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European cities moving fast to change business of parking

German cities are using the latest smart parking technology to reduce traffic and car pollution while collecting more fees for parking

In cities such as Amsterdam, the number of cars allowed to park is strictly limited, with the goal of keeping the city liveable and accessible.  

To this end, the Dutch capital’s government has a system in place which checks whether or not a parked car has the right to be parked. This means checking to see if parking fees have been paid via a parking meter or app, or if the owner has a parking permit. Enforcement is accomplished using “scan cars” that have been equipped with cameras, automating the process of number plate identification and background checks with specific scanning equipment and artificial intelligence-based identification services. The service is currently in use for more than 150,000 of the city’s street parking spaces. 

But there are better ways to solve this problem, especially wherever drivers are circling the area in search of available parking spaces. Around the world, a unique smart parking guidance system, developed by German technologists, is being used to provide real-time, turn-by-turn guidance to drivers, helping them find a parking space in less time.

It is significantly reducing search traffic. Parking space owners and parking system operators have said it does more than simply collect more parking fees: it enables the city to reduce parking-related stresses and traffic noise while lowering pollutants and emissions. 

As the fourth-biggest city in Germany, Cologne-Nippes has worked hard to deploy what is so far the country’s biggest on-street parking guidance installation. In such a metropolis, the annoying search for a parking space – especially in the central area around Neusser Strasse – is now a thing of the past.

Since June 2020, motorists have been able to rely on ParkPilot, the parking guidance system provided by RheinEnergie, a large municipal enterprise that sits in the infrastructure and services company owned by the city government of Cologne.

RheinEnergie is focused on the customer experience because it supplies approximately 2.5 million people with electricity, gas, water and heat. “This sophisticated smart parking deployment is part of an effort to increase sustainable development to achieve greener environments in our smart city,” said Andreas Cerbe, chief technology officer at RheinEnergie.

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ParkPilot utilises a service developed by a German tech company Cleverciti. It’s been hailed as one of the world’s most innovative parking systems, but it does more than meets the eye. It directly navigates drivers to the next available parking space with the help of 27 omnidirectional LED displays mounted on lamp posts. The free service currently covers around 800 parking spaces.

One year after ParkPilot’s launch, the city government’s evaluations have led to the project’s city-wide expansion. The evaluation studies conducted by third parties noted that the system makes it possible to reduce search traffic in the project area by up to 45%.

The distance to the next free parking space can be reduced by around 41%. This is the result of 145 test drives between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm on weekdays. The occupancy rate during this time was between 95% and 99%. 

Thanks to ParkPilot’s success, the average occupancy rate of the parking spaces has also increased, from 85% to 91%.

Willingness to pay

Another increase that has surprised experts from both government and business is the willingness to pay for a parking space.

Approximately 45% of car owners pay the parking fee due: before the project started, it was only 39%. The figures were calculated based on 2,500 vehicle movements at 500 paid parking spaces. 

“The results show that intelligent technology and climate protection can be optimally combined in a metropolitan area like Cologne,” said Susanne Fabry, head of energy networks at RheinEnergie.

“When you consider that 30% of inner-city traffic is due to the search for parking spaces, it becomes apparent how great the potential of services like ParkPilot is for the environment, and in terms of noise and stress for drivers and residents alike.”

Thomas Hohenacker, founder of Cleverciti Systems, said the smart parking guidance system has significantly reduced search traffic and the associated CO2 emissions.

“The service has also increased the occupancy rate of existing parking spaces and the payment rate for parking, which contributes significantly to the rapid return on investment of such a smart parking management system.”

Smartphone app 

A smartphone app is now available to make finding a parking space in Nippes even easier. It can be downloaded using the search term ‘ParkPilot’ from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

The app shows the available parking spaces on a map, and it is also possible to filter by categories such as delivery zones or parking spaces with a charging option for electric vehicles.

By entering a destination, the app navigates drivers to the nearest available parking space. Once there, the app lists all the mobile payment providers available in Cologne.

Funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, the ParkPilot system operates according to strict data protection guidelines. The sensors installed in the project area only detect free spaces – no images of people or vehicles are taken, and data transmission is encrypted. 

One of the latest Cleverciti projects is in the German city of Paderborn. The customer in this case is ASP, a parking management company owned by the city government. In this roll-out of the technology, the parking offering was initially deployed at 800 on-street parking spaces.

Real-time single-space detection has been made possible by the installation of 80 of Cleverciti’s overhead sensors. Parking guidance is facilitated by 27 of Cleverciti’s full matrix LED displays.

Cleverciti’s system, known as Cockpit, provides live parking status, analytics and managing sensors. Since early 2021, the firm’s focus has been on the continuous expansion of the project’s footprint.

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