Cities are always growing and so are their problems - smart parking being one of them. Creating a future-proof smart parking tender can be challenging, especially if it is meant for developing countries like India. As the company that has provided the technology solution for India’s largest smart parking project (Chandigarh - 61 parking lots with nearly 30,000 parking spots) we spend a lot of time looking at smart parking tenders through our journey over the last 7 months. Here are some of the key technical points you may want to include in your smart parking tender.
Type of parking: Are the parking lots primarily Off-street (Surface or Structure) or On-street? What’s the ratio between these 2 types of parking? Where are they located? How accessible are they? How many spots for each vehicle type? Will there be both short-term & long-term parking? What kind of passes or permits will need to be issued? In addition to day passes & monthly passes is there a need to create city passes for citizen’s convenience?
Readiness for smart parking: Have the site surveys been done, reviewed & published? Is the parking area electrified & well lit? What is the existing infrastructure & what condition is it in? What civil work is needed and who will do it? Are the parking spots already marked & paved? Do these parking spaces already have some kind of network connectivity (3G/4G, WLAN, NBIoT, LPWAN)? Is there encroachment risk to the parking space? Are the parking spaces in congested areas? Is there likely to be any opposition to smart parking from citizen groups or local politicians? Are all the required parking permissions in place from the traffic police & the road authorities etc.?
Operations: What are the current/proposed operating hours? Will night parking be supported? Who pays for electricity? Who pays for security of the equipment and ongoing civil work? Do you need insurance cover for your infrastructure? What about support & maintenance costs? What about wear & tear and replacement costs, especially if the equipment is imported? Is there an operations manual?
Parking spot maximisation: Do you need to increase the ratio of parking spots to the available floor space? One usually tends to think about Multi-level or Ramp parking. However you may also want to consider other options like Stack, Puzzle, Rotary or Robotic parking especially in areas where the land cost is disproportionately high. Perhaps this can be expressed with a simple formula: ((Total floor space (land) cost + Cost of parking space maximisation)) / (Total parking revenues for the contract term) > X. Here X represents your desired payback period in years. While this is more of a commercial factor it is important to keep in mind technical criteria like retrieval time (esp. for puzzle & robotic parking), vertical clearance / height of each spot (esp. for stack parking) & other costs like maintenance, wear & tear and support needs.
Manpower: The reality is that in countries like India, parking operations are still largely manual in nature and this is unlikely to change in the near future. You need to carefully consider the different roles (Attendants, Supervisors, Managers, Enforcer/Warden, Engineers) & number of people needed to support your smart parking project. Do these need people need to be literate? How many/which languages should they know? Given the limited skill & low wages that characterise this industry what happens if there is huge staff turnover? How will new manpower be trained? Will the total manpower remain constant throughout the life of the project or will it reduce over time as citizens become more used to technology? What is the minimum level of human service that you want to provide?
Access control: Do you need barriers? Who pays for them? Do you need to support entry/exit operations based on RFID cards, Ticket machines or QR codes? If you are using RFID cards then you need to consider scenarios where the vehicle owners are not carrying RFID cards simply because they forget to carry them or because they are reluctant to carry so many different cards. Ticket machines generally work well but they can be expensive and require manual intervention if the ticket is lost. Moreover it is difficult to manage passes and permits or manage conditional entry using ticket machines. QR codes are a simple method that have many advantages - they can contain a lot of information & can be sent to phones so even if the printed ticket is lost, the code on the phone can be scanned to confirm payment & open a barrier. Finally you should also consider access control based on numberplate detection. For most situations it can be one of the best methods - numberplate detection has many advantages as it doesn’t require the vehicle owner to carry anything (e.g. RFID card), stick something on their car windshield (e.g. RFID tag) or carry something (parking ticket). Numberplate detection is also very useful for maintaining a violations history of a particular vehicle all over the city & beyond if needed. However numberplate detection accuracy is an important operational factor to consider & some countries have strict privacy laws about how numberplate data can be used.
Devices: Do you just need ticketing devices? Should they be handheld or fixed? Do they always need to be online? Do they have good offline support? Do these entry/exit devices print simple barcodes or QR codes or just textual information? Should you use numberplates? Should these devices have built-in ANPR functionality or easy ANPR integration? How can they be used for on-street parking? Can they be used to capture & report violations?
