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Opening up Parking Data

Advancing Sustainability Ltd

Opening up Parking Data

June 2014


Dr Chris Tuppen
Advancing Sustainability Ltd
+44 (0)7710 039337

Advancing Sustainability Ltd specialises in smart cities, sustainability impact assessments in the ICT sector and circular economy metrics. It has customers across the public, private and third sectors and has worked for a number of cities, major multinationals and NGOs.

Recent work has included:

  • strategies, roadmaps and economic assessments for smart cities;
  • remanufacturing business models, recovery of rare metals and scrap electronics and circular economy metrics;
  • sustainability impact assessments for satellite communications and undersea cables;
  • privacy and freedom of expression: governments and the telecoms industry.

More information is available at Advancing Sustainability

Advancing Sustainability Ltd is a private limited liability company registered in England & Wales Number 8779804.

1. Introduction

There is no doubt out-of-town shopping has had an impact on the traditional town centre. In part because out-of-town shopping centres generally provide easy to get to, large capacity, free parking with no time limits. Shoppers are attracted by the convenience of this hassle free approach that offers an overall much less stressful experience. On the other hand, town centre parking is scattered, often limited capacity, costly, with hefty fines for over-stay with access streets that are congested at busy times.

This paper asks if digital technology and the world of big data could transform town centre parking in ways that would attract people back into the high street.

First it investigates how open data can already help answer the following questions:

  • Where can I park?
  • Is there a parking space?

It then covers future developments with special reference to the high street and concludes with a set of recommendations.

Whilst the main focus of the paper is on the UK, it also includes some examples of international best practice. It addresses parking in public, open access car parks and on-street parking. It does not cover parking by private arrangement (eg https://www.parkatmyhouse.com/) or parking in dedicated car parks (eg at supermarkets, hospitals, etc.).

2. Data Landscape

A combination of the internet, smart mobile communications, low cost storage and cloud computing has created the environment for the collection of large-scale, commoditised data – otherwise known as Big Data. These data sets are often held in isolated systems that were never designed to “talk to” other data systems. This means their potential is never fully realised and has led to calls to make data more available.

Data which can be used, re-used and re-distributed freely by anyone is known as Open Data. For example, the Greater London Authority has opened up much of its data through the London Data Store. In some cases there may be a charge to access open data.

The most useful type of open data, at least from a big data perspective, are data that is easily readable by other computers using a standardised format through a piece of software known as an Application Programming Interface (API).

Data can be crudely categorised into either Static data or Real-Time data. Static data is fixed (or changes very rarely) such as the number of spaces in a car park, whereas real-time data is constantly changing such as the number of available spaces.

Some data starts its journey at a sensor ‐ for example an induction loop in the road at the entrance to a car park. Data can also be collected by people's smart phones and sent back to central servers. This often takes place automatically and in the background, and is known as crowd-sourced data. For example, much of the congestion related traffic data on Google maps has been crowd sourced from people's smart phones.

The totality of connected devices, including sensors, is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Cisco estimate the number of connected devices exceeded the number of people on the planet in 2008 and will rise to 50 billion by 2020.

The Internet of Things was born between 2008 and 2009

3. The User Experience

The availability of data and current applications in UK parking is now reviewed by walking through the user experience questions posed in the Introduction.

3.1 Where can I park?

The most complete source of static UK car park data is available as an XML file from the government's open data store. The extent of data about each car park varies, but generally includes the location co-ordinates of the car park and entrance/exit, car park name, locality and operator. The car park data is free and is made available under the Open Government Licence. The Code-Point® Open data associated with some car parks is also free and made available under Ordnance Survey OpenData™. The data is refreshed monthly taking account of feedback from users and operators.

The official interface for this data is Transport Direct. The data source is also used by a number of apps such as Parkopedia, the AA Parking app, etc.

Transport Direct

In addition to the comprehensive national data sets, static parking information can also be obtained from many websites covering specific geographic areas (eg http://www.travelwest.info/car_parking) or from individual car park operators (eg http://www.ncp.co.uk/find-a-car-park). These websites generally provide, as a minimum, the location, opening times, number of spaces and cost.

In contrast to car parks, there are very few sources of location information for on-street parking. Although Parkopedia has the facility to display the location of on-street parking the data is often absent.

Some parking apps in addition to identifying parking locations also offer directions to reach a selected parking point. When this facility is selected most apps simply switch to the directions facility of Google maps which can supplement the guidance information with intelligence on levels of traffic congestion.

3.2 Is there a parking space?

Knowing if there is a car parking space available takes us into the realms of real-time data.

3.2.1 Car Parks

In the case of car parks, space availability is usually derived from counters based on measuring cars entering and leaving using induction loops embedded in the road surface, counters on the barriers or number plate recognition cameras. Outputs from the sensors go to a data management system that may also be, or be connected to, a city's urban traffic management and control (UTMC) system.

In many urban areas roadside signs display the availability of car park spaces. This data is often part of a city's UTMC and can be made more widely available through websites and apps as illustrated by the following example.

The Romanse partnership in southern Hampshire aims to influence travel behaviour by the provision of travel information and the use of modern traffic management techniques. This site not only includes real-time traffic congestion information but also the number of available car park spaces.

St Peters, Gordon Rd

Where cities use the same a UTMC supplier with then their car park data can be presented on a single web site such as iHop2 (Edinburgh, Lancashire, Leeds, Norfolk, West Sussex) and Help2Park (Lancashire, Leicester, Norfolk).


