“I feel that you would be hard pressed to find their quality, professionalism and knowledge elsewhere within the parking industry”
Parking and Enforcement Manager, Doncaster M.B.C
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 and comprises seven states – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain. Today, the UAE is one of the world’s most important economic centres, largely due to its huge oil industry.
The seven states each maintains a great deal of independence, but they are governed by a Supreme Council of Rulers, made up of the seven emirs, who appoint the prime minister and cabinet for each state.
Although oil was the catalyst for growth in the UAE, it is the way the boom in the economy was handled that has led to the UAE being the centre of economic wealth that we see today. Oil was discovered in 1950s and the UAE began to export it in 1962. Sheik Zayed, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE spotted the potential for his country and directed the money from the oil sales into other areas of the economy – healthcare, education and the national infrastructure.
The UAE government has also realised the need for diversification and so, the UAE now has a booming tourism, construction and financial sector. Each of the states has approached diversification differently, but Dubai, which has smaller oil reserves, has been the state that has embraced diversification to the greatest extent.
The result has been an influx of investment into the Middle East, and Dubai itself is now seen as a financial gateway and cosmopolitan hub to the Middle East.
While the UAE remains conservative and authoritarian, it has relaxed its attitudes towards visitors, and Dubai in particular, is seen as very liberal in comparison to many Middle Eastern nations.
For UK-based companies the attractiveness of trading with the UAE is easy to see. It has an open-minded approach to business opportunities, it is aggressively diversifying, it is a gateway to commercial dealings with the remainder of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, and it has a buoyant economy.
Among the growth sectors are : commercial aircraft; power generating equipment; defence equipment; computers and electronic products; and transport and infrastructure related goods and services. Oil and gas remain central to the economy, contributing about one-third of GDP and generating $118 billion in export revenues in 2012, and the industry is set for expansion as it seeks to increase its daily barrel production from 2.7 million to 3.5 million by 2017.
For companies seeking to trade in the UAE, it is essential to have a local partner – foreign firms must have a local agent or distributor. While each of the seven states is independent when it comes to trading arrangements with foreign companies, the UAE is a member of a number of international organisations, for example the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation.
The tech world has been booming recently allowing thousands of start-ups to be created each year all around the globe. The web technologies and particularly the smart phone apps are revolutionising the way we live. From ordering food online, monitoring your weight, booking your cinema ticket or checking when your next train is, the opportunities are limitless.
What does it mean to the parking industry?
Major industries such as music have been completely disrupted by the emergence of apps such as Soundcloud, Deezer or Spotify. Could this happen to the parking industry? There is no doubt about it. Some major cities, young tech entrepreneurs and many stakeholders have been working on making our cities smarter and more connected.
In many big cities, millions of hours are lost looking for parking spaces creating huge traffic congestions which have been a headache for all the local authorities fighting the issue. To respond to this significant problem, mobile services are now being developed and cities have been experimenting new concepts. Services inform users on parking spaces availabilities, allow for payments by distance or simply make general information on traffic or fees better available and so on.
The emergence of parking friendly cities
These new concepts have emerged in the United States, particularly in San Francisco and Los Angeles where sensors have been integrated to pavements to share data in real time on the availability of parking spaces or on parking fees variations. The SFPark project by StreetSmart in San Francisco and the implementation of sensors by StreetLine in Los Angles started a couple of years ago. Since the success of these schemes, various European cities such as London with Paybyphone or even Nice, a European pioneer in the use of sensors to share timely relevant data, have emerged. Parking has also been a great concern in Abu Dhabi, for example, where parking managers work hard to keep roads clear of stationary vehicles and motorists hate being stuck in traffic jams. So the Dh9m jam buster and parking finder apps have just launched to respond to the need. Worldwide, local authorities understand the need to join forces between the parking industry and the technology for the best of everyone.
How it works
The objective is simple. The sensors on pavement will send real-time data to a centralised database allowing both citizens and local authorities to benefit from it. Local authorities are now aware of when and where parking violations occur and traffic warden productivity increases as they do not need to patrol everywhere all the time. Citizens are saving time and fuel when looking for parking spaces, they are less caught up in traffic congestion, are better aware of parking information and are able to pay remotely.
