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Future is now for city’s parking meters

By Aaron Blevins, 12/20/2012


Parking meters in the city of Los Angeles have officially entered the 21st Century, and the machines are being utilized in ways that are vastly different than their coin-only counterparts.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa completes the replacement of the last coin-operated parking meter in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

Since the creation of LA Express Park, a pilot program designed to use technology and demand-based pricing to create parking management strategies, several smart phone apps have been developed to provide real-time parking information in the city.

Parker, ParkMobile and ParkMe all use data provided by sensors on the city’s meters to determine on-street parking availability and costs. They also offer rates and availability at some parking garages.

“It’s streamed directly into our app,” ParkMe spokesman Kevin Blomberg said. “Our developers see exactly what LADOT (the Los Angeles Department of Transportation) is seeing.”

Created by Santa Monica natives Sam Friedman and Alex Israel, ParkMe was created out of frustration with L.A. congestion and the slow pace at which technology was helping alleviate the problem.

“They realized this major industry … was archaic, scattered,” Blomberg said.

Therefore, the two have sought to create a comprehensive tool to enhance navigation in several major cities. They’ve found that motorists searching for parking spaces can be a large contributor to congestion in some areas, Blomberg said.

“It’s not just a frustration issue. It’s a city issue. It’s a sustainability issue,” he added.

In Los Angeles County, the app provides real-time, on-street parking information for Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles. In the Mid-City area, motorists can find information and rates for area parking garages.

ParkMe staffers, however, are looking to expand the app as the county and cities allow. Blomberg said the company can not simply add real-time data for municipalities; it relies on cities to create programs like LA Express Park.

“Ultimately, it’s just a matter of L.A. County, LADOT signing off on these other pockets that are well traveled,” he said. “There is a lot of bureaucracy to cut through.”

Eventually, the hope is to implement the technology in automobile navigation systems, Blomberg said. ParkMe, which is a free app, is currently generating revenue through licensing agreements with navigation companies like TomTom, he said.

Jonathan Hui, a transportation engineering associate for LADOT, said the city has received positive feedback regarding LA Express Park and the handful of smart phone apps that utilize the information.

“They’re definitely very progressive for the department,” he said. “They’re one of the first ways the city has invested in smart phone technology.”

Hui said the pilot program was part of a federal grant, and other aspects of the technology are being tested. Although LA Express Park is a one-year pilot program, officials would like to expand its offerings, he said.

“We hope that it will be more widespread in other congested parts of the city,” Hui added.

While parking meters are now benefitting smart phone apps, they also accept credit cards in every area of the city. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday dismantled the final coin-only meter operating in the city.

“These are the type of 21st Century solutions that we’re supporting,” he said. “The future of parking is happening now, and it’s happening in L.A. Of course, the goal is to get us all out of our single-passenger automobile once in a while, right?”

He said the new meters increase revenue, and are powered by a battery that is recharged by solar panels. The city’s pay stations are powered by “green cell” batteries as well, Villaragosa said.

“In fact, L.A. operates the most solar-powered parking meters anywhere in the world,” he said, adding that broken meters send messages to technicians that they need service within three hours.  “That’s a change from how it use to be, right?”

For information about LA Express Park, visit www.laexpresspark.org.



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