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Talking About the Curb

October 1, 2021

Kevin Uhlenhaker

As we move into the last quarter of 2021, it seems that despite the ongoing COVID struggles, we have learned to live with the virus as we continue to work to defeat it. While COVID has negatively affected many businesses, one of them that has flourished is delivery services. With the dramatic rise of vehicles being used by the companies, it has increased the need for solutions to manage the parking needs of these vehicles. Our question this month addresses this need. 


Our city is discussing implementing a curb management program; what should be considered as we move forward? 


Inquisitive in Illinois 


Hello Inquisitive, 


Your question about curbside management covers one of the newer trends in parking (sorry, mobility). Before moving forward, in the spirit of full transparency, I am an advisor and investor in a company providing curb management solutions. Luckily, many great companies offer these services. This situation will not affect my opinions about the topic today. 


First, we need to dig into what curbside management is. While there likely are more formal definitions, at its core, curbside management is just time zone enforcement for a set parking area. The goal is to increase these spaces’ turnover (number of times the space is used) using both pricing and enforcement. 


While many “traditional” parking spaces have time limits measured in minutes or hours, these curbside spaces will have time limits measured in seconds. The pricing of these spaces is designed to incentivize users to use them for just as long as they need (the time it takes to drop off or pick up). As such, the price for the 30 seconds might be close to zero, while each additional 30 second time block could increase the price by $5 or more for each added block of time. 


Once a vehicle goes beyond the limit, they are subject to an even higher parking citation amount. The overall idea is to incentivize parkers to use the spaces correctly while minimizing the need to apply more invasive methods, such as towing, to keep these spaces open. 


The basic technology used to enable curbside management tools is not new on its own. Still, improvements in processing power and cost have allowed these technologies to be combined and economically deployed. The core technology utilized is a camera-based vehicle identification system. Cameras are mounted on poles (or other high places) in a position to view the spaces. The video feed from those cameras is analyzed by software that looks for vehicles then identifies the license plate of those vehicles. 


In addition to cars, some of these same systems can also detect and count other items such as bikes, scooters, and people. In many systems, these counts can also be made available for use in parking availability systems, city planning tools, and for enforcement of other non-parking items such as scooters.


The second key item in these systems is automatic payment. Due to the short time frames vehicles are in the parking spaces (by design), there is no time to pay via a physical means such as a meter. Due to this, all of these systems have some form of automatic payment. Most systems will allow drivers to sign up individually, while others will also have relationships with the companies (UPS, DoorDash, etc.) to bill usage directly. Both options work, and no company yet has full coverage, but the easier you make it on the drivers, the more likely they will comply. 


The last piece of the technology puzzle is enforcement. While these curb management systems work hard to make it easy for parkers to pay, not everyone will (surprise, surprise), so they also need to include an automated enforcement component. This feature will identify vehicles in violation (for non-payment, overstay, incorrect vehicle type, etc.) and will then either generate a citation to be mailed or will dispatch an enforcement officer for a physical citation. For vehicles that are repeat offenders (or in a very high-demand area), automatic notification for towing is also an option. 


Like any technology, curbside management systems are designed to solve specific problems and work well in those situations. These situations include, but are not limited to, defined delivery zones, high turnover areas, parking for particular types of vehicles (such as buses), or areas where vehicles should never be parked. 


Additionally, keep in mind the cameras need to view the spaces and see the vehicle license plates. 


Overall, curbside management tools work well and can be a great addition to the comprehensive toolkit of modern parking professionals. They are best when used to solve the problem they were designed to tackle and should be used alongside other methods in a broader city-wide parking strategy. 


Kevin 



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