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Further Changes are Coming to the Curb

May 28, 2020

Jordan Justus

Chaotic curb space is not news, but recent years have brought a new wave of chaos that requires a fundamentally different approach. 


Curbside demand has historically consisted primarily of passenger vehicles with roughly the same needs: longer term parking, ideally near drivers’ destinations. More and more drivers searching for parking over the years has led to unmet demand and increased urban traffic. Cities have managed these problems through two main activities: Planning (i.e. policy-making, pricing, and investment) and Operations (payment, enforcement, and sharing data with drivers). 


Planning has always required on-the-ground data, whether that’s an engineering firm study or, more recently, payment and vehicle movement data. Operations have evolved from the meter to mobile apps and mobile LPR, enabling more efficient payment and enforcement.


Effectively managing the curb is vital to promoting mobility and reducing time spent in transit.


Unfortunately, the changes we’re now seeing in curbside demand will make current planning and operation methods obsolete. While cities around the world are experiencing dramatic increases in curbside demand, the real challenge and opportunity lies in the increased curb complexity. 


More and More Commercial (Billable) Drivers & Conflicting Needs 


Delivery and ride hailing services have been around for over a decade, and their presence continues to grow as rapidly as ever. Unlike passenger vehicles with longer-term parking needs and loose requirements for spot location, these commercial parkers require short term, location specific, curb space. This creates an inherent conflict, one which city residents experience daily. Most everyone who has driven on a busy city street has experienced the inconvenience of an Uber or Lyft dangerously blocking traffic or stealing a parking spot just to complete a pick-up or drop-off. Likewise, delivery trucks (Amazon, UPS, etc.) that double park and block turn lanes impede traffic flow and pose additional hazards to both drivers and pedestrians. This unmet curbside demand for commercial vehicles has costly consequences.


While the need is partly a supply problem, simply adding more commercial loading zones will not solve the problem. Every addition to commercial parking supply means removing inventory from consumer (retail/residential) parking. This is a catch 22 that requires two new approaches:


First: policies, pricing, and plans need to be driven by data on traffic and curb usage broken down by each form of mobility––passenger vehicles, delivery services, ride hailing, buses, etc. 


Second: Operations––payment, enforcement, and wayfinding––need to be made effective for the hyper short-term parking of commercial vehicles. 


Planning in the Era of the Shared Curb


The old adage rings true: “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”


To align policies, planning, and pricing with demand, cities must first understand the volume and behavior of each segment of the mobility market.


For starters, here are a few data points cities have recently requested from Automotus:


• Average dwell time of ride hailing vehicles & delivery drivers


• Number of commercial vehicles parking in a given area per hour


• Number of double park events per day by vehicle type


• Percentage of drivers searching for parking broken down by vehicle type (calculated by counting the number of vehicles that pass vacant spot)


 


Currently, with traditional consumer parking, administrators use violation data, park time data, and more to make sure their policies align with demand and that they are properly communicating (signage) with their drivers. This is just as relevant, if not more so with commercial drivers. 


With cities becoming more efficient in monetizing the curb, we’ll increasingly see dynamically allocated parking spaces accommodating specific vehicle types and scheduling demands. For instance, when cities see increased ride hailing at night, it may make sense to set aside curbside areas that provide on-street parking spaces during the day for exclusive night time commercial use. During the holidays, when deliveries are skyrocketing, certain areas will dedicate curb space for delivery vehicles during different times of day. These are hypotheticals for the moment, but they are also the exact scenarios that cities are actively considering for their high-valued curbs. Cities face massive scrutiny whenever they remove public parking, which is why all of these actions must be strongly supported by data to ensure maximum upside and to diligently mitigate any negative impacts to constituent parking.


Reimagining Operations with Short-Term Tenants in Mind


Enforcement and payment solutions have been designed for long-term residential and retail parking. These solutions are just as critical for commercial parking, but the current methods don’t support the short-term nature of ride hailing and delivery services. 


Without effective enforcement, ensuring compliance with any policies aimed at commercial vehicles will be nearly impossible. Loading zones are a great way to keep commercial vehicles from double parking and competing for spaces with consumers, but cities currently collect no revenue on these zones because drivers lack the incentive and convenient means to pay. As commercial demand grows, cities will increasingly see losses to one of their key sources of revenue unless they begin to implement paid parking for delivery and ride hailing services. The same goes for when autonomous vehicles begin dropping riders off at the curbside. Cities will need to begin charging vehicles minute-by-minute. The use of existing payment methods is insufficient and was not designed to support this model, given the time requirement to open up an app, pay at a meter, et cetera. 


This is where automation comes in. Enforcement and payment, at a minimum, will have to be automated to accommodate the increasingly short-term nature of curbside parking. Otherwise, the chaos of unmet demand and noncompliance of policies will snowball into further traffic on the streets. 


The Path Forward


Effectively managing the curb is vital to promoting mobility and reducing time spent in transit. Curb management technology is the key because it allows cities to optimize planning and operations for ALL forms of mobility, helping them not only to adapt to their shifting mobility landscapes, but also to flourish because of them.


At the end of the day, dynamically managing the modern mobility landscape at the curb will boil down to three things:


• Having complete insight into traffic on the street and at the curb––broken down by modes of mobility (passenger, delivery, and ride hailing vehicles are just the tip of the iceberg)


• Automating flexible enforcement processes that are currently too labor-intensive to scale to the short-term parking patterns of commercial drivers


• Providing automated payment processes for commercial drivers to prevent significant revenue losses from growing commercial parking


With these tools in the arsenal, cities can efficiently and effectively manage their mobility ecosystem, reduce traffic, increase parking turnover, capture unrealized parking revenue and prepare for the emergence of autonomous vehicles.


It’s true that innovative approaches to modern mobility have driven this latest wave of curbside chaos. On-demand rides, on-demand delivery, and an abundance of shared vehicles have made many of our lives easier and more convenient. They have made cities more accessible, but at the same time more congested, demanding more complex curb and traffic management. 


By focusing on dynamic and flexible curb management strategies and regulations, smart cities are rising to the challenge. Those that seize the opportunity to harness powerful video analytics and AI tools to inform policy, reduce congestion, and streamline revenue capture will be the ones to pull ahead!


Jordan Justus is co-founder and CEO of Automotus. He can be reached at jordan@automotus.co 



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