Emerging technologies provide the key for improving mobility and delivering smarter, better and safer experiences for urban communities. But the real driver for change is coming from society itself. Technology is already helping to improve urban mobility but, today, we’re only scratching the surface. The potential of technology to truly transform the way we move in and around our towns and cities is absolutely huge. Two-thirds of adults now own a smartphone with mobile internet access and, thanks to the acquisition, analysis and application of so-called ‘Big Data’, all kinds of services are becoming increasingly efficient. And, just look at the progress being made in the world of apps, not to mention the ground-breaking developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Make no mistake, every aspect of traffic management and usage – including parking – is going to look very different in the years ahead. We are not, however, talking about technology for the sake of technology. The most important drivers for change are customer benefits and community outcomes.
Just consider the automotive sector. It’s becoming quite clear that the automotive giants don’t see themselves as car manufacturers any more. They now see themselves as ‘mobility solutions companies’ and providers of ‘computers on wheels’. And, development hiccups aside, we shouldn’t forget the significant encouragement being provided by the UK government for autonomous vehicles, with many experts predicting a car will be able to drive itself fully from door-to-door in less than ten years. Then there’s the burgeoning growth in electric vehicles and the increasing use of in-car apps and software to make life easier for the driver, as demonstrated by BMW’s acquisition of ParkMobile and Volkswagen’s acquisition of PaybyPhone.
Integration and inclusivity
On a broader front, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the general term used for the inexorable shift towards a service-based transport model, where passengers pay once for an entire door-to-door service regardless of the mode of transport and the service providers. Here, all the individual services necessary are supplied together into one integrated service package so a journey can be planned and paid for at the touch of a button – with any timing and routing amendments being made in real-time.
This concept is in its infancy and requires a considerable amount of data to be shared between service providers. Good quality information and a reliable high-speed data network are prerequisites, to ensure users are not suddenly left in a dead spot. And it will be vital to ensure that no digital exclusion occurs for people without access or unable to use the necessary technology.
In all of this the customer and the community are at the heart of everything and the emphasis is on service-led solutions that are less polluting, more sustainable, more convenient, easier, safer and faster. The capabilities of new generation and emerging technologies are certainly creating new possibilities. But one only has to look at the support and enthusiasm of public authorities right across the globe to see that the clamour for smarter and more connected towns and cities to improve the quality of urban life is coming from all directions.
For parking service providers such developments demonstrate that the focus now has to be on customer experience and service standards. Any operator that turns a blind eye or just pays lip service to this inescapable truth will, quite simply, be left behind in this brave new world.
The catalysts for progress
There are five factors that I believe have the greatest influence on this determined pursuit for better community outcomes in our increasingly congested and populated towns and cities.
The first is ‘Space’. There are over 30 million cars in Britain today. And, on average, each car spends 95% of its time parked. When considering the size of the average parking space and the increasing size of cars, that’s a total parking area equivalent to the size of Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast combined!
As we all know, space within all urban environments is a very valuable commodity, and in most cases we have to pay a premium to use it – although it’s fair to say the public don’t always recognise that fact when it comes to paying for a parking space!
The second is ‘Lifestyle’. The way we live, work, relax and interrelate with each other has changed beyond all recognition over the past few decades. Our access to information and the speed and convenience of communication is enabling us to do things quicker and more efficiently than ever before. In turn, it is inevitable that the expectations and lifestyle demands of an increasingly experience-led and connected society continue to rise.
Then there’s ‘Data’… lots and lots of data. And, with every new piece of technology within our urban infrastructure, as well as every aspect of our own lives, there comes more data. Today, the sheer quantity and depth of data – ‘intelligence’ if you like – is hard to comprehend. The potential value of such data, however, is unquestionable.
The next is ‘Sustainability’. Our towns and cities are big places. The bigger they are, the more influential they become and the more impact they have on the environment. As their structural waistlines expand, their agility and responsiveness diminishes and their energy consumption and waste output increases exponentially. So, sustainability and behavioural change inevitably come to the fore.
And finally, but by no means least, there’s ‘Legacy’. Here I’m not just talking about the physical fabric of the built environment – buildings, roads and service infrastructure – and the processes that keep a city’s heart beating. Just as important are legacy factors such as responsibilities, ethical values and the legislative landscape. Without the right conditions, positive change and progression will be stifled.
