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Leverage APIs to Create Smarter Cities Through a Single Platform

Originally featured in the September 2022 issue of Parking Magazine.

With so much innovation and drive to create smarter cities, cities face the issue of how to actually manage and implement digital technologies.

During the past decade, hundreds — if not thousands — of apps that help people navigate the curb have been created to impact how we move about cities. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need to reduce contact with shared surfaces sped up adoption of many of these technologies. 

The pressure for cities to adapt to changing times increasingly accelerates and shows no sign of slowing down. Because of that, implementing quick changes in the market is no longer just desirable, it’s necessary. These changes can create lasting improvements in the ongoing endeavor to create livable, accessible, and equitable communities.

Crowded Curb Chaos

The curb is crowded and space is limited, and a number of disparate tech providers and mobility modalities already exist. In an average city, the curb deals with ridehailing, scooters, loading zones, fleet management, city transit, dockless bikes, and street parking. All of these interactions with the curb take space and time. The resulting chaos is apparent not only to the people trying to get around, but also to city leaders trying to manage the curb.

Complexity Requires Partnerships

Cities need ways to manage this complexity to drive better outcomes on congestion relief, livability, and economic development initiatives. Multiple systems for curb management exist in disconnected data silos with complex integration, which creates an operational and management challenge for administrators. Regulations add another layer of difficulty. Every city has different needs and policies, and there’s no margin for error because solutions must conform to city code and follow procurement procedures. This process to make changes or adopt new technology can be long despite the fact that innovation can happen relatively fast.

Because of this, cities need partners that understand how to create change and that can balance the rate of innovation with the rate of implementation.

APIs for Integrated Solutions

One of the most effective ways to move toward a smarter and better-functioning city is to create an open mobility system. This can be done via a series of application programming interfaces (APIs): software intermediaries that allow two applications to talk to each other.

A single platform that uses APIs to talk to a wide range of applications can then help create many efficiencies and drive user adoption. This kind of platform enables a city to coordinate within its existing technology environment. It aggregates information about each mode of transportation, including prices and parking rules.

Enable Parking Transactions Everywhere

An API-enabled platform would also allow a city to process parking transactions beyond the traditional parking applications. APIs could be used to create a centralized rate engine and then incorporate a variety of payment processors.

The payment processors would then integrate with public-facing applications such as those related to navigation and lifestyle, bringing payments directly to these applications.

Integrate Across Mobility

This model could also be used in other popular technologies outside of traditional parking apps. For example, it could integrate with technologies used in various micromobilities, ridesharing, commercial loading vehicles, and other tech that people use on a daily basis. 

It also could integrate with mobile apps that allow users with disabilities to rate, review, and research locations to ensure a parking space is accessible to them. A city might add information about accessible parking and allow payment or reservations right in an app. Through APIs, the city would be able to implement mixed-use policies to digitally regulate and charge for time spent at the curb. It wouldn’t matter which types of vehicles were parked there or how people chose to pay.

The Smarter City

API integrations managed in a single platform create a more cohesive environment that will allow cities to reduce curbside congestion. It will also allow them to more effectively share parking rules, maximize revenue, lower costs, and accelerate innovation.

This model also gives a city access to business intelligence tools that allow it to convert raw mobility data gathered from the curb into actionable insights and information. It can be used to securely analyze data about curb usage to predict who will need the space and at what times.

The data and platform will support implementation of parking rules that support the types of access the city prioritizes. For example, the curb could be optimized to allow for deliveries in the morning, consumer parking in the afternoon, and rideshare parking in the evening.

Real-Time Analysis & Action

Administrators can also use an API-enabled platform to easily visualize and analyze activity data from new modes of mobility, including scooters and dockless bikes. They can even identify trends in real time and adjust curbside policy on the fly. This can help distribute alternative modes of transport as first-mile and last-mile solutions from public transit. 

Ensure Consistent Rules

A platform like this can improve equity within the city. It coordinates a city’s rules, rates, and restrictions for all curbside transactions, including traditional metered parking, parking apps, and other types of payment apps.

All of these systems can ingest rate and rules data from a single source. That enables consistent articulation of these rules across all systems and minimizes the regulatory impact of incorrect rates.

A Convenience Environment

The API model also empowers a city to create a multi-tenant environment where a variety of applications and payment options are available. This improves convenience and encourages customers to pay digitally via apps or text messaging on their phone. 

Doing so allows a city to reduce its reliance on hardware to create parking sessions — which will lower costs in the long term. In addition, this model allows a city to manage all its mobility ecosystem from one place, eliminates the need for multiple back-end systems, and optimizes administrative expenditures.

Public/Private Connections

API integration easily enables private companies to integrate with government agencies to bring innovative solutions to market faster. By leveraging the APIs that already exist through original endpoint solutions for parking and enforcement, cities are able to expand their visibility into other transportation modalities. This lays a foundation to adapt to what lies ahead in micromobility, ridesharing, commercial loading, and AVs.

With a model that heavily leverages APIs and integrates into a single platform, cities can more efficiently power their systems today and drive sustainable innovation for tomorrow.