Westminster pilots sensor technology to transform West End parking

Westminster City Council is currently running a trial in the West End of London using sensor technology and data analytics that could transform parking congestion in busy areas.


Westminster City Council is currently running a trial in the West End of London using sensor technology and data analytics that could transform parking congestion in busy areas.

Jo Lodge, head of BI and GIS at the Council, and Lewis Johnson, information analyst in the parking services division, spoke to Computerworld UK this week about how the pilot could lead to the Council changing its parking policies to help encourage different driver behaviour.

Westminster started using QlikView v11 in April of this year to tie together data from its underlying Microsoft infrastructure.

Lodge said: “People used to load data into a spreadsheet and then spend four days trying to manipulate it just to answer a few questions. We can now bring all the cashless information (data from mobile parking payments), which is millions of rows of information, and it will be there instantly.”

“We then link that to the geographic information system as well, so you start to notice that one street is occupied 100% of the time, whilst one around the corner is occupied 30% of the time. People obviously don’t know that there is parking close by.”

Noticing this trend, using QlikView and the data from the cashless payments, Westminster decided to run a trial on Savile Row and Sackville St.

Savile Row was occupied 85 percent of the time, whilst Sackville had 45 percent occupancy – but there are equal amount of parking spaces and are a very short distance apart.

The Council is using both the app to feed information to users in real-time, but also marshals on the street, who receive the same data, advising drivers where they should go.

Johnson said: “We wanted to see if we could change the parking behaviour through a smartphone application and marshals. We are telling them in real-time that Sackville Street is empty – just take that two extra minutes to drive around the corner and you will find availability.”

The trial has now been extended to three other locations in the borough, which covers 200 spaces in total that have infra-red sensor technology that identifies whether or not a car is parked there. This is then delivered to the back-end database in real-time so that Johnson and Lodge can visualise what the occupancy rate is.

“The app has been out about three weeks and we have had over 1,000 downloads. We have started to do an analysis of the data we have from the sensors to see how many vehicles we have had through the area, how long they have stayed, and we are just putting together the applications to take in feeds,” said Johnson.

He added: “Early indications suggest that some of them are starting to see a decrease in the amount of time our officers are in there having to manage the spaces, but we aren’t going to know 100 percent for a few weeks.”

One of the areas that the sensors have been deployed is in St John’s Wood high street, near Lord’s Cricket Ground. Johnson explains how the data received from this area has given the Council a much better understanding of how drivers use their vehicles.

“We are averaging around 600 to 700 vehicles a day through this area, across 50 spaces. Average stay time is about 39 minutes. Go back two months and we would have no idea of that, we knew it was busy, but we had no specifics,” he said.

“We also know that the profile of a vehicle in the morning is more likely to stay longer, perhaps an hour and a half. On the other hand, we get a really high turnover of vehicles at round 5pm, which are there for about 10 minutes at a time.”

So how could this information impact parking policies in the area? There are a number of options. Johnson and Lodge said that tariffs could be increased in streets where there is a high turnover of vehicles and demand is high, whilst tariffs could be lowered in quiet streets – all to try and change driving behaviour.

Johnson also said: “Or if a resident’s bay isn’t heavily used during the day, we could open that up. During the night and early morning it could be residents only, but during the day it could be used for loading, visitors, paid for parking etc. This information gives us the ability to look at these things.”

Lodge also said that it extends past the parking services division, as it could even impact planning permission applications.

She explained: “Planning decisions are sometimes based on if there’s too much occupancy on the street. Say someone has put in a planning application for four new flats, if the occupancy rate on the street is 100%, they have to provide off-street parking.

“At the moment I don’t know how they are doing that.”

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