Parking management is a key component of any mobility policy, and has been undergoing major changes in recent years, such as the digitisation of payment processes and the use of new innovative technologies for the control and operation of shared parking services, to name but a few. These changes, which are very visible in the Brussels-Capital Region, are summarised under the term "Smart Parking". The Smart City Office of the Brussels Region had to address this issue during a Smart Lunch, the meetings it organises to raise awareness, inspire, and invite elected officials and employees of Brussels local authorities to make their organisation smarter!
The Brussels-Capital Region, which, in its "Smart City" approach, uses smart data-based solutions to improve the quality of life of its citizens and businesses, involving stakeholders from the quadruple helix (administrations, citizens, private sector, academia), has made several observations.
First of all, a more efficient parking policy significantly improves the quality of life of citizens. It aims to free up road space for other modes of transport and encourage alternatives to the private car. This improvement in neighbourhood mobility involves monitoring compliance with the rules, introducing greater vehicle rotation and thus making it easier for all users to find a space. Moreover, recent technologies have dramatically increased the number of checks thanks to "scan cars" and allowed the complete dematerialisation of the ticket. The integration of all these new technologies into the urban space was discussed on 9 November by the first speaker at Smart Lunch #8, Alain Horvath, Innovation Attaché at parking.brussels.
Furthermore, thanks to data platforms and smartphones, it is now possible to share parking spaces very flexibly; these are solutions that could be described as the "Airbnb of parking". Through Laurent Lange, the company BePark presented in detail its service offer and three parking space-sharing projects carried out in collaboration with the public sector in the Brussels Region.
Lastly, the Region recognised the need to work with multiple partners. Other players are entering the fray, in addition to the traditional parking stakeholders (Region, municipality and private parking operator). The Brussels municipalities find themselves in the role of conductor of this parking policy and are required to organise the provision of these multiple stakeholders. To talk about this, we had the opportunity to listen to Ms Byttebier, Alderwoman for mobility of the municipality of Schaerbeek.
Mr Alain Horvath first explained how scan cars work. They are vehicles that travel through the streets and, for each parking unit, collect a multitude of metadata (the position of the car, the zone in which it is located, whether or not the vehicle has the right to park [a valid ticket or other permit], etc.). This right is verified through "middleware", a platform that connects and accesses several databases (the parking meter database and the mobile payment database, for example).
An automated analysis of the data by the platform determines whether the vehicle has this right. If it does, the report is anonymised and forgotten. If it does not, this file, consisting of nine photos of the car and the scanned licence plate, is sent to the "back office" where it is processed by a human inspector. The inspector can confirm that the vehicle does not have the required rights, in which case the file is sent to the collection service. An error can also occur, in which case the file is rejected and consigned to oblivion.
Although not infallible, the scan car is nonetheless extremely effective and dramatically increases the number of checks. But also the number of errors. One common mistake made by the scan car, for example, is to consider that the image of the licence plate on a garage door is actually a parked car. The long-term solution seems to be to register all parking spaces in Brussels. Instead of using cameras to estimate whether there is actually a parking space, each space will have a unique identifier and attributes, even if it is temporary (e.g. during a house move). Another problem raised by Mr Horvath is the non-digitisation of certain rights, such as the PRM card (card allowing parking in disabled parking spaces). This card is not assigned to a vehicle but to an individual, and it is currently impossible to make a link in the database between the parking permit and the vehicle.
The final issue raised was that of charging stations. There are currently 200 spaces available in the Brussels Region and the parking agency works "on foot"; at the moment, the only way to know whether a car is really parked for charging is to check that there is a green light (small LED) on the charging station. However, this non-automated option will soon be out of the question, as 22,000 spaces are planned. The space itself will have to "give" its status and "inform" the scan car that the parked car is indeed charging and should not be fined! In summary, digitisation allows for excellent performances, but more details are required on the de facto situation in public spaces!
Like the Brussels Region, BePark is aware that cities and the parking world are changing. To make life easier for citizens, BePark thought it would be better to offer flexible parking space rentals through monthly or even daily subscriptions.
