Pittsburgh’s three-month pilot with Automotus has increased short-term parking efficiency, automated payments and delivered data the city can use to maximize revenue and inform parking policy.
A smart loading zone pilot project has improved curb management and increased revenue in Pittsburgh in just three months.
The Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) implemented the yearlong project in April with technology and a $100,000 grant from Automotus’ Commercial Curb Challenge, through which the company provides its technology at no upfront cost using partnerships and revenue share agreements.
Since then, the number of drivers parking in those areas of the city has risen 21% and the amount of time they spend there has fallen almost 30%, said Caroline Seifert, policy analyst for curb management at DOMI.
Additionally, about 30% of those parking are paying users through Automotus’ web-based payment system, which is increasing revenue, she said. The city will start mailing bills to drivers who park and aren’t registered.
“That’s some pretty promising changes for only three months,” Seifert said.
But the main goal of the project is to increase safety in those areas, she added. “When we see things like people looking around for a place to park, they’re not looking out for pedestrians, they’re not looking out for bikes,” Seifert said. “Same with double parking. Everyone knows how hard it can be when you see someone double parked and you have to swerve around, so we’re hoping that this has that added safety component.”
Automotus placed its license plate-reading cameras and associated processing units on streetlights in 20 short-term parking zones with time limits to speed loading and unloading for delivery drivers.
“Historically, searching for parking takes anywhere from four to seven minutes, and then paying for that parking spot takes an additional, on average, two minutes,” said Anil Merchant, head of product at Automotus. “Our goal is really to remove all those unnecessary steps.”
Algorithmic models on the camera units process in real time data on what vehicles – freight truck, delivery van or bicycle, for instance – are accessing the zone, how long they park for and whether they had to double park. They can also determine whether the vehicle is electric or hybrid. The technology blurs faces, capturing only license plates to automate payments and violation citations.
"Metadata collected on the edge is processed, anonymized (as applicable) and sent to the cloud automatically for further processing and analysis," Merchant said.
The results are presented to the city via a dashboard that displays aggregated insights on what the computing models detected – for example, the average parking turnover in a certain time period or the average dwell time on a given day or week.
“We really take all these different dimensions …. and we break it down by modality, by location and by time, and all that really gives the user some insight into what’s going on at the curb and where so they can address problem areas,” Merchant said.
The company then uses that data to make policy suggestions, such as pricing for parking in various zones at different times.
For drivers, Automotus offers a separate, web-based payment application that requires a one-time registration and set up of a digital wallet. Then, when the company’s cameras detect the vehicle in a smart loading zone, the system bills for the amount of time the vehicle spends there.
Cities get a payment dashboard to see what zones bring in the most revenue and through which modality.
Until now, Pittsburgh has not had hard data on curb management, Seifert said.
“In a lot of ways, we were going by experience – talking to community leaders, talking to business owners,” she said. “That’s a great way to get a lot of information, but there’s also a lot that can be said from having numbers on how many people are parking in a loading zone, how long are they staying there. We’ll put that data towards making policy.”
In fact, to launch the pilot the city had to create a new section of code to require payment in the loading zones. The city selected the best spots for testing based on currently congested loading zones and location.
“We came up with 50 locations that, from a policy standpoint, sounded great, but then we have to go through and say, ‘OK, is the infrastructure there? Can we connect to the pole? Is the angle good? Is there going to be a tree in the way of the camera?’” Seifert said.
A three-year, $3.8 million grant from the Energy Department will help scale the project to about 100 zones, and Carnegie Mellon University will study the effect on carbon emissions. The idea is to analyze “what vehicles are using the curbside for what purpose to determine policies that can enhance the safety and efficiency of parking, traffic flow and incentivize the use of electronic vehicles,” according to a press release, which adds that this is the first federal grant of its kind to use curb management to reduce emissions.
The DOE grant also went to Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California, which also received funding from Automotus’ Commercial Curb Challenge. Through its 2022 challenge, Automotus will launch a combined analytics and payments program in Omaha, Nebraska, in the coming month.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.