City of Westminster

Sensors could alert drivers to empty spaces in advance, reducing traffic and fuel consumption.

The idea is simple. According to the council, motorists spend an average of 15 minutes searching for a space in Westminster—which with Parliament, the main shopping district, and dozens of tourist sites, has a legitimate claim to be the heart of London. If drivers know where the empty spaces are, they won’t have to cruise the streets looking for one. 

Other cities, most famously San Francisco, have experimented with "smart parking" and companies from France to America are developing the technology. But San Francisco turned off its sensors on December 30, 2013, and is now evaluating the results of its pilot program. Westminster is going full steam ahead, bashing in 50 sensors a day with a team of three men. Boroughs in Manchester and Birmingham are also trying out the system.

Each sensor in the ground detects when a car is parked on the street above it. The council releases the data to the public through a smartphone app. Results from a pilot program in 2012 were encouraging: The proportion of occupied parking spots that weren’t paid for dropped from 12 percent to under 10 percent, a sign that more people were paying for parking, says Kieran Fitsall, the parking services development manager for the council. (Some proportion of spots will always be unpaid for, because some vehicles are loading or unloading, dropping people off, or have exemptions.)

The first generation of sensors protruded on the surface; the next will be flatter. (City of Westminster)
 

Westminster has 10,000 parking bays that visitors can use (plus more for residents only). The first phase of the program will see 3,000 sensors, each with a battery life of five to seven years, installed in visitor bays in the most congested areas of Westminster, which include Mayfair, Soho and the theater district, at cost of £650,000 ($1.07 million). Based on the results, the council will probably expand the program to the other 7,000 bays that visitors can use.

The list of benefits is long: Apart from reducing traffic, fuel consumption, and emissions from cars, it boosts the local economy as people spend more time in shops, restaurants and offices rather than on the street. Though the app could be used to catch drivers who’ve overstayed their paid parking time, Fitsall says Westminster has no intention of doing so. Nor does it plan to use the data to change parking prices in higher-demand areas, as San Francisco did.

Fitsall says the data will ultimately be fed into London’s transport information network, so when commuters look up how to get into town, they’ll be able to see driving and parking times just as they can now get train journey times and walking distances to stations. That could make London a model for other cities.

Top image: Installing a parking sensor on London's Savile Row. (City of Westminster)

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a car-free stretch of Market Street in San Francisco
    Transportation

    San Francisco’s Market Street Is Now Car-Free

    The plan to ban private cars from one of the city’s busiest—and most dangerous—downtown thoroughfares enjoys a remarkable level of local support.

  2. photo: Dominque Walker, founder of Moms 4 Housing, n the kitchen of the vacant house in West Oakland that the group occupied to draw attention to fair housing issues.
    Equity

    A Group of Mothers, a Vacant Home, and a Win for Fair Housing

    The activist group Moms 4 Housing occupied a vacant home in Oakland to draw attention to the city’s affordability crisis. They ended up launching a movement.

  3. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  4. photo: A Lyft scooter on the streets of Oakland in July.
    Transportation

    4 Predictions for the Electric Scooter Industry

    Dockless e-scooters swept cities worldwide in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, expect the battery-powered micromobility revolution to take a new direction.

  5. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

×