Parking in Essex is very much a local process and managed by those that know the localities well and understand the local area and its parking requirements, the county’s borough and district councils. Essex County Council has devolved its parking function to two partnerships within the county, allowing these groups of local authorities to manage parking locally. Each partnership looks after the parking for six districts.
The North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) is based out of Colchester, and the South Essex Parking Partnership (SEPP) is run out of Chelmsford. Together, representatives of the 12 districts, two partnerships and Essex form a joint committee that manages a co-ordinated approach to Essex’s parking.
The parking partnerships bring together all street-based parking services in Essex. They aim to administer the parking rules to a fair, proportionate and consistent standard in order to provide a service in a reasonable and responsible way.
While the creation, maintenance and enforcement of Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) is devolved to the partnerships, Essex County Council is the local highways authority, so it retains the statutory authority for the maintenance of the county’s dataset of traffic orders. The county and parking partnerships have worked together to tackle the problem of inaccurate, inconsistent and inaccessible TROs.
Essex’s dataset of TROs was difficult to keep up-to-date. Over time, and with different people having worked on them, anomalies in the styles of restrictions had crept into the orders from across the 12 districts.
The TROs came in all manner of different formats and could not easily or consistently be made available to the general public. Some orders were hand-written and stored in archives; others were text-based, perhaps with graphic scans. Orders for some districts had been mapped and digitised, but others had not been mapped, and some traffic order schedules were completely missing. The orders were, therefore, difficult to access and to understand, especially for members of the public.
Vicky Duff, network assurance group manager, Essex County Council, explains: “Without access to the regulations, Essex residents weren’t able to view the parking impacts on their localities. The council’s ethos is that people should have access to them. They should be able to understand where they can park and for how long – we’re not trying to create confusion.”
Richard Walker, group manager for NEPP, adds: “We just couldn’t give everyone the full and complete parking order – it was in so many parts that they couldn’t simply look at it. Even the areas that had been mapped were done on a ‘polygon’ system, which is not easy for non-specialists to understand. It just wasn’t user-friendly for the public.”
The concern over the increased disparity between the restrictions described in the districts’ orders and those restrictions that actually existed on the street gave rise to the understanding that they needed to start again. The county needed re-surveying from the ground up in order to provide consistent and accurate data. This was also an opportunity to make the digitised data accessible via the internet, displaying it in a way that the public could understand.
Nick Binder is the South Essex Parking Partnership’s manager. He said: “One need was for some housekeeping – getting everything in order and up-to-date, validating that what it said on the road matched what we had, so that our enforcement could be in order. The other side of this was that we saw an opportunity to create everything digitally, to allow for better sharing of the data across different platforms and also as open data for use in apps created by third parties.”
It was the southern partnership that initially drove the project. Nick Binder outlines the approach: “SEPP had some operational surplus funding available. The joint committee, comprising our six districts, decided to invest in creating new traffic orders built on high quality data, and a system that would be fit for the county’s needs then and in the future.”
SEPP managed the procurement process, putting the project out to tender. The two partnerships were each using Essex’s dataset and central mapping system – ParkMap, a software suite from Buchanan Computing. With this software, there was an opportunity to move to a line-based mapping system, which, unlike the polygon-based system, was felt to be far easier for the public to understand. So, Buchanan Computing was invited to tender for the project too.
SEPP undertook a full procurement process and ParkMap was selected as the platform that would be used. Buchanan Order Management (BOM) – a subsidiary of Buchanan Computing – undertook the process of reviewing the traffic orders by surveying the full area, then compiling the traffic order database on ParkMap and finally delivering a map-based system that could be made available over the internet.
Nick Binder says: “We chose Buchanan Order Management because they had a full understanding of our brief. It was a new project for us, but Buchanan answered all our queries, addressed all our concerns, and assured us about how they would deliver the project.”
It was at this stage that the NEPP became involved. Richard Walker says: “The North, South and Essex County Council all agreed that we wanted the same benefits. So, we checked if BOM could undertake the project for the whole of the county at the same time.”
BOM assessed what difficulties there might be in surveying and providing the data for the whole county. It was able to phase the plans and programme the timings into a revised project. With funding secured, the North was then able to join in the project as well. Vicky Duff endorsed the procurement decision, saying: “Essex County Council has been a happy customer of Buchanan Computing since civil enforcement began, and we’ve had a successful ongoing relationship with them. We were already using ParkMap, so we knew what the tool was capable of. We all had confidence that the exercise they were going to undertake would mean that the correct information would be plotted. We were happy that the people who would be undertaking the street surveys had the intuitive capabilities needed. They would know what residents parking is, what zonal parking is, and would be able to check the orders.”
