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Parking Guidance Systems: Getting Creative

Since 2016, SONAH has been developing parking management solutions for cities and businesses. Admittedly, to a parking novice, this might not sound like the most creative of spaces to be working in - but with the variety and depth which each parking issue presents, this couldn't be further from the truth.

An image of street parking without a parking guidance system.
Parking guidance systems require creativity to really meet the needs of their users.

It doesn't matter when your official working hours start. If your workplace doesn't have sufficient parking, you'll be experiencing the stress of the working day from the moment you switch the engine on, or the moment you think, 'I'd better set my alarm a little earlier tonight - I can never get parking on Wednesdays...'. Is that stress really needed?

The answer is no. And with a greater focus than ever before being put on employee welfare, many companies are beginning to rethink their lackadaisical approach to parking provisions. So, if you're interested in some of the innovative rethinks we've helped create, read on.

Parking Guidance Systems vs Building More Parking

Maybe your first idea of how to solve parking pressure is similar to that of a lot of companies out there: more parking garages, more car parks, and more land. Want a few reasons why that's a bad idea? Keep an eye out for future posts. For now, let's just take the obvious reason which is, of course, costs. Unless it is absolutely proven that your parking assets are full to capacity every single day, the chances are that your facility is simply not being optimally utilized.

Let's go through an example. Our customer had 500 employees, but only space for 100 employees to park. Now, it's not like 500 cars were trying to get in every day - but the negative effect of the situation was too big to ignore. Long parking searches, stressed out employees, high rates of employee tardiness... and what's more, the employees were angry for another, very frustrating reason.

There were plenty of empty spots. Unused, but reserved. Not only did employees have to drive around the car park to find out if there was space, they had to ignore spots reserved for specific employees who were absent.

We had two problems to solve for our customer. We needed to provide their customers with live occupancy data AND we needed to improve the usage rate of those empty spaces. The solution?

Using just six of our overhead sensors, we helped the company digitize all 100 spots in their car park. The sensors then send live occupancy data via API to LED signs and to a web app, allowing employees to check for spots online and at the entrance to the car park.* But what about the reserved spots?

This parking guidance system shows those entering the car park which spots have been shared for the day.
LED signs at the entrance show which 'reserved' spots have been released for the day.

For these spots, we added something to their parking guidance software that we hadn't done before - a spot sharing interface.

Now, those with designated parking are able to go online and release their reserved spot for anyone to use. They can do that on the day or plan their absences in advance, e.g. if they know they're going to pull a sickie the next week. Or, you know, go on holiday. Depends on the employee.

*If you'd like to know about how we can do this and still keep our system way above GDPR standards for privacy, check out our FAQs.

An 'Almost Psychological' Approach to Parking

When do you actually start the parking search, and how much of a role does risk play in your parking search? Before we get into the case study, let's just look at this question a little.

If you watch this video (it's only in German, sorry!), the professor articulates the way we calculate risk when looking for a parking spot in a fascinating way. Unconsciously, we make a decision based on experience (and our inherent levels of optimism vs pessimism) as to how close we get to our final destination before deciding what distance is acceptable to walk. Or, what price we are willing to pay in relation to the distance we will accept. We're all evaluating our emotional and practical data without actually putting words or numbers to it - which is a pretty good reminder of how much smarter we are than machines, if you think about it.

So now to our customer. A business with a multi-storey employee car park, this customer wasn't suffering from parking pressure. Instead, it needed a parking guidance system that would not only guide people to parking spots, but guide them via the most effective route.

Imagine: You drive - late for work - into the five-storey car park. A parking LED sign tells you that 1/5 of all the spots are available. 'Good', you think, 'I'll go down to the basement for one of the spots closest to the office.' After driving down and finding nothing, you have to drive back up, slowly scouring the next floor for a space by the stairs. After passing by three or four spots far away from the stairs, you ascend to the second floor. Same again. 'Ok, I'll take the next spot I see from now on,' you say, while driving up the ramp to the third floor. By the time you find a spot on the fourth floor, you're far later than you'd have been parking at the less attractive spots on the first floor.

The diagram below should make this easier to visualize - but it doesn't take into account how slow you have to drive when looking for a spot.

Graph showing time needed to park without a guidance system.
Having no parking guidance system means balancing probabilities against risk.

From a business point of view, the most effective parking guidance system would be one that provided complete, single spot detection. That kind of a system would guide drivers to optimal spots, get them on time and happy into work, and... cost a fortune. A counting system that would just tell workers how many spots there are but not where is cheaper, but leads to the situation just described.

So we came up with a hybrid solution. Instead of every spot being individually monitored, it's just the most attractive spots. Meanwhile, counting systems collect the occupancy data of each floor, and the live data is displayed via LED signs at the entrance.

Now, there's less guessing and unconscious evaluation needed. If you can see that all the best spots are taken, or the only spots left are one the fifth floor, you can simply go straight for the first spot you see, or drive straight to the fifth floor without slowing down to search for spots. Slow down for pedestrians, though. Our parking guidance systems haven't gotten rid of them. Yet.

Got Yourself a Difficult Parking Problem to Solve?

We won't get bored of finding the perfect solution for tricky parking puzzles. So drop us a message if you think you can get more out of your parking assets - we'd like to prove you right.


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