How effective curb-side management can help cities solve challenges

Intelligent Transport spoke with Adam Warnes, Khristian Gutierrez and Anil Mahendra from Passport to learn how cities can address wider policy goals, like tackling congestion and poor air quality, by better managing their curb-side operations.

Originally published by Intelligent Transport on Jan. 9, 2019

Solving current curb-side challenges and improving urban mobility

Warnes: In the UK, the ecosystem of curb-side management is disparate. There are hundreds of local authorities all procuring different systems, all with different policies. They have a myriad of technical and operational suppliers that aren’t really communicating or sharing information. Furthermore, there is the central government message that needs to be managed and implemented. In London alone, there are 34 highway authorities all with their own priorities and agendas. Curb-side management lacks coherence, and as more smart solutions – like parking apps and smart electric vehicle (EV) chargers – become more commonplace, local authorities need to begin taking a more integrated approach. Cities are being encouraged to adopt greener modes of transport – Milton Keynes’ e-bike fleet for example – but how can authorities make space for these when the curb-side is already so congested? From an end-user perspective, it’s a messy ecosystem – you could end up with 10-15 apps on your phone just for parking. If local authorities and city governments don’t start bringing curb-side management together, in a much more cohesive way, they can’t hope to solve some of the big challenges they’re facing. If the ecosystem continues developing in the way that it is now, with local authorities working in isolation, the problems we face will only worsen and consumers will remain confused about their mobility options.

Once cities get a better handle of curb-side management, they will give themselves the freedom to begin looking at other areas of transport and how to better utilise the modes that are being operated. Uber, for example, is great when the drivers have fares, but when they don’t, there are just hundreds of cars on the road taking up space – isn’t there a way to put them to better use?

Gutierrez: To be clear, Passport as a mobility platform isn’t here to begin consolidating the numerous apps and programmes that have made the ecosystem the way it is, but to give cities the opportunity to better manage the urban mobility solutions they’re procuring. That consolidation is going to happen naturally anyway when you look at where the market is heading; local authorities are asking solution providers for their best value at the lowest cost, and to ensure customers get onboard, the providers are doing it for a loss – it just isn’t sustainable.

There needs to be convergence where these apps and services meet real-time information and offer users a more intuitive service. With this, authorities can begin to drive consumer behaviour; you might be pulling into a parking space and get an alert on an app that tells you that just a few minutes’ drive away, there’s a space that will charge you less money. That transparency can excite users and help them see that, actually, the local authority isn’t going to take advantage of them because they have the choice and the information available.

Smartphone adoption has massively driven and enabled these types of changes, but there’s still work to be done. The thought that ‘paying by phone’ still in some cases means a phone number on a sign is surprising when compared to what we see in North America. This is especially true as the UK advances to a more digital savvy nation and are at the forefront of connected vehicles and in-car app technology.

The importance of open data

Mahendra: The data that comes out of effective curb-side management is one of the most crucial tools a city can have in managing urban space better, but at the moment it is massively devalued. Encouragingly, much of the talk on building smart cities is focusing on the importance of data, which arguably has been missing for a few years. The concept that ‘data is the new oil’ is probably truer now than ever, and the transport industry is gradually coming around to that way of thinking. Open data policies are hugely important in making better curb-side management a reality, because it’s not just about the datasets you’re producing, you also need open APIs to be able to integrate other data streams into your platform to give you a holistic view of operations. Without open data, you end up back where you started – in silos. Local authorities are constantly collecting customer data, but they’re not necessarily using it as well as they could be to support policy and management decisions.

Warnes: Openness is critical and local authorities now understand that. If you welcome a bike-sharing service into the city, you do so on the basis that there’s a Memorandum of Understanding in place so that local authorities have access to data on where the bikes are.

Flexible infrastructure

Warnes: There is some concern from authorities about who is using curb-side space and how they’re using it. A lot of new transport modes are getting curb-side space for free, but now some operators are wary that authorities might start commercialising the space.

Gutierrez: Effective curb-side management actually allows cities to be more flexible with their infrastructure. For example, in Chicago, where we have a whitelabel parking app called ParkChicago, we were able to enable charging for parking in loading areas during off-hours. You don’t need additional spaces or infrastructure, it’s just a case of repurposing that space in times when it’s not serving its primary function. In doing so, you’re also relieving congestion in and around other car parks and increasing revenue.

Mahendra: You’re not just bringing benefits to authorities by doing that, you’re also benefiting the community and driving a night-time economy.

Encouraging authorities, government and policy makers to take the next step with new technologies

Warnes: Where the UK market is so fragmented, there are so many different decision-making authorities – and a lot of them have had to deal with constrained budgets over the last couple of years. As a result, they’re procuring cheap solutions for the short term that might not provide any long-term value. We need to make these authorities aware that bringing everything together brings value to their city’s offering compared to doing everything in different silos.

Cities launching smart city initiatives are becoming beacons for this kind of thing, and once some of the bigger cities begin doing it, that sets an example for smaller urban areas and regions to follow.

In five years’ time, who knows where we’ll be – especially with so many new modes of transport being introduced. One thing is certain; policy makers and legislators need to catch up with the market, else the UK will fall behind. There are some laws in place that have barely been tweaked in the last 100 years and that kind of approach is in no way conducive to helping cities innovate.

Mahendra: Brexit is the major hurdle for government policy makers at the moment – they simply don’t have time to look at anything else until the Brexit issue has been sorted. It’s unhelpful that the legislation is behind where it should be regardless of Brexit, so it’s an additional hurdle to overcome.

To get to smart cities in the next few years you need smart building blocks, and that begins with smart people. There’s a significant political shift on the horizon; 2019 marks the first year where anyone born in the year 2000 will be eligible to vote. These young adults are already app savvy and are thinking differently – they could bring about real change.

Tomorrow’s data scientists will be the ones who will be able to unlock real value in this market because they’ll have the latest smart sensors and 5G that will aid them in collecting data that much faster. They’ll have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past and put that data to much better use.