availability in lots in several city neighborhoods including the Cultural District and the Central Business District. (Interestingly, ParkPGH was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to improve attendance at arts and cultural events in the Cultural District. Parking is apparently a barrier to arts attendance.) Street parking, which is free after 6 pm, is not included in the app. 

    There are other ways to reduce parking headaches, everything from improving public transportation, thereby reducing the need for parking in the first place, to apps that allow you to pay for parking remotely. Perhaps cities where parking is an issue – ahem, Pittsburgh – will consider Westminster’s new tools in the future, as well. 

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