The company's basic objective has always been to digitalise access to car parks by replacing the badge and/or remote order with digital access, via an application. This digitisation allows the pooling of car park access. In the event of an evening/night/weekend rental, the application can prohibit access at certain times. This increases car park security and allows an analysis of actual use. BePark has also developed a complete parking management software for companies and administrations. For example, RTBF optimises its parking spaces by providing one parking space for several employees. One of the challenges ahead is expanding this proposal to include car-sharing, electric cars, traditional bikes, cargo bikes and scooters. In the Brussels Region, BePark has "digitised" 260 car parks, with a total of 8,100 parking spaces, which are sublet to around 10,000 users (mainly local residents).
Three of the company's projects have also been successful: firstly, BePark has helped several social housing estates, which have a lot of unused parking spaces but not the resources to manage their allocation, by making the unused balance of their parking spaces available to their direct neighbours.
The second example is the municipality of Schaerbeek, where a strict and ambitious parking policy is being implemented. Once again, there was proactive collaboration with social housing as well as with private owners. In seven years, they have digitised 800 parking spaces in 30 different locations. BePark is now a subcontractor of parking.brussels so it can drive this process of digitalisation and sharing to public stakeholders. The first car park to be opened in this way was at the Comenius school run by the VGC. Forty parking spaces have been made available to local residents, which has reduced the pressure on on-street parking.
BePark has identified four challenges for the Brussels Region. Firstly, the removal of 65,000 on-street spaces by 2030. This makes it necessary to find alternatives for residents. However, it is estimated that 45% of off-street spaces are unused or underused. Discussions must take place with condominiums to make these spaces available to residents, but there are legislative and legal obstacles. We are in discussion with property developers to design car parks from the outset and thus allow optimal sharing. The aim is to make parking more flexible, so the user receives a guaranteed space rather than a defined space.
BePark also indicated the rise in the use of bicycles and cargo bikes and the search for suitable parking solutions. Another challenge is vehicle electrification. We must plan to put charging stations off the road, next to homes, because that is where the majority of cars will be charged. Lastly, BePark believes that the creation and use of Park&Ride, also called "transit parking" or "deterrent parking" around Brussels, should be accelerated.
The COBRACE (Brussels Air, Climate and Energy Management Code) aims to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions and control energy consumption. In terms of parking, the aim is to reduce the number of parking spaces available around office buildings to discourage workers from using their cars for commuting. These spaces can be transformed but also opened up to soft mobility or to local residents thanks to the solution proposed by BePark.
The last speaker was Ms Byttebier, Alderwoman for mobility in the municipality of Schaerbeek. The municipality intends to have high quality public spaces and is therefore implementing a very proactive parking policy, which must be divided fairly between on- and off-street parking.
On 1 January 2020, the municipality decided to implement three important changes simultaneously, namely the transfer of parking inspections to parking.brussels (instead of Rauwers), the greening of the entire municipality (with a few exceptions) and the digitisation of all parking payments (text message, mobile app, bank card). These changes have led to a number of misunderstandings among the population. For example, blue zones are not free zones, but zones in which only the first two hours are free. It is therefore imperative to improve communication with the public.
Thanks to scan cars, the number of checks has also risen sharply. In one year, 6,678,978 cars were checked in the municipality, with an error rate of around 5%. Once the charges have been issued, 12% are cancelled (computer bugs, late renewal of a resident card, steward's error, etc.). The important thing here is not so much the percentage but rather the stress for the citizen due to this erroneous charge. It is therefore essential to make as many corrections and cancellations as possible before they are sent to users.
The lack of contact with a steward on the street and the disappearance of tangible documents (ticket, paper fee) are often destabilising, or even stressful, for citizens. There is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about how to obtain a resident card, and the dematerialisation of the card has increased the number of oversights and post facto regularisations. Ms Byttebier noted that the transition has been easier for visitors to the municipality; the ability to pay for the exact time of parking (starting and stopping by the minute) has generally reduced the price of parking.
The final three recommendations were:
- the technical manager of this type of service must accompany digitalisation and the increase in controls with a greater human approach;
- the public manager of these services must keep in mind that parking controls are a means to achieve the improved allocation of resources and a higher quality of public space, not an objective in itself;
- both the efforts made by motorists and their complaints must be taken seriously.