Daniel Taylor, director of operations for Buchanan Order Management, explains: “We specialise in undertaking traffic order reviews and have successfully carried out many ParkMap implementations with map-based schedules across the country. We were commissioned through a competitive tender process and scored 100% in the evaluation process.”
Surveying the county
The project to map the entire county got underway in the spring of 2018. It took around seven months to survey and then complete the back-office data processing for each of the partnerships’ six districts. Daniel Taylor says: “We undertook a comprehensive on-street survey of all static TRO signs and lines, mapping the information directly into Essex’s ParkMap system. From this audit, we produced a set of consolidated articles and map-based schedules for each of the 12 districts.”
BOM’s team of specialist traffic order surveyors began by mapping the location of all static TRO signs and lines across the county. Restrictions included prohibitions of waiting, loading, stopping and on-street parking places. The survey also collected non-TRO items, such as bus stops and pedestrian crossings.
These items were mapped directly into the ParkMap software, which the surveyors had available to them on their weatherproof tablet computers. The system used the UK’s national mapping database, OS MasterMap, as its background reference data. This enabled the team to accurately locate the street features.
Daniel Taylor says: “The standard accuracy threshold for BOM’s traffic order review surveys is to ensure that 99% of surveyed objects are accurately mapped relative to OS MasterMap.”
The surveyors also recorded any on-street maintenance issues, such as faded lines that needed repainting or missing line end markers where the end of the restriction would need to be determined and then repainted. Additionally, any anomalies in the on-street survey were recorded, so that they could be clearly communicated to the NEPP and SEPP project teams for resolution.
And there were a lot of anomalies. Nick Binder explains: “We had to clarify lots of queries that BOM flagged up. For example, the sign said one thing, but the order said another. We needed to decide which we wanted as the final version.” This process also allowed the council to consolidate a lot of its orders.
Once the survey data had been returned to ParkMap, extensive data entry processing on the mapped items prepared it for use as a TRO database on ParkMap. Then it was ready for creating new map-based schedules and the on-going management of traffic orders.
The data on almost 100,000 individual surveyed items across both the North and South Essex Parking Partnerships was entered using a consistent approach. Every item was allocated a unique reference number so that it could be clearly identified in the large database within ParkMap. Items were also assigned other attributes, such as a street name (linked to a unique street reference number) and a ‘side of the road’. For the static TRO signs, a photograph was attached, along with detailed notes on the sign conditions.
Some of the information helped the council with its development of remedial works plans, allowing it to target particular locations or issue types that needed prioritising. Daniel Taylor gave an example of the extent of the issues, “From the survey and data post-processing across the SEPP, we identified more than 600 signs that required cleaning or were obscured from view by their surroundings.”
Once all the static TRO restrictions had been fully represented in the system, the production of a new set of map-based schedules could begin. Each of the 12 districts received its own consolidation order, while the map-based schedules were produced on a map tile grid that encompassed the whole of Essex. This is based on the national grid for Great Britain, so can be expanded to work on a national level.
BOM’s Daniel Taylor says: “This was preferable to having an individual map tile grid for each of the twelve districts, as it simplified the on-going management of the map schedules on ParkMap.”
Every static TRO restriction was located within a map tile in ParkMap and,where appropriate, was labelled to ensure that the specific enforcement details relating to the restrictions were clearly communicated to those using the map schedule.
Taylor continues: “A pivotal process of moving the NEPP, SEPP and Essex towards a more efficient process of map-based TRO management was the drafting of new static consolidation orders. The team at BOM has a great deal of experience in drafting traffic orders like this.”
While the surveying and data processing was a lengthy process, SEPP’s Nick Binder reports that the project ran smoothly. “It was seamless how they delivered the works on the ground,” he says.
Essex’s Vicky Duff agrees: “There was a continual transfer of information, and the partnerships put a lot of work into checking all the anomalies that were fed through to them from Buchanan. The continual flow of data meant that the project continued to move forward.”
A map-based TRO system
After more than 220 surveying days and many more days spent compiling the TRO database on ParkMap, the project went live in November 2019. More than 2,000 static map-based schedule tiles across both the North and South Essex Parking Partnership areas were implemented.
