Traffic congestion on UK roads cost the British economy £7.9 billion in 2018, according to research from transportation analysis firm, Inrix. The problems caused by the increasing numbers of vehicles on our roads is a common issue faced by countries across the world, and one that is putting huge pressures on urban infrastructures. City planners are turning to smart digital technology to help ease congestion, manage parking more effectively and adapt to changing consumer expectations.
The world’s population is growing, with a larger proportion of people expected to live in urban areas in coming decades. By 2050 the UN predicts the world will have almost 10 billion citizens, with an additional 2.5 billion people living in towns and cities and a total of 68 per cent of the world’s population based in built-up areas. This can only result in more vehicles on the roads, causing congestion and increased demand for parking spaces.
The strain on cities worldwide is already evident, so governments and city planners need to transform transport infrastructure to future proof this in line with expected growth. Local authorities are looking at ways to make urban areas more responsive, connected and sustainable by driving smart city initiatives. Managing traffic effectively is a crucial building block to achieving smart city status.
Mobile parking innovations
Local authorities have the capability to deploy digital technologies to help operate traffic flow more efficiently, manage the parking demand and help reduce daily stresses for drivers. There are many types of technology innovations out there, ranging from multi stacking car parks to a wide range of incentives and schemes for encouraging the use of electric vehicles.
A major factor adding to congestion is simply that the demand for parking spaces outstrips supply in most towns and cities. A recent survey by the British Parking Association found that the average motorist in the UK spends almost four days every year, a total of 91 hours, looking for parking spaces. Inevitably, this creates additional traffic congestion – contributing to up to 30 per cent of all urban traffic - that could be largely avoided by using digital technology to implement a well-planned parking strategy.
An effective and straightforward way to make small differences to this worldwide problem is by using mobile parking and permit technology. Councils across the UK are customising platforms such as MiPermit to address traffic congestion and parking issues, including the shortfall in parking spaces.
MiPermit helps local authorities move from labour intensive, paper-based parking payment and permits to digital systems. Removing the hassle of coins and improving the communication between local authorities and users increases resident satisfaction. Not to mention, in cities where parking demand too often vastly exceeds supply, digital parking and permit solutions give local government authorities and agencies the opportunity to improve traffic flow in their cities and better manage and define parking and permit guidelines.
Successes making a difference in UK cities
Digital technology is successfully used to make a positive difference in cities such as Bath and Cardiff. Faced with the challenge of balancing the parking requirements of residents with the provision of fairly priced and adequate parking for visitors, Bath Council now manages residents permits, electronic visitor permits and cashless parking from one single platform. The result is that parking spaces are allocated in a strategic way, helping to reduce the numbers of drivers speculatively looking for parking on the city’s crowded streets.
Notably, digital permitting can also be used to better manage traffic flow during peak hours or when higher volumes of traffic are expected – such as during the Bath Christmas market. Chipside helped the council develop an online permit system for coach drivers to pre-book drop off and collection slots for visitors to the markets, helping to keep traffic moving.
Given that we operate in a largely cashless society, something as simple as removing the hassle of coins can improve operational performance and increase customer satisfaction. Data from virtual payment systems can also be seamlessly supplied to enforcement teams to inform future parking decisions.
Cardiff Council has rolled out cashless parking to 90 per cent of its machines across the city, to reflect today’s increasingly cashless society and to secure against theft from parking machines. Not only this, the council is also trying out a new solution to ease traffic congestion around a local school. This involves parents and carers using digital permitting for a walking school bus to drop and collect children either end of the school day.
Open data to define traffic strategies
Connected digital parking and permitting services can be deployed to generate insightful big data that will help solve mobility challenges. Local authorities can combine large datasets - such as analysis of traffic flows - with real-time on-street parking demand. This can then enable the setting of demand-led parking tariffs and inform decisions around traffic management policies, the building of new parking facilities and the development of new resident parking schemes.
Zero emissions targets
The need for innovative methods for managing congestion and public demand is not the only biproduct of population growth. While agricultural and industrial sectors are significant contributors to global warming, transport causes more greenhouse gas pollution than any other sector.
In the next few years, local authorities may have to consider employing digital technology to introduce dynamic pricing to nudge drivers to go to other car parks or routes where their vehicles will not tip pollution levels over safe legal limits or targets. Communicating this information through a smart driving app - or directly through a car’s inboard computer system – could revolutionise the way cities, their visitors and residents share the responsibility to meet zero emissions targets.
On their own, these types of innovations using digital technologies make small steps towards easing traffic congestion and delivering improvements to the local area in which they operate. Strategically, the combined effort driven by world leaders will have to make a measurable difference to the planet’s traffic headaches over the next few years and make smart cities a reality.
Paul Moorby, Managing Director, Chipside