Sensors: Should you go for ground sensors or overhead sensors? Of course this is often driven by whether the sensor has to be installed indoors or outdoors. However ground sensors are typically more expensive to install & maintain since there is civil work involved and their maintenance is more disruptive in terms of traffic & parking operations. What technology is best for your needs - magnetic, ultrasonic, subsonic, infrared, microwave radar, inductive? How much battery life should the sensor have? What kind of communications infrastructure do they need? What about temperature/weather sensitivity? How often will they need recalibration? How will the sensors deal with practical issues like vehicles not being parked exactly on the sensors/marked spots? In countries like India vehicle owners may not be very disciplined in the way they park. What is an acceptable failure rate in such scenarios? What about extreme weather conditions like monsoons where the sensors could be completely submerged in water?
Cameras: Can you use cameras to track parking availability instead of sensors? Given that a single camera can cover multiple parking spots, how many cameras will you need? Do you also need CCTV footage for surveillance? Can you use the same smart parking cameras? Can you use existing (traffic) CCTV cameras if they are already available? Do they need to be PTZ cameras? What should be the right resolution & FOV? Where do you store the surveillance footage & who looks at it? Do you need smart cameras that use Artificial Intelligence & Machine learning to store specific events of interest? Will they need to be serviced to account for different weather conditions (like lenses getting fogged due to moisture/humidity)?
Displays: Displays are often referred to as Variable Message Signs within the ITMS, Parking & other industries like Retail & advertising. You need to consider what kind of information you would like these VMS displays to show. Are you looking to show real-time parking availability data by vehicle type for a parking lot or do you also need real-time parking availability data for parking guidance that helps a vehicle owner navigate to the right floor or zone within a parking lot? Would you like to provide spot guidance for single-space availability for on-street or off-street parking? Would you like to provide way-finding so vehicle owners can find their way back to their vehicles easily? Would you like to display generic or personalised welcome or marketing messages? Do they display parking tariffs? The placement & the quantity of the displays will depend on what you need & the layout of the parking space. What should be the minimum distance over which the displays should be visible regardless of time of day & ambient lighting conditions? Are they cloud connected? How easy is it to update the information they display?
Networks: Do you want wired or wireless connectivity? Wired networks are more reliable but can be very expensive to setup (especially city-wide Fibre) & maintain. Last mile connectivity is also usually a challenge and civil work by other departments can disrupt the functioning of these wired networks. Wireless networks are growing faster & cheaper everyday however they also require to be setup carefully to ensure full coverage for the operating area. Wireless networks are much easier & quicker to setup & usually require “almost-no” to “limited” civil work.
Data: What is your strategy for data? Do you need data to be on-premise as well as cloud enabled? Data security is a huge topic and creating a database backend with enough protection against weak authentication, SQL injections, protocol/platform vulnerabilities and DOS/DDOS, MIM & other forms of attacks can be very challenging & extremely expensive over time as new vulnerabilities and attack vectors become available everyday. Right now the whole world is grappling with the Spectre & Meltdown vulnerabilities. So it’s important not to take security lightly. You also need to consider storage - a hybrid data storage model may be ideal but some data going to cloud is inevitable since you would want to share parking availability data & possibly provide an interface to booking via cloud. In addition to where you store the data it is important to consider what data you should store. Video footage tends to require a lot of space. For most parking operations it may be enough to store summary data in your operations database & move the rest to archives or a data warehouse. You also need to consider the database architecture so that is high availability, high performance, horizontally scalable, fault tolerant, reliable, secure and cost-effective. You may want to think about whether the database needs to be strongly ACID or whether eventual consistency is acceptable.
Dashboards: What kind of data do you want to see on the dashboard? Is this operational or transactional data? Analytical data? Time series data for generating new insights? Predictive analytics? Should the data be real-time? Interactive? Who are the different kinds of users of these dashboards and what are their different needs?
Command & control center: The first question is whether you are looking for an integrated command & control center for the Smart city project as a whole or whether this center is only focused on mobility & transportation? In addition to dashboards covered earlier the command & control center usually provides an event stream of all the current events in that city and operational intelligence on the health & functioning of all the smart infrastructure deployed - sensors, gateways, connectivity infrastructure etc. In both scenarios it is important to consider the 4 V’s of the event data that will flow in (volume, velocity, veracity & variety) and what data needs to be surfaced in what conditions. Which event data needs to be idempotent? It’s also important to consider where you need batch processing based on factors like system load, size, data sparsity, operational factors like a shift ending. You may want to consider all your use cases & decide whether you want real-time low latency data, low-to-medium latency event streams or higher latency batch data based on strategic & operational value.