Parking industry and collaborative communities
The French company Apila has developed a new application allowing users to report a freed parking space to the members of the community within 500 meters. When a user needs a parking space, it makes a request which is sent to users that are parked. If the parked user accepts, they will then wait for the request user to arrive to take the space. This app will now be available on new Renault cars equipped with connected tablets. PlaceLib is a similar concept where a user will send information to the community a couple of minutes before leaving the parking space and the app will do the rest. A classic case of matching demand and supply.
Another example of a great community initiative comes from street cleaning in San Francisco. Here the MetroMile app helps the community to avoid street cleaning charges by alerting motorists when it is time to move to move a car. Cars that are parked on the street when the cleaners are out receive a $64 fine. MetroMile has a simple solution – it sends a push notification to residents 12 hours prior to scheduled street sweeping, and another one hour before. This gives residents a chance to move their vehicles and avoid a fine.
Is it all that easy?
These are very different approaches to the situations that sometimes occur worldwide. We have heard plenty of references from the media and, more shockingly, from the government, about the ‘war on motorists’ or ‘local authority cash cows’.
App developers have the right idea. They see a problem and they seek a solution that serves everyone well. The problem happens in both small and large cities, in fact among any population that need a system to allow everyone to move around freely and with little hindrance. This is what parking management exists for so If technology can provide answers, then lets embrace that technology.
Although energetic, the industry is still in a state of research and development with cities being the most legitimate stakeholders to test the ground. The new tech start-ups are full of ideas and collaboration between stakeholders – citizens, large companies, the government and local authorities – seems to be the best way forward when it comes to parking open data and the well being of everyone.
There are two theories about paying and parking. The first, outlined by the fictional character George Constanza from US hit show Seinfeld and backed up by many motoring groups and individuals, is that parking should be free for everyone – after all, who has the right to charge for the use of space? The second, which has been quoted extensively in the past few years is that no-one has the right to park for free, because providing parking of any sort comes at a cost. But, while the free parking lobby gets the popular vote with many motorists, it is worth having a look at the reasons why it is only fair to charge; and not just charge a nominal amount, but actually put a premium on parking.
Long term parkers
Let’s take a town centre example. Users will include shop staff, office workers, visitors and shoppers. A cheap or non-existent parking charge will lead to people parking for long periods of time. The majority of parking spaces will be taken by office workers and shop staff who turn up at 8am and leave at 5pm. This means one vehicle will have taken a parking space for nine hours. That’s fine if there is no demand for the space, but what if a number of shoppers turned up looking for a space for a couple of hours, couldn’t park and so went to the out-of-town retail park instead. The result of a poor pricing policy is a disgruntled visitor, another vehicle circling the town meaninglessly for a period of time and another nail in the coffin for the town centre.
By introducing short-term car parking and high prices, people will still use the parking space, but will leave after one or two hours, leaving it free for another motorist. The result: more visitors to the town centre.
A sensible strategy
This might appear harsh to the town centre workers, but by adopting a transport strategy that embraces all forms of transport then it is a workable and reasonable solution. Park and ride, trams and buses all cater for people who want to leave their car in one place all day at a cheap cost.
The obvious results are more visitors to the town centre and less environmental pollution. A side effect might be an increased number of walkers and cyclists, which has a public health benefit.
Example from the West-side
Then there is the environmental cost of parking. Here, we can look to San Francisco for a neat solution to a problem that was proving life-threatening. Pollution in the American city at the start of the 21st century were at dangerous levels and a lot of this was down to the sheer volume of traffic circling the city looking for parking spaces.
A private company, SF Park, joined forces with the San Francisco state transport department to introduce demand responsive parking. This meant that the prices were hiked when demand was high and lowered when demand dropped. The result of this initiative was two-fold: more people used public transport; and there was a 50 per cent drop in cruising traffic at peak times, leading to a dramatic improvement in air quality in the city. Parking charges were actually helping to improve the environment and influencing the way people planned their travel.
