Arthur Avenue Gets Next-Gen Parking Tech, But Not Dynamic Pricing

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is famous for its Italian food. Now, it’s also notable as the only place with NYC’s latest parking technology: sensors in the ground providing real-time data about parking availability, and a system that enables parkers to pay by phone. Mayor Bloomberg, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and Frank Franz, manager of the Belmont Business Improvement District, launched the programs earlier this week. While the technologies could help advance curbside parking reforms, the pilot programs aren’t being paired with new pricing or enforcement strategies that would reduce double-parking and cruising for spots.

Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan at Tuesday's parking technology announcement on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycmayorsoffice/8635451410/in/set-72157633206690456##NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr##

The promise of the new tech is that it can cut traffic by managing access to the curb more efficiently. Real-time sensors can be used to set parking prices so spaces are always available and drivers don’t double-park or circle around looking for open spots. Pay-by-phone systems, meanwhile, can help the medicine of dynamic parking prices go down easier by giving motorists a convenient payment option. In Miami, which is ahead of the curve on pay-by-phone tech, motorists “are very enthusiastic about the service, which includes texted reminders that parking time is expiring and the option to pay to extend time,” according to a 2011 report issued by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

The pay-by-phone pilot was first announced in 2011, following DOT’s 2010 Request for Expressions of Interest for a sensor program that could be used to set prices, assist enforcement, and integrate with parking placards. The pilot programs in the Bronx, however, are not paired with changes to the price of metered parking, which remains $1.00 per hour everywhere in the city except Manhattan below 110th Street and commercial streets in Park Slope that are part of the Park Smart program.

The pay-by-phone pilot covers 321 spaces, most within the Belmont Business Improvement District, and about a quarter in the nearby municipal parking lot often used by City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca. Drivers can pay for time in 15-minute increments up to the designated lime limit via smartphone app or a toll-free number, receive notifications via e-mail or text before their time expires, and pay for additional time from their phones. Because pay-by-phone participants don’t have display receipts from muni-meters, parking enforcement officers will be equipped with license plate scanners to verify that drivers are paid up.

DOT’s vendor for the project is PayByPhone, which provides the service in more than 180 North American and European cities. Drivers must sign up in advance at the PayByPhone website by providing their license plate and credit card information.

In the other pilot, 177 spaces have been equipped with disc-shaped sensors that feed real-time data to a parking availability map, currently viewable on DOT’s website. A smartphone app will be available within a few months. In anticipation of bidding on a larger, city-wide contract in the future, vendors Streetline, IPsens and Xerox paid for the sensors, which have undergone more than a year of testing since they were installed in January 2012.

At the time, Streetsblog asked Sadik-Khan if the sensors would be used to help set meter rates. “That’s not the intention right now,” she said, adding that once the program launched, there could be “all sorts of opportunities.” This week DOT told Streetsblog that the sensors are not being used to set prices or, as in Los Angeles, target parking enforcement.

Streetline, one of the vendors DOT is using for sensors in the Bronx, was also involved with a parking sensor pilot for the Roosevelt Island Operations Corporation, beginning with 29 sensors in 2010 and expanding this spring to all public parking spaces on the East River island. The state-chartered corporation recently issued an RFP for new parking meters that accept credit cards, pay-by-phone, and contactless payment, according to Jonathan Kalkin, a former RIOC board member who currently serves as co-chair of the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition.

The pay-by-phone and sensor programs are separate from Park Smart, which adjusts meter rates and hours to more closely align the price of parking with demand. Park Smart pilots are operating in Park Slope, Greenwich Village, and Jackson Heights; an effort on the Upper East Side was discontinued at the request of the community board. A new Park Smart zone should be up and running soon on Atlantic Avenue, Court Street, and Smith Street in Brooklyn.

Although Park Smart, pay-by-phone, and sensor technology operate as three separate pilot programs in New York, other cities, most notably San Francisco, have combined these types of innovations as part of comprehensive parking policy reforms.

  • Anonymous

    Testing out demand-responsive pricing at the scale of 177 parking spaces wouldn’t make a ton of sense. The market price would be, more or less, whatever is being charged everywhere else, just because at that size too many people would just go park at the normal rate for prices to vary significantly. So as long as it’s really a tech proof-of-concept, they can’t put in much with pricing.

    The question is what they’re gearing up to do — at this point, given the cancelled privatization experiment, what the next mayor will do — once they feel comfortable with the tech. Would be worth asking the candidates.

  • Ari

    That depends on how far away the other “regular” metered spots are. 177 spaces could easily be a 11-block long stretch (8 spots on each side of each block). That’s a big area. Most people will not walk ~11 blocks for the *possibility* of saving a buck.

  • P B

    This is pretty cool but do we really want to give drivers another reason to be playing with their cellphones as they they are driving?

    If there was some way to have this information integrated into the vehicle’s infotainment screen that might be helpful.

  • Anonymous

    Ari, I think you overestimate the average driver’s level of rational thinking. People will cruise around for 15 minutes to find a parking spot 2 minutes closer to their destination. They will spend half an hour sitting in traffic to use un-tolled bridges when the tolled crossings are moving freely.

    Overall, I think it’s premature to look for demand based pricing at this point. The city will test the technology in small areas, then roll it out widely and gather data, and only then look at the possibility of changing the pricing structure.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Does this new tech mean that in the future they could include dynamic pricing?

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