As our economy continues to reopen from the COVID lockdowns and we all start going back to work or socializing in cities, we will inevitably confront the familiar issue of fruitlessly hunting for parking in downtown areas. Living in the Washington, D.C. area, one of the top ranked cities for worst traffic congestion in the US, I opted to sell my car earlier this year, completely defeated from repeatedly losing the street parking battle. As I watched my car’s new owner drive away, I wondered to myself what could be done to put an end to such persistent problems that seemingly every major city has been dealing with for decades. With limited public transit operations during the pandemic and/or increased fear of use of public transit by riders who rely on it could potentially exacerbate traffic problems as people turn to personal vehicles to get around. Now I wonder what can be done to get ahead of this problem before we are forced to confront it.
As I began to think more deeply about the problem, I realized how truly difficult it is to solve. D.C. is not a single jurisdiction, but rather is a complex metro area with streets connecting to several municipalities, counties, and states, each of which has its own rules and policies governing street parking. Some allow motorists to use one of several competing apps while others have only meters or kiosks. There is virtually no marketplace for head-to-head competition between them, and consumers are stuck with limited options. Further, few of these localities or governments collect parking data to help inform pricing or evaluate parking patterns. With all of these challenges to overcome, I wondered where I might be able to find any solid answers. About a month or so after selling my car, I found a potential answer in the Netherlands.
An Open Digital Marketplace for Increased Competition and Efficient Parking Operations
In 2005, as technology continued to reach into many different aspects of everyday life, a small group of city leaders in the Netherlands began to think about what the future of parking may look like. They envisioned a future where 90 percent or more of parking transactions were completed on digital platforms. In this scenario, they foresaw opportunities to make parking payments more convenient and streamlined for motorists. They also saw an opportunity to collect valuable data that could enable digital enforcement of parking and vehicle registration rules. They thought they might even be able to predict the availability of parking spots in the future. Overall, it was a tremendous opportunity to improve the efficiency of parking operations in cities.
As they began to imagine what this new digital marketplace would look like, the needs of consumers (a.k.a. motorists) were the top priority. That meant ensuring that multiple vendors could compete to serve consumers, that new service providers could easily enter the market, and that everyone could access one unified digital payment platform regardless of their vendor(s) of choice. They also had to ensure that cities across the country could focus on the needs of their residents. That meant enabling them to administer digital parking at minimal cost (in both time and financial resources) without having to deal with procurement and contracts with each individual vendor. Cities needed to be able to focus on the needs of local drivers, and not get bogged down in the bureaucracy on contract management and vendor relations.
From this, the SHPV (Service House Parking and Resident Rights) was born. The SHPV is a cooperative organization that helps municipalities in the Netherlands digitize their parking services. They offer contract management, parking fee settlement, General Data Protection Regulation compliance support, and of course management of the digital payments platform on behalf of the participating municipalities and vendors (to date there are 100 municipalities and 22 commercial vendors in the cooperative). The organization also partnered with RDW (the Netherlands Vehicle Authority) to roll out the technology and sensors needed for real-time data collection and to digitally enforce parking rules and regulations. Together, the SHPV and RDW manage what is known as the National Parking Register (NPR), a national database of all parking data, parking rights, and vehicle registrations. This includes, but is not limited to all parking information and transactions, as well as data on all different types of parking permits. Parking enforcement officers can scan license plates to check the database for these and other vehicle-related data stored in the system.
According to Maddy van Bilsen, the CEO of SHPV, the NPR is managed on the national level, but the federal government has no say on local policies or how municipalities leverage the platform. The system is built to enable local leaders to register their own rules and they can freely change them how they see fit. This level of flexibility, and the added benefit of having a centralized digital marketplace managed by the national government, enables cities to work with more vendors, which in turn enables greater competition and choice for motorists. Another important benefit for motorists is that they get to choose between vendors from one central platform, without having to change or download additional apps regardless of the city they are driving in.
Altogether, the creation of this partnership has accelerated the transition to digitized parking management, with over 75 percent of parking payments now made through the platform in some of the larger cities throughout the Netherlands. The long-term goals of this partnership are threefold:
- Reduce parking spot search kilometers
- Reduce traffic congestion and carbon emission
- Optimize the use of parking and public spaces
In November of 2019, SHPV entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Infrastructure to run a five year program aimed at collecting, managing, and publicizing all parking data. The data will be anonymized and available on an open platform for use by the national government to track progress towards reaching the goals listed above, and to eventually be able to predict parking spot availability in real-time. The data can also be used by municipalities to evaluate parking patterns and policies in their cities, and vendors can use the data to provide navigation assistance to motorists.
Due to the amount of personal information collected on motorists, the NPR adheres to the highest standard of regulations regarding the protection of private data as laid out by the GDPR. Since the national government is responsible for the management of NPR, cities are guaranteed the protection of their motorists’ data. According to van Bilsen, the SHPV and RDW do everything they can to minimize the operational costs of ensuring GDPR compliance. Additionally, an independent private organization conducts an annual privacy audit.
As the platform evolves, the next step is to include off-street parking in the open marketplace, enabling off-street parking providers a chance to compete with on-street parking vendors. The infrastructure to support this effort is already in place, and the NPR will be rolling this out in 2020. With parking meters posing a risk for COVID-19 transmission, we will have to see how that dynamic influences wider adoption of the NPR by municipalities and motorists moving forward.
Through their work with the NPR, the SHPV and RDW have demonstrated the power of creating a centralized platform for managing mobility marketplaces. They have shown that creating a platform that enables open market competition can accelerate adoption of digital services, improve outcomes for consumers, and simultaneously provide an opportunity for improved parking operation management and enforcement.