And this pattern was not limited to San Francisco. Across the US, higher parking prices meant that public transport use went up significantly.
All of this means that parking charges should be considered very carefully. There will be accusations that high parking costs are prohibitive to people on lower incomes, but there is already inequity in the cost of motoring. If we take a look at the bigger picture, a low cost and efficient public transport system, supporting a fair rate of parking charge, will mean a healthier environment and a greater ease of movement for everyone – now that is worth paying for!
‘Can parking save the high street?’ is a question that has been asked by local authority officers and town councillors ever since Mary Portas first entered the fray as the government’s ‘High Street Tsarina’.
Convenience and fairness
Queen Mary’s idea was to make parking free in the town centre, but the example from Aberystwyth, where the locals had unenforced parking thrust upon them, is enough to discount that as a very bad idea. Cars parked haphazardly soon had the residents of the Welsh town pleading for enforcement measures to be imposed.
However, we do agree with the idea that parking can save the high street. Not in some ‘free for all’, publicity grab by local politicians, but through parking policies that mean space is available for visitors, residents and businesses when and how they need it. Convenience, coupled with fairness, are the key to parking’s impact on the vibrancy of our towns.
A capital idea
One city where the parking policy is integral to the future is in Edinburgh. An organisation – Essential Edinburgh – has been appointed by the city council to make the city centre more appealing to visitors, residents and businesses, and chief executive, Andy Neal, says that parking is part of the thinking.
Anyone who has recently paid a visit to Edinburgh will probably have a few lingering memories, both positive and negative. On the one hand, it is a city redolent with fabulous architecture, fascinating history, lovely restaurants and cafes, inspiring galleries and that impressive castle: on the other hand, it is a nightmare to drive around, it can be impossible to find a parking space, and motorists are sometimes left feeling very unwelcome.
Calling time early
A further factor is that many businesses call time early in the city centre. As the second busiest tourist destination in the UK behind London, the fact that many shops, galleries and even the city’s parks and gardens close at the stroke of five o’clock – no matter whether it is the depths of winter or the highest point of the summer – makes promoting Edinburgh as a cosmopolitan capital a hard sell.
Andy’s ideas are simple but require buy-in. Alive after Five is the initiative to encourage businesses to stay open later. It began with a ‘soft sell’. ‘We started by suggesting that shops stayed open longer at Christmas time, but now we are encouraging longer opening hours in the summer months as well.’
To entice shoppers to stay in the city centre into the evening, Essential Edinburgh has asked the shops in the area to put money towards making on-street parking cheaper, and in some cases free, in the evenings. The privately-owned multi-storey car parks have also joined in on the act. They offer discounted parking with deals that can be redeemed in the local shops.
Joined up travel
There is a park and ride service that includes the new tram line, so people who want free parking can park on the edge of the city and then take the 20 minute ride into the heart of the city. And in a move to improve the general ambience of the city centre, within five-years an automated underground car park will exist in the Old Town.
All of which shows an attitude towards the motorist that is accepting. Andy’s view is that people often need their cars and, rather than treating motorists as pariahs, they should be catered for in the best way. ‘Someone buying a 40’ television does not want to lug it about on a tram, and we don’t want them shopping in an out-of-town retail park. We need to cater for everyone, including motorists.’
Research by Andy’s team has identified that visitors and residents want a clean, attractive environment that everyone can access. This doesn’t mean getting rid of the car, and nor does it mean offering motorists free parking all the time. ‘No-one I have spoken to wants or expects free parking. They just want to be able to park at a reasonable price.’
For Edinburgh, this means relatively more expensive parking closer to the shops, to discourage office workers from taking these spaces at 8am and not vacating them until 6pm. Cheaper, or free parking is available to the people who need to be in the city for work, encouraging them to use the trams and buses.
‘Taking an innovative to parking is just part of what we are about. Our mantra always has to be “put the customer at the heart of your thinking”.’