Security: We have touched upon database security but you will also need to consider the operational security of all the other infrastructure such as sensors & communications equipment. What about physical security? What happens if any of these assets are damaged or stolen? What about data security in transmission?
Maintenance: Very often we can see an initial euphoria around setting up smart city infrastructure but over time this smart infrastructure can stop working due to lack of proper & timely maintenance. You may want to ensure that the solutions you are planning to deploy have the right support & maintenance strategy to keep them operational for as long as possible.
Geolocation: Smart parking projects need a wide range of mapping & geolocation features. In addition to high precision geolocation you may want to include geofences to facilitate certain operational use cases as well as improve the quality of the customer experience. You may also want to consider indoor navigation & location mapping for structure parking lots.
Apps: In an age of ubiquitous, growing smartphone usage you will obviously need a Citizen app. Is this an App for all your smart city applications or a dedicated parking app for your city only? Is this meant to be available on Android & iOS? Do you want to allow this Citizen App to contain parking data from other providers such as malls, offices, hotels etc. to provide more value to a parker? A parker may not only want to park in the spaces you can provide so including more data may actually help you make the App more popular & widely used. You may also want to consider what features you would like to provide. Can you provide high quality real-time availability data for each parking lot? Can citizens navigate to a parking lot of their choice using this App? Should there be a booking feature? Do you need any other Apps for the providers of parking - yourself, your colleagues, your contractors or vendors? What functionality & data should those apps provide?
Guidance: We have covered guidance earlier under Displays. However the display is the User interface component of the system. You may want to consider what kind of guidance systems you want to provide. Is the guidance for outdoor or indoor navigation? Is there a
Bookings: We have touched upon bookings while talking about Apps. How should the bookings system work? Do vehicle owners book a specific spot or do they book a single space? Do you want to SMS confirmations & push notifications? What happens if the vehicle owner doesn’t arrive on time relative to the time of booking? Do you still want the booking to be held? For how long? What happens if their vehicle is still parked beyond the end time of their booking period?
Payments: Your smart parking project can include a wide range of payment methods - Cash, Wallet, Credit Card, Debit card, Netbanking, UPI, Prepaid cards, NFC etc. But it maybe useful to consider which payment methods are actually used by citizens and whether you need to support every single payment method. If payments are made in cash then operational factors like issuing change & cash handling need to be considered. What about refunds for say cancelled bookings or early termination of say a pass? What are the direct & indirect costs of supporting each form of payment? What kind of user experience does the payment method provide? Is the method quick, simple & easy?
Enforcement: No smart parking project can be truly successful without proper enforcement. You need to carefully evaluate what policies you want to enforce and to what degree. Most importantly, the enforcement has to be effective. Technology backed enforcement such as scan cars, smart towing trucks & smart clamps can be very effective at preventing abuse & reducing violations significantly.
Penalties: You may wish to impose some penalties for a more efficient smart parking project. It’s common to include penalty clauses for any offline transactions (no system), non-payment of fees & overcharging by the contractor. Similarly your tender should also cover the charges for wrong or no parking by citizens because the reality is that without these penalties your contractors will not be able to maximise their parking revenues and will have little incentive to pay the parking space provider (you) in a timely manner.
Working conditions: Most tender documents specify the operating conditions for the technology components to be used and relevant certifications. However, it may be useful to include a clause that describes the overall environment as a set of aggregate working conditions. In India, we can have a very wide range of operating temperatures, humidity, dust & radio interference depending on where we are. So the system should work in the conditions for the specific location/s.
Integrations: Do you need integration into other smart city assets? For example do you plan on smart street lights that can be used to install cameras or parking sensors, gateways etc. Are you planning on integrating smart parking with a single smart city card? What does your roadmap for integrations look like?
Of course the above list is not completely exhaustive as there are many more factors that you will need to consider to create a successful smart parking project or tender. Do feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions, comments or thoughts on this post. Write to me at email@example.com. We would be happy to provide free consultation or early feedback on your proposed parking tender and come up with what we hope would be an unbiased perspective based on our experience.