All of these factors will determine how and when new and emerging technologies will deliver the improved social outcomes and better, fairer and easier ways of living that people understandably expect.
A dramatic reduction in parking provision on new developments and major public facilities reflects the pressure on urban space. Controlling the amount of parking space is also a way for authorities to foster behavioural change – to encourage use of public and more sustainable forms of transport.
Indeed, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s draft Transport Strategy goes one step further – suggesting that even restricted parking provision on new developments in the capital will be solely for electric vehicles. Such moves put space for parking at an even greater premium.
Similarly, steps to encourage compliance with bus lane restrictions is helping to increase the punctuality of public transport, reduce traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety. In many cases, this has been taken one step further. When buses are fitted with transponder units, for example, it is possible to pinpoint their precise location so that waiting passengers can be advised of arrival times and signals can be prioritised at major road intersections.
Moves to introduce more sophisticated and automated methods for road user charges are also taking hold as urban authorities rise to the challenge of improving air quality in our most densely populated communities. The government’s announcement of a future ban on new diesel and petrol vehicles has added further impetus to the air quality agenda. Alongside the adoption of intelligent transport systems (ITS), such developments are helping to establish much more informed, dynamic and responsive traffic management to improve traffic flow, accessibility and community wellbeing.
In all of this, though, the key is connectivity. We’re moving towards a much more holistic, collaborative and integrated approach to urban mobility – where effective data sharing lies at the very heart of improving the experience of individuals. Certainly, when it comes to parking, it’s only by sharing data with other stakeholders that it will be possible for parking operators to make it easier for drivers to park their cars conveniently and compliantly.
The adoption and popularity of mobile payment solutions demonstrates the value of this approach for both service provider and service user. Now, payment options, accessibility factors, facilities and information are just as important as the actual location of a car park. And there appears to be no limit to the capabilities of different apps to make the motorist’s life easier by helping to find, book and pay for a parking space without any hassle or stress. The growing importance of such features helps to explain the increasing popularity of schemes such as the People’s Parking accreditation. We’ve also recently seen several disruption technology providers enter the market to meet this growing demand – YourParkingSpace, AppyParking and JustPark to name but a few.
Of course, with so many disparate organisations and operations involved – from central and local government and multi-national developers and investors to private contractors and product manufacturers – collaboration and true integration are not easy targets. And just because technology promises to deliver better experiences for the consumer or improved social outcomes it doesn’t automatically mean we will be able to deploy the technology. If there are limitations or barriers that prevent the technology being used in the first place, then such improvements will remain as elusive as ever.
We’re never starting with a clean slate as every new initiative has to accommodate or acknowledge established structures, systems, procedures and responsibilities. We all know the physical limitations posed by medieval streets and buildings, but there’s also the scale and complexity of the existing transport infrastructure and a multitude of service providers that help to keep our towns and cities ticking over.
But perhaps the biggest legacy barrier is not a physical or monetary one. It is a recurring and insurmountable paper one. Unless written legislation keeps up with the increasing pace of progress and consumer expectation, even the most beneficial advances will never leave the virtual drawing board.
Take the use of automated number plate recognition (ANPR) by private car park operators for simplifying the experience of motorists, encouraging compliance and improving operational efficiencies. The benefits of this technology for motorists is obvious – especially when operated in tandem with convenient payment options. Yet existing legislation prevents local authorities from harnessing these customer service and efficiency benefits in their own car parks.
Likewise, the need to safeguard personal data in an increasingly connected world is of the utmost importance to every member of society. Not before time, the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will help to provide a more robust and resilient framework in an increasingly digital environment. Such overdue legislation will certainly provide reassurances in terms of data security.
In all areas, though, it is not unreasonable for service providers – as well as local communities themselves – to expect clarity and consistency in what, where and how different technologies can be used to improve the quality of urban living. Legislation must keep pace with ongoing technological developments to provide a meaningful benchmark for ethical standards and the principles of best practice. Only then can we look towards a truly smart environment where the real value of data sharing, collaboration and connectivity can be realised without unacceptable compromise.
It is just a matter of time. But, as a result of the ever-increasing expectations of consumers, the imagination of technologists and the determination of urban authorities to address so many pinch points within the transport infrastructure, ‘the will’ exists. And, as we all know, where there’s a will, there will always be a way… a smarter way!
Ashley Bijster is managing director of Imperial
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