Streamlining the parking experience

Sarah Greenslade, public affairs and communications coordinator at the British Parking Association, looks at the latest revolution in parking - the parking data standard

The pain of not finding a space when you need one and the sheer unpredictable nature of parking could about to be a thing of the past. The Alliance for Parking Data Standards is working to create a common language for all parking data, otherwise known as a data standard. It will revolutionise the way drivers find, book and pay for parking, and increase accessibility to places including town centres and the high street.  

The Alliance is owned jointly by the British Parking Association (BPA), the International Parking & Mobility Institute (USA) and the European Parking Association (EPA), and funded by the Department for Transport. Their standardised data model could lead to smarter, smoother and simpler payment systems and motoring services for parking, right across the UK, Europe and beyond, transforming the way we drive and park - a world-first for parking. Remember what is was like to travel in London before the all-zones Travelcard and later the Oyster card? Well, the work of the Alliance could be a similar revolution in driving and parking.

Around the world, new services and technologies are joining together to make parking, mobility and transport infrastructure a better experience for customers and business owners. Whether it is car-sharing, ride-sharing, micro-mobility services, prepaid parking, dynamic pricing in parking, remote operations management, or improved reporting, data sharing is the key to being able to adopt these services. So, if the Alliance did not exist it is likely the parking sector would have had data standards created and imposed on it from the outside or in a way that aligned to a singular business model, stifling diversity and innovation in the sector.

In future the parking data standard will be key to having seamless integration and compatibility between parking entities world-wide, including the automotive industry, map and app providers, IT developers, universities, highway and event operators, airport and railway operators, as well as the end users themselves. With parking app usage increasing and an increasing number of connected vehicles on our roads, the creation of a harmonious parking data standard is very timely. It also means that all local council parking data and company data could be using the same language soon. This will make it easier for councils to exchange data so that drivers of connected vehicles can find the right parking space, at the right time, and at the right price for them. It could also tell drivers if there are electric charge points nearby, the type of on-site services available and display the parking terms and conditions of each car park.

The Alliance will maintain the parking data specifications over time as living, open specifications that will evolve and expand as the marketplace evolves. This will allow companies to focus their resources on innovating new services and operations with the assurance that everyone is working to a common data standard.  

Councils test the parking data standard
Manchester City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and a consortium of South Essex councils will receive a share of £1 million to put the data standards set by the Alliance into practice. Seven more projects will also be commissioned to find ways to open-up local authority parking data. The ambition is to have all parking data released by councils to be in the same machine-readable standard.

Easing congestion and improving air quality
Thirty per cent of city centre drivers is estimated to be looking for a parking space at any one time. Real-time data will help ease congestion by signalling available spaces to drivers as they become available. This in turn will help reduce emissions in our towns and cities, something that’s increasingly important for councils to tackle as quickly as possible.

Going beyond parking into traffic management
From the Alliance a new partnership has developed between the Department for Transport, BPA, Ordnance Survey and GeoPlace to create another type of data model for local authority Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), or Traffic Management Orders (TMOs) in London. Traffic Orders are the legal traffic management rules and regulations created by local councils to ensure our roads and highways are used safely and efficiently by drivers, pedestrians and passengers. This ground-breaking project is part of The TRO Discovery Project which contributes to the government’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge.

Typically, TROs apply to both moving and stationary traffic and include all sorts of things including: speed restrictions; banned turns, no entry, one way, bus lane; Low Emission Zone and congestion; where you can/can’t park: charged, residential, disabled and reserved parking; yellow lines to restrict waiting, loading bays, red routes and parking zones; restrictions on vehicle usage, load, height, width, length and weight; road closures; and toll charges.

There are many challenges councils face devising and implementing TROs currently. The Project’s research shows they are costly, complex and time consuming to create, access and process, not to mention largely unreadable by machines. For cash-strapped councils this situation is clearly unsustainable. These issues can now be eliminated or mitigated using smart communications, simpler procedures and software solutions, all unthinkable at the time the current rules were made in the middle of the 20th century.

For connected vehicles to know about temporary road works, speed limits and on-street parking bays it is essential for these to be standardised and digitised. Making TROs machine-readable will allow connected vehicles to read the data and therefore navigate our complex road system. The TRO Discovery Project, will importantly make this data free to all as an open data resource; currently commercial service providers, vehicle manufacturers, even local authorities and government, everyone in fact is forced to collect TRO data independently using a variety of methods, often labour-intensively, albeit sometimes with digital support.

The next stage of development is for the model to be trialled with test data. It will be important for local authorities to make sure they have the expertise in place to use a data model approach to create TROs as this will present both IT and legislative challenges.  

All the partner organisations support the government’s Industrial Strategy Future of Mobility Grand Challenge which aims to make the UK a world leader in shaping the Future of Mobility. An initial priority of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge is to provide a regulatory framework to ensure we continue to have one of the most open environments in the world for transport innovation.

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