The importance of parking meters to a smart city

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 05:14

Traffic is a much talked of subject in Colombo with inescapable congestion causing slower speeds, longer trip times and increased vehicular queuing.

The economic loss to the motorist and the City is colossal; the commuter having to waste time and fuel in search of parking and the city not accruing the full benefit of its asset, which are the public roads.

Traffic congestion is due to our basic mobility problem, which is that too many people want to move at the same times each day.

Why? Because efficient operation of both the economy and school systems requires that people work, go to school, and even run errands during about the same hours so they can interact with each other.

That basic requirement cannot be altered without crippling our economy and society.

The same problem exists in every major metropolitan area in the world.

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Tenaga Car Parks, Duminda Jayatilake reflects on the literal gridlock facing Colombo city and the potential for managed parking to transform and revitalize its increasingly congested streets, which currently record over 500,000 vehicles entering the city each day.

As the head of an organization that has been working on progressive parking for the past 15 years, he shared his insights gained from overseas markets and their applications to Sri Lanka, while detailing the potential of these systems to not only ease the burden on Colombo’s public infrastructure, but also contribute to its continued development.

The importance of parking meters to a smart city

The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) decided to regulate parking in the city in 2014 in order to make best use of parking spaces.

Public parking all over the world is the biggest revenue to a city and only next to governmental tax revenue.

The introduction of parking meters is a CMC initiative and launched as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Tenaga Car Parks, who were selected post a public tender floated by CMC.

The first phase was rolled out along the entire Galle Road, R.A. de Mel Mawatha and all by roads connecting the two.

The next phase will see Park Smart machines in the immediate suburbs within the Kotte Municipal Council plus provincial towns, the first of the kind being piloted in Matale.

Progressive transition from parking attendant to a meter is the journey towards a smart city, one that citizens have to quickly adapt to.

“It’s a public service for which the public has the obligation to use and pay” articulated Jayatilake.

The money collected is reinvested back into city development with the CMC utilizing collections for development of roads, pavements and even public spaces such as municipality owned playgrounds, parks, recreational centers etc.

“Fundamental to this transition to a structured system for parking is the need for Colombo as a city to understand that today there is no such thing as free parking.

Like any other public amenity such as water, electricity etc, parking is a public service for which public are obliged to pay.

If we use our public utilities without giving our fair contribution towards its maintenance, then it is ultimately the taxpayer – ordinary citizens like you and me – who pays for it in the end”.

While most civic minded citizens do pay for parking on a daily basis, Tenaga’s experience since its launch has been that school van drivers and three wheeler drivers are among the city’s drivers who are most committed to performing their civic duty and routinely paying parking fees at Tenaga’s meters.

In total, Colombo has witnessed 600,000 civic conscious motorists paying the parking fees regularly and consistently – displaying an impressive level of respect and civic consciousness.

As a result of the meters becoming an increasingly routine part of daily commuting, Jayatilake explained how public parking has supported shop owners to do more business and earn more revenue as their entrances won’t be obstructed by a single vehicle that decides to use the bay for days on end.

“This is just one example of how a managed parking system increases the economic capacity of the shops, restaurants and businesses, bringing much needed revenue for the city and public to invest in other public amenities, vital for an evolving city while democratizing and regularizing the use of roads and parking spots into a fair and reliable system with no room for unscrupulous exploitation of commuters.

The nuts and bolts of Colombo’s new parking system

The parking meter is much like a policeman – if you commit to wrong, then there is a punishment commensurate with the action.

This is after all a globally accepted system, and with good reason – while the benefit to the individual motorist is not immediately tangible, the incremental contributions made by civic consciousness citizens eventually builds up to a more pleasant commuting experience for all involved.

But just how does the system work?

“For many years there were parking attendants.

Thankfully technology has taken over and with the tech trend and usage of smart phones the Park Smart app was introduced.

We have added features specifically because we want to make it as convenient as possible for motorists to remotely pay their fees.

While it is the duty of each motorist to find a meter in the vicinity of where they parked and make payments accordingly, we have introduced practical features that are designed to enable users to make payments on any machine using just their license number,” he explained.

While the globally accepted distance between parking meters is 20 bays in Colombo Park Smart is fixed within 15 – 17 bays.

“It is the duty of the motorist to find a meter in the vicinity and make the payment”, emphasized Jayathilake who noted that payment could however be done on any machine using one’s license number and the parking fee is valid for any bay, along any street in the Colombo Municipal City (CMC) limits.

“If there is no compliance only that the fine is applicable”, said Jayathilake, who added that it is much like any ordinary offence.

“On the issue of fines it was found that the public had no issues with the parking meter system – they were not aware of the enforcement part.

Enforcement is introduced to ensure that systems are not abused – not as a deterrent but to manage the service and show people there is a set of rules which must be adhered to”.

Cashless transactions in parking

“The regulated parking system will eventually move to cashless a transaction; that is the trend worldwide and for which the App was introduced by Park Smart.

The Park Smart app is operational and has around 10,000-12,000 downloads so far. It also shows the user how many total parking slots are available when the location is typed in”.

“Colombo has about 14,000 parking bays.

This is the first progressive step towards a smart city.

We are bringing in EV charging and will shortly introduce that benefit on Galle Road and Duplication Road which will become Green Zones.

You will be able to park your car and charge your electric car for free.

You can locate the EV charger also through the app.

This is the convenience and smart city concept that we are bringing to Colombo,” he added.

With mobile technology rapidly progressing here’s plenty of traction in the transportation industry.

For users, this means they have a variety of parking payment choices.

The parking app is linked to FriMi, eZ Cash, all major credit cards and also Genie.

Users can also dial 444 and pay for parking.

The Dialog Touch Card is operational and now compatible with the parking meters.

‘Pay n Go’ kiosks are also enabled to accept cash for parking.

“With choices readily available, expect to have the ability to tailor your entire parking experience to fit your needs”.

Mobile payment technology is taking over the transportation scene.

With the ability for users to handle everything from the convenience of their fingertips, the popularity to pay via mobile device is not only appreciated, but expected.

Utilizing the mobile parking payment app, users not only have the ability to pay for their parking via smartphone, but they can also extend and manage their session and access available parking bays etc. “No time to feed the meter? No worries”.

The enforcement process

Jayatilake said that the new pricing structure is already gazette by the Colombo Municipal Council and the Western Provincial Council and soon there will be a new fine structure for defaulters.

“Citizens need to understand that parking services is a public utility, much like electricity, water, telecom etc.

If you don’t pay your water or electricity bill, the service will be terminated.

By the same token, parking is also a public utility, which we people need to get used to.”

By paying for parking there will be more usage of the parking space itself and the money will go to the right channels.

The CMC will utilize the collections to enhance the facilities.

Tenaga Car Parks took over managing on-street parking in Jan 2016 and parking meters came in by the end of that year.

The enforcement law was passed only in September 2017.

For parking to be a success, the enforcement has to be there.

Tenaga operates in about 40% of Colombo city plus provincial towns of Kurunegala, Puttalam and Gampaha, while other areas are managed by the CMC directly and a few by other private companies.

The importance of parking meters to a smart city

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 March 2019 05:26