Demand-based parking rates ensure that scarce parking resources are better used, and also that it is easier for drivers to find a spot, again implying a reduction of cars circling to find spaces. A clear example of how demand-based rates can improve the use of parking is that of an area with both shopping and office use. If parking is free, or far below market rates, office workers arrive first and take the spaces directly in front of the shops for a full working day. This means that shoppers need to park further away. In this case parking spaces are not used efficiently. Many shoppers that come for half an hour need to walk. If instead the office worker would park further away, only one person would walk. A small increase of the price of parking in front of the shop would exactly achieve this. Since the office worker needs to multiply the increase by eight hours, it soon becomes interesting to walk a short distance.

Demand-based pricing will automatically detect the optimal rates where such local optimisations take place. They also reduce the inefficiencies that are inherent of maximum durations.

What does Merge® do, and how does it work?

The Xerox Merge® parking system is a first-of-its-kind, city-wide sensor based, smart parking solution. It is a smart grid for parking. It enables guided parking, predictive enforcement, meter and pay-by-cell management, demand-based pricing – all layered with analytics. Because of its cloud delivery and open architecture platform it can be deployed both in green-field deployments and existing paid parking systems.

Merge® was deployed in downtown Los Angeles as part of the LA Express Park project in June 2012. It uses the data from smart meters, off-street parking lots and over 6 000 on-street parking sensors to get a complete view of parking demand and behaviour in a 6 square mile area. The system feeds this data in real-time to smart phone applications and a vehicle’s navigation system to provide guided parking, i.e. to provide motorists with actual parking rates and guidance to available spaces.

A pay-by-cell system allows drivers to pay for, and top up their parking meters using a cell phone or smart phone. The enforcement systems are automatically updated so that mobile payments are automatically visible to enforcement officers. The overlay of parking data and occupancy data allows for optimised enforcement routes and the monitoring of special parking permits.

Merge®’s smart pricing algorithms use the parking sensor data to make parking patterns insightful to parking managers using dashboard capabilities, and to refine rates based on demand. This is done at one-month intervals for time-of-day pricing and in 30 minute intervals for real-time dynamic pricing (in operation in small zones since December 2013). Blocks that are often full see their rates increased; blocks that are often underutilised see their rates decreased. The result is that drivers get an incentive to use a different mode, or to park slightly further away to help reduce congestion. When rates are set appropriately there is a high probability that spaces are available in every block, this reduces the need to circle around looking for parking resulting in less time lost, reduced congestion, safer driving and better access to shops.

Merge® works by monitoring the 20 nearest parking spaces for each space and for every minute. Grouping spaces into:

  • underused but not scarce (occupancy less than 70%, but parking rate at its lowest point);
  • underused (occupancy less than 70%, but parking rate not at lowest point);
  • just-right (occupancy between 70% and 90%); and
  • congested (occupancy above 90%).

This allows for space time averages in four categories that coincide with L.A. Department of Transportation’s stated parking goals. In most cases demand patterns suggested that rates go down rather than up: 39% of blocks saw a rate decrease, 14% a rate increase. The biggest effect of rate increases in congested areas was around 7pm with 15% occupancy reduction. The biggest effect of a rate decrease was at 1pm, with an average occupancy increase of occupancy of 10%. 

What are the results?

Merge® focused on achieving two overarching goals: saving time and improving traffic flow. Time is a valuable asset that is wasted in congestion, looking for spaces, and figuring out how to pay meters. Guided parking has a clear advantage to motorists looking for parking spaces since they spend less time and energy finding a space. But since the need to circle around looking for parking is reduced it also benefits general traffic and citizens by reducing congestion and pollution. Studies have shown that 30% of urban congestion is attributed to drivers looking for parking.

The results of introducing the Merge® system in Los Angeles included increased space availability of between 10 to 30%; a 10% reduction in parking congestion (i.e. less cars cruising and circling looking for a space); good levels of acceptance from users, and a small (2%) increase in revenue from parking fees. Future work in 2014 will look more at mode change impacts.