“The consistent approach across the whole of Essex means that the first reference point is now the map – as opposed to the previous collection of various approaches, stored at different locations,” says Daniel Taylor. “The accuracy of the map-based schedules and the improved style and robustness of the consolidation orders that they are included in has been a massive step forward in how NEPP and SEPP manage their traffic orders.”
Employees in each of the partnerships and in Essex County Council are now able to use the ParkMap software to help with many aspects of parking enforcement, scheme design and TRO management. The detailed dataset that BOM compiled in ParkMap also allows Freedom of Information requests and other queries to be simply and clearly resolved by the users, helping to increase the transparency of the parking operations to their local users.
To allow for access by the public, Buchanan Computing built a public, web-based interface to display the data. The Essex TraffWeb site (https://www.essexworkstraffweb.org.uk) helps communicate the 12 districts’ TRO restrictions to the public. Now that the districts have complete confidence in their traffic orders.
NEPP’s Richard Walker describes the launch: “It all went live on the same day – for the council and for the public. The ParkMap system holds and manages the data, and this was then exported out to the council’s public-facing TraffWeb system. It went live and it all worked. It was very refreshing to have a software system launch and for it to work without any issues.”
Vicky Duff was pleased with the outcome: “The project was a true embodiment of co-operation across organisational boundaries to create the system we’re now running and which we’re all thrilled with. It has been very successful and we’re very excited about how we can now expand. I’d like to look at plotting speed limits, for example, if the funding availability is there.”
Duff’s county council team is finding the new system easier to use as they can see the existing restrictions. They also find things more accurate when publishing information for public consultations. In conjunction with Buchanan’s online public consultation application, it is possible for the public to access information on newly proposed traffic orders.
With a demise in the readership and availability of local newspapers, this allows the council to make the information readily available, reducing the chance of objections after the orders have been installed on street.
For the public good
The system is also helping the public. If they are visiting somewhere, they can now see where they can and cannot park. This is in line the county council’s ethos that parking enforcement should not be about punishing the public but helping them to park legally. The information within the system is also fully available to the civil enforcement officers via their handheld devices. They can view the digitised map and see what restrictions apply where they are standing, and they can then advise the public.
Vicky Duff says: “Our staff would much rather say: ‘You can’t park here, but if you go two roads down, then on your left, you can park there’.”
Richard Walker feels the project has successfully addressed the initial issues, “and more so”. He says: “The problem we had before was that we couldn’t compile a complete parking regulation in each of the districts – they were often up to 60 or 70 amendments. So, if we wanted to find a fact about a particular road, we had to wade through lots of hand-written documents in several archives, formats or places. Now we just log on and look it up. It is current, shows accurately what’s on the ground, and we can also see what’s proposed.”
The districts have also benefited from having their signs and lines surveyed, photographed and mapped. Previously they were taking reports form civil enforcement officers about lines that needed repainting or what signs needed repairing. But the reports were sporadic and not all in one place, so the repair activities were not planned. Instead, when new schemes were introduced, the districts would also undertake a bit of ad hoc remedial work as necessary. Now though, they can plan the works and do them properly, scheduling them around the work they are doing in other areas.
Richard Walker says: “We’re no longer working off several lists and spreadsheets about lines and signs defects. We know where we’re going now.”
Accessibility has also improved across all the districts and the county council. Before, there was only a limited number of logins, so only a fixed number of people could access the system and look at it in detail. So, information would often have to be printed off to be shared.
Now, everyone can look at TraffWeb – the public, the civil enforcement officers, the staff dealing with adjudication issues and even the council’s signs and lines contractors. For those that take calls from the public, when someone asks about the restrictions, the staff can provide an immediate and accurate answer. For the employees dealing with adjudication issues, what is provided on the map exactly reflects what is there on the street. They can illustrate this to the adjudicator and use the library of signs to substantiate it.
NEPP’s Richard Walker comments: “Updates are much easier too as we’re starting from a clean version. Amendments are made live in the system, so when anyone looks at the map, they’ve always got the true picture.”
SEPP’s Nick Binder provides another perspective. “One of the main benefits is that, when we’re designing schemes, it’s a lot easier to use and to create the parking designs. Using the polygon-based system was more labour intensive – so this new system is a massive improvement for staff. And the end result is that the map looks as it looks on the road. We had good training from Buchanan and the ongoing support they have supplied has been fantastic. Overall, it’s seen as a massive improvement on our previous ways of working.”