Real time car park data connected to a city's UTMC system will cover the car parks run by the council but not necessarily car parks run by private operators. For example, ihop2 lists the NCP St Stephens car park in Norwich as ‘no live data’, yet Parkopedia gives live data, although interestingly the NCP website only provides static data. On the other hand NCP’s Castle Terrace car park in Edinburgh is present on both iHop2 and Parkopedia ‐ although the numbers of spaces are quite different with Parkopedia information matching that held on the NCP website.

Castle Terrace

Parkopedia has the most comprehensive set of static and real time information on UK car parks. Whilst some of the static information is derived from the data.gov.uk XML download much of their required information has to come from individual car park operators, from both private and public sectors. This is particularly the case for real time information. For a fee, Parkopedia also offer access to their consolidated data through an API.

Eugene Tsyrklevich, CEO of Parkopedia describes the frustration of having to approach 400 separate UK local authorities who store their information in 400 different formats and will often take six months to arrange a data feed.

3.2.2 On-Street Parking

To monitor the availability of on-street parking each parking bay requires an individual sensor. Generally the detection sensor is embedded flush with the road surface in each parking bay. They are battery powered and communicate with a relay point, with around 5 to 25 sensors per relay point depending on the physical layout of the street. The relay points are mains powered and communicate with each other, and then on to a gateway, over a wireless (RF) mesh network. The gateway handles all outgoing and incoming communications with the main data management system that is usually run by the sensor's vendor.

A large number of cities across the world are undertaking small-scale trials of street level smart parking technology. For example, Streetline (a US based company) have systems in 45 locations around the world and Smart Parking (an Australian based company) has an installed based of over 45,000 sensors.

A relatively small number of cities have gone to scale ‐ Los Angeles (10,000); Moscow (>10,000); New Plymouth 2,100, Taupo 1,500, Rotorua 1,100 (all in New Zealand); and Westminster (3000). As well as the large deployment in Westminster, a number of UK cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Camden and Edinburgh are all undertaking trials.

Smart phone apps such as the Parker app from Streetline and the ParkRight app produced by Parkopedia for Westminster City show the motorist where to find available parking spaces. Treviso, Italy has a web-based portal.

Most of the on-street parking system vendors are willing to open up a data feed from their system if the owner of the data (usually the local authority) gives permission for this to happen.


These applications use a colour coding system to indicate an estimated availability of spaces. They also provide information on the tariff structure and payment options.

4. Future Developments

A number of direction future developments are likely to take. These include: integration with in-car navigation systems; paying for a space; booking a parking space; and links to the retail environment.

4.1 In-car Navigation

The main providers of in-car navigation (Garmin, Tom Tom and the car manufacturers) are all working towards integration of parking locations and real‐time availability into their systems. For example, Sensus Connect, Volvo Car Group (Volvo Cars) uses cloud-based services that allow drivers to find and pay for parking from their car. And BMW has teamed up with Urban Mobility to produce the ParkNow app that lets drivers in and around San Francisco find and book a parking spot in advance. Parkopedia is involved in many of these, providing in-car, voice to text, parking information(including real time) to: Audi, BMW, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Toyota and Volvo.

To be as useful as possible to a driver these new facilities would need to be voice activated.

4.2 Paying for a Space

Whilst many websites and apps include information on prices they rarely, if ever, integrate with an on-line payment system. This is an obvious next step and would need collaboration with existing payment services such as RingGo, owned by Cobalt Telephone Technologies Ltd.

4.3 Booking a Space

At the moment drivers can locate a free parking space before they set off but have no way of knowing if it gets filled whilst they are driving, let alone having the facility to pre-book it. Providing updated information whilst driving towards the parking space should be possible. However, in many cases pre-booking is complicated by the fact that most car parks and on-street parking is also open to casual users. To overcome this would probably mean reserving certain spaces for users booking over smart parking apps as well as having some means of showing that the space is pre-booked via some form of signage.

4.4 Links to the Retail Environment

People don't park their cars for the fun of it, but for a reason, such as to shop, go to a cinema, eat at a restaurant etc. Despite this most parking apps currently focus exclusively on the act of parking. As a first step this is not surprising, but the future of intelligent mobility will increasingly be about an integrated end-to end experience.

Parkopedia are planning to issue a revised app in July 2014 which will integrate location based offers from well known high street stores and to extend this service to smaller, more locally based stores in due course.

This is the kind of integrated service that may help the traditional high street compete with out of town shopping, especially if a way could be found of creating a free parking offer for people spending money across a town centre.

5. Recommendations

Whilst there is plenty of opportunity to develop advanced parking applications offering a more integrated experience to the end user, none of this is possible without open access to the base data.

At present the UK parking data landscape is very fragmented and there is a real opportunity for consolidation and consistency in line with the following recommendations:

  1. Local authorities, private sector car park operators, car park equipment suppliers and suppliers of on-street parking sensors and systems, should work together to establish a standard open data format for publishing real-time car park data.
  2. Local authorities should, as a matter of policy, open up their real-time parking data via an API and publish details of how to access this on their website.
  3. The government's open data website should compile and publish a catalogue of all local authority real-time parking data portals to complement the existing XML file containing static data.
  4. Private sector car park operators should, as a matter of policy, open up their real-time car park data via an API and publish details of how to access this on their website.
  5. The British Parking Association should compile and publish on their website a catalogue of all private sector real-time cap park data portals.

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