A smarter way to park in UK cities

By Hannah Figg / Updated: 04 Sep 2018

Different cities within the UK are investigating launching smart projects and developments to advance local service capability, evolve their competitiveness and enhance sustainability. One such example of an initiative designed to enhance city ‘liveability’ is ‘smart parking systems’.

As reported by the British Parking Association, 5.9 minutes is the typical time spent by drivers in finding a parking space. Out of all stakeholders questioned, 44% described the process as a ‘stressful experience’, 59% become angry when multiple spaces are taken up by a single vehicle and 48% are annoyed by the limited number of spaces in their area. Therefore, tools including smart parking apps that aid cities in managing parking provisions are increasingly becoming more attractive.

According to research carried out by Coventry City Council, paid parking bays in the city between 8am and 6pm were found to be empty 33% of the time, which equates to £475,000 lost revenue annually. Therefore, in 2016 Coventry council introduced real-time sensors along three of the busiest roads and on all 36 disabled bays. Users can use smartphones and a free app to find a parking space, find out the prices and pay. London’s Westminster Council also introduced a smart parking system back in 2014 to combat high demand, poor air quality and traffic/congestion. 3,000 infra-red sensors in ‘paid for’ and disabled bays across the West End were installed by the council, which detect whether a vehicle is parked or not. Real-time data is processed back to a main system which updates drivers of close-by parking availability via an app and electronic signs around the city. Due to such accomplishment, it has also been introduced to the borough’s remaining 7,000 on street parking spaces.

It is evident that many benefits exist in implementing smart parking systems and apps, and they are just one example of small-scale projects many UK cities are introducing to boost efficiency, sustainability and competitiveness.  Smart parking systems and other small-scale smart city developments can help to clarify decision-making of drivers, providing knowledge on parking availability. This can ultimately reduce traffic congestion, help reduce councils’ carbon emissions, and decrease motorist frustration. A city’s potential parking charge revenue can be maximised and can offer distinct and calculable Return on Investment (ROI) evidence. Drivers are instructed to their concluding parking destination along the shortest possible route by in-car navigation or with the assistance of programmable dynamic message signs, giving commuters the current occupancy levels in the surrounding parking zones.

Financial resources have to be available to invest in such technology however, and they may be above the reach of city council public budgets. Councils are dealing with central government fund cuts of 6.7% between 2016 and 2020 (on top of an overall 30% reduction from 2010-2015) and are therefore looking for other methods of finance to aid investment in new technology/equipment to facilitate smart parking system development. A survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) found that more than eight out of ten councils stated that a lack of revenue funding was stopping them from investing in sustainable travel. Cllr Judith Blake, transport spokesperson for the LGA has also added, "Uncertainty and a lack of revening funding are highlighed as clear barriers to investment." However, councils are now beginning to observe the significant role that specialist private financing can have in helping to accomplish ‘smart’ goals.

Asset Finance

According to a report from Siemens Financial Services (SFS), SmartStart, several potential Smart City initiatives can be financed by utilising private sector funds which have the possibility to achieve savings that pay for the investment – and this includes smart parking systems. It has been predicted that up to 6.21bn (£5.28bn) could be available for small-scale initiatives in UK private sector funding.

Many of the small-scale projects open up more finance availability for cities from financiers that grasp how smart city applications work and the subsequent benefits. Bespoke, all-inclusive financing packages are typically offered by financiers who have full knowledge of energy-efficient technology involved in smart parking applications and understand how accessing the correct technology can aid in decreasing CO2 emissions and make parking a less stressful experience. They know what the influence of deploying new smart parking technology to generate revenue and cut operational expenses is (where initial costs can be counteracted against revenue over time) and can hence provide customised financing solutions that bring energy savings and lower expenses, flexing the financing duration to suit cash flow.

In reality, cities need to be able to get hold of a mix of public and private sector finance to expedite their smart initiatives in a timely way, and benefit from the arising savings, efficiency, quality and citizen service improvements as soon as feasible.

(Article first published by LocalGov on 22/08/18)

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United Kingdom
Mobility management
Traffic and demand management