Fair and transparent parking
With its new map-based system, Essex County Council can now provide an incredibly clear method of communicating parking restrictions to the public. Its accuracy will help to reduce the number of PCN appeals and generally improve the public’s experience of parking.
NEPP’s Richard Walker says: “Parking issues are a part of everybody’s life, so when you have something that removes dispute or argument, and adds clarity, it just makes things all that easier for everyone.”
Making roads fit for smart cities and autonomous vehicles
Essex County Council sees the digitisation of Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) as a vital element of preparing its roads for a future in which driving and mobility are increasingly data-driven. The emergence of ‘smart cities’ and development of autonomous vehicles will generate the need for vehicles to know where they are, and where to park rapidly and automatically.
An autonomous delivery vehicle, for example, should be able to recognise where it can park and what the waiting or loading restrictions are. To achieve all of this seamlessly, parking information will need to be digitised and map-based.
Vicky Duff, Essex County Council’s network assurance group manager, explains: “We’re very much involved in looking at how we can plan for the future. We’re looking at how we can make information on roadside features available for autonomous vehicles in the future. To be able to effectively enforce our traffic regulations, we needed first to have a modern and up-to-date system. But this was also an ideal opportunity to move into the digital arena, to map the parking in Essex and enable people – and in future, autonomous vehicles – be able to view it.”
A major concern for the council was the format of the data that would be generated. Essex needed to be sure that the data would be supplied in standard formats – such as TRO D (Traffic Regulation Order Discovery). It wanted to future-proof its system and ensure that its data could be successfully incorporated into projects for Essex’s smart cities, towns and villages of the future.
With the data that the council now has, and the format that it is presented in, the process of making TROs in future will be faster and smoother. The new system enables all parties to work with shared data. South Essex Parking Partnership manager Nick Binder explains: “This is open data that can be shared with app companies, or with autonomous vehicles themselves. They will need that data and we’re now in a good place to make it very accessible.”
In particular, it is the fundamental format of the data that is important here. North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) manager Richard Walker elaborates: “We had been researching this and there are various different options on the market. But accuracy, facts and the legalities of everything are vital. Having the ability to stream our traffic orders directly from ParkMap, and overlaying them on Ordnance Survey 3D mapping, brings an Essex on-street digital twin ever closer – which is going to be key for the future. Telematics, autonomous cars, and the way we manage things kerbside all depend on getting data to a vehicle – to tell it where it can stop or park or what charges there are.”
The data supplied by Buchanan via ParkMap’s Open API and web service is in a native format, and so conforms to both Alliance for Parking Data Standards (APDS) and the draft TRO D standards. Once the TRO D data model is completed, ParkMap’s API will provide Essex with the ability to stream their traffic orders directly to the Department for Transport (DfT), complying to this new standard.
Essex has been working with the DfT to help develop standard formats for how data is collected and shared. It needs to be viable for use in cars, sat navs and intelligent apps, as well as for the multi-modal journeys and intelligent transport systems of the future.
NEPP’s Richard Walker emphasises the importance of being able to prepare and collate the data in a standard format that is also accurate in terms of what is on the ground. He says: “It is key to us that we know what we’re going to get – and we get that from OS data. It is fixed and not going to move around. The data is accurate and all fits together without problems. We were looking for an updated system to start with, but also wanted one that was going to be compliant with future standards. Lots of the things Buchanan is doing are at the forefront of technology and accuracy, affirming our belief that our data and system are safely future-proofed.”
Essex has begun to evaluate a number of ways that it can use its data to help inform transport planning throughout the county. For example, variable message signs incorporating ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) technology could be adopted that show how many spaces are available. Or parking bay sensors could show how long a vehicle has been parked, or whether the space is currently vacant. This could be expanded to track and analyse the usage of parking spaces across the county. There is also the option of using a ‘scan car’ to assist with enforcement of regulations. This would rely on having accurate data about traffic systems, all of which is now available in the ParkMap system.
There are other potential opportunities for developing transport and traffic management tools. These might help the public with multi-modal journeys, or could show live traffic and congestion, and suggest the use of park & ride schemes and other alternatives. And the map-based aspect would be particularly appropriate for tools that display air quality. All of these innovations require the use of map-based data. But it does not just include council services. As the data is available through Buchanan’s Open Data API, third parties could also use it. For example, traffic and parking data would be especially useful for helping delivery drivers make their ‘last mile’ deliveries more efficient.
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