Los Angeles is reducing congestion with a demand-based parking system that adjusts prices based on real time occupancy data, in order to evenly distribute cars across downtown bays. Sensors record when parking spots are occupied, and transmit the information to a central computer system that recommends price adjustments. Drivers are notified of available slots via mobile apps that let them reserve spaces in advance. The system aims to keep bays unoccupied between 10% and 30% of the time.
Results & Impact
Since the implementation of ExpressPark, the average occupancy of parking spaces has increased by more than 15%, with more cars parking in low-demand areas and fewer in high-demand areas. Studies have found that as much as 30% of inner city traffic stems from drivers looking for places to park.
Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Xerox, Federal Department of Transportation
To implement ExpressPark, Los Angeles partnered with Xerox (now Conduent) to make use of its smart parking technology. Battery-operated sensors were installed in the ground underneath each bay. These record when cars enter and leave each space, and transmit the information to a central computer system. Occupancy levels are tracked on a block-by-block basis and reviewed each month. The computer system divides the amount of time a block's bays are over-occupied, under-occupied or suitably occupied into three segments and calculates relative imbalances. Algorithms are then used to recommend price adjustments to deliver an average occupancy rate of 70%-90%. The ExpressPark website and mobile apps display occupancy data in real time and allow drivers to pre-book spaces.
Cost & Value
The scheme cost $18.5 million: $15 million came from a federal grant, and $3.5 million was contributed by LA authorities.
Running since 2012
Although ExpressPark has altered the volume of cars parking in both high- and low-demand areas, its impact in the most congested parts of the city has been reduced because some drivers refuse to pay. This is a problem that predates ExpressPark, but as a result, price increases don't deter people from parking in high-volume areas. ExpressPark also requires considerable public engagement to ensure people are aware of increases in hourly rates. For instance, there have been cases of people being frustrated by $12 parking tickets for two-hour stays in high-cost areas, not having realized how expensive tariffs had become.
San Francisco operates a similar system, known as SF Park, which has been running since 2011.
Los Angeles is using a smart parking system that automatically adjusts the prices of parking bays to curb congestion in the city.
The system, ExpressPark, uses sensor data and algorithms to adjust prices based on real time usage, with the aim of creating a permanent occupancy level of between 70% and 90% across downtown parking. Drivers are guided to available spaces via mobile- and web-based applications that show demand for parking on each block. Since the implementation of ExpressPark in 2012, occupancy rates have fallen by more than 15%.
“We have had a dramatic increase at the lower end of our target occupancy range,” said Peer Ghent, ExpressPark’s Project Manager. “Our prices before the project started were a dollar an hour [in certain areas]. Many of those have been lowered to 50 cents and occupancy has gone up by about 15%.”
The time drivers spend looking for parking spaces is a major cause of congestion in cities. Studies have found that as much as 30% of inner city traffic stems from drivers looking for places to park. In LA’s case, this was compounded by a zone-based system that created flat prices within different parts of the city, meaning that drivers had little incentive to park further away from their destination if they were to pay the same price.
To address this, LA trialled a demand-based pricing system in 2012, which has since become permanent. ExpressPark is based on three different components: underground sensors that monitor when a space is occupied, a data analytics system that analyses occupancy rates and recommends price adjustments, and a notification system encompassing apps, websites and street signs that inform drivers of vacant parking spaces in real time.
“We thought that providing better guidance to available parking and adjusting pricing would deter parking in the very high-demand areas, redistributing and optimising on-street parking in the downtown areas,” said Ghent.
At the heart of the system is the pricing engine, which combines algorithms with real time occupancy data to recommend price adjustments that will best distribute parking. Each bay transmits occupancy information via underground sensors to a central computer system, which tracks occupancy levels for each block. The difference in the time spaces are under-occupied, over-occupied or at the right level is represented by a numerical score between 0.1-0.9, with the total adding up to one. When the difference between the over-occupancy and under-occupancy values falls outside a range of +0.3 to -0.3, algorithms suggest tariff changes. Price levels are reviewed on a monthly basis and adjusted at the discretion of officials.
ExpressPark revealed the inefficiencies of the city’s previous pricing system. A range of one dollar to four dollars per hour was too limited to optimise demand for spaces, as was a single day rate. Based on the system’s analysis, three pricing periods were implemented for weekdays, parking hours were extended by two hours, and the range of prices was expanded to between 50 cents and six dollars. Despite increasing the maximum rate, ExpressPark actually reduced the average cost of bays.
“In the first year, we adjusted the price eight times and quickly learned that one price all day was not going to work,” said Ghent. “So we went to a time-of-day pricing and matched the demand with the time. In the past year, we only made two price adjustments. Things have pretty well stabilised so there is no need to constantly adjust the price.”
The pricing engine works in conjunction with a traffic guidance system that notifies drivers of available spaces via the ExpressPark website, mobile apps (ParkMe and Parker) and street signs. Users type in their desired location and are presented with real time occupancy levels and prices of nearby bays. Drivers can pre-book their space before arriving, while a GPS system guides them directly to the available space. Smart parking meters also allow drivers to pay via credit card or mobile application.
The project began as a one-year trial in 2012, courtesy of federal and state funds. LA received a $210.6 million dollar grant to reduce congestion from the US Department of Transportation, with $15 million earmarked for the ExpressPark project. A further $3.5 million of city funds were also made available. Initially encompassing 6,300 bays in a 4.5-square-mile area of downtown LA, the project has grown to include 500 bays in Westwood and 900 parking spaces in Hollywood.
(Picture credit: Pixabay/StockSnap)