The way in which people go about their day-to-day lives has changed enormously as a result of COVID-19. The situation continues to change rapidly and while shops and businesses are starting to return to something that resembles normality, fear of the virus remains. As a result, and owing to ongoing social distancing recommendations, people have come to value their private vehicles more than ever because of the safety, control, and isolation that they offer[i].

This surge in popularity inevitable puts more pressure on busy car parks. However, it also boosts opportunities for their owners, whether they are operating the car parks alone or as part of an infrastructure such as a shopping centre, commercial office building, airport, or hospital. If they can improve their users’ experience, they can gain a larger share of the recovering market, while enhancing the perception of their brand. Also, if they can better understand how their site is being used, they can optimise its operation for both profitability and safety.

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), car park operators can achieve these objectives - to benefit both their users and themselves - by building new technologies into an integrated intelligent car park system. Below, we look at some of the options available, and how they can work together in a practical setting.

A positive and trouble-free parking experience for drivers

Ideally, when a motorist arrives at a car park, they want to drive straight to the most practical and convenient vacant parking space, without having to search or compete for it. After parking, they expect to walk through a well-lit, safe, and clean environment to the exit, with minimal effort required to pay parking fees and no risk of fines or worse as a result of underpayment or forgetting to pay. The monitoring devices and security systems deter or capture criminal or delinquent activity.

The smart parking solution to this can start with bay sensors, and possibly cameras, which provide bay occupancy indication. The smart parking sensors can connect via a wireless network such as Bluetooth Mesh to wayfinding software on a local server, which can in turn drive red/green bay occupancy LEDs, signage throughout the car park, or a live map on drivers’ mobile phones. This map could be for a wider area of a city if aggregated with data from other locations in a centralised Cloud application.

After being guided to a bay and parking, the driver can leave the car park without needing to queue at a ticket machine if they link their phone to their car registration number. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras can detect this number and prompt a cashless parking payment system to automatically debit their account; this also protects the driver from overstaying or forgetting to buy a ticket.

Other occupancy sensors can activate LED luminaires to ensure that the driver’s walk from their car to the exit is safely illuminated - even if the lights then extinguish to save energy. Meanwhile, clean air sensors can warn of car engine running and excessive exhaust fumes. In any case, fumes should be reduced as wayfinding minimises drivers’ time in locating a vacant bay.

Improved profit opportunities for operators

The local server managing the car park’s sensors, lights, cameras, and displays can be connected to a centralised Cloud-based resource for more strategic big data analysis of patterns and trends. Car parks are using this approach to analyse length-of-stay information, occupancy statistics and payment processing, and optimise their business strategies accordingly. Additional revenue streams can be derived from advertising and vending machines.

Pricing can be modified by availability and other relevant variables, including weather conditions and flight schedules for airport parking. The IoT data allows businesses to establish dynamic pricing strategies that benefit them in an ad hoc manner as well as off-peak promotions and optimum opening times.

ANPR cameras offer many benefits to operators. They can help security staff ensure that the site is being used correctly by authorised customers, while providing irrefutable proof of transgressions. While informing cashless parking payment systems, ANPR cameras can also facilitate automatic permit management by handling permit updates, renewals, and cancellations without manual intervention. Varying levels of access and authority can be managed while digitalisation prevents the risk of fraudulent permit copying.

ANPR data can also be used to increase car park owners’ revenue by informing tiered payment plans based on spot location and length of stay. Reward programs to keep customers loyal can be created, offered, and tracked.

The practicalities

Smart car park technology can provide a positive experience for drivers, while also helping operators to respond quickly to events for increased efficiency and profitability, safety, and security. Further, it can aid longer-term strategic planning. However, the practicalities of setting up all the sensors, lights, cameras, and other devices needed by the various smart technology systems – and then making rapid changes for new scenarios – can be a challenge, but Intelligent Grid can provide a solution.

Please visit our Car Parks page for some ideas on how to achieve this.

[i] ‘Coronaviruspandemic fuels comeback of cars’, DW Akademie, 10th June 2020

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