|Faced with almost $20 million in unpaid fines, a concerned
business community, and a host of frustrated shoppers, Ottawa is
ready to test drive a new high tech system to end the downtown
parking controversy for good.
At present, coin-operated meters - almost 4,000 of them -
regulate street parking in the city. Those meters are watched over
by a squadron of 46 full-time parking enforcement officers and
another 15 on the payroll part time, according to a source within
the municipal government, who added that they earn about $23 per
The parking system itself is the same one that has been around
for decades without much in the form of evolution. Mechanical
meters that need constant maintenance and replacement, coin
collectors on the taxpayer's buck to empty them, and the
inevitable tickets - many of which don't get paid in a timely
manner - have opened the doors to high-tech companies that want to
shape a new parking frontier.
Though the possibility of full implementation is up to a decade
away, companies such as Mint, Inc. of Toronto, U.S. firm EximSoft
International and Vancouver's Verrus Technologies International
are struggling to find footholds in what could eventually be a
$500-billion global market.
short-term challenges to widespread adoption, EximSoft
chairman and CEO Diju Raha has little doubt that meterless
parking is the way of the future.
Darren Brown, OBJ
They're pioneering cashless, non-meter parking that would
eliminate the capital expense of purchasing expensive new meters,
the high maintenance cost associated with them, all the coin
collectors, and some enforcement officers.
City of Ottawa director of traffic and parking operations Mike
Flainek said a pilot project is only about a month away. "We've
been talking with Mint now for well over a year," he said. "We're
going to run a pilot project to see how it interfaces with our
technology and enforcement personnel."
The six-month trial will see city enforcement patrollers
equipped with the handheld devices to check on
cars in public
lots. There is no current timetable to see how it would work on
"We're pretty keen on going this way and to see how it all
turns out," Mr. Flainek added. "It's pretty new technology in
North America, but it's huge in Europe."
Should the trial prove to be successful, a request for proposal
would be issued for a larger test or to outfit a much larger
segment of the city on a permanent basis.
"I think once people try this out, there will be no going
back," he said.
In general terms, here's how the technology works:
Motorists register their name, address, cellphone number, make
and model of car, licence plate, and credit card number with the
company. Once that's done, they're given an identification code.
When they want to park somewhere, they simply dial a number,
follow the prompts, punch in the parking space number and how long
they'll want to stay in that location. Because every meter is
numbered, they could be used as markers, if nothing else. Current
time limits would still stand, so no one could reserve the same
spot on a street for more than a couple of hours.
The appropriate fee is deducted from their credit card - as is
the fine if they stay past their allotted time. This eliminates
deadbeat drivers who never pay their tickets and the associated
court costs and increases immediate cash flow for the city.
Customers even receive a reminder call on their cell 10 minutes or
so before their time expires. If they're allowed more time in that
spot, they simply request it and go on with their business without
having to return to pump more coins into the meter.
The city would still need enforcement officers, but rather than
walk up and down streets checking every meter, handheld wireless
devices would facilitate their job greatly. They would be able to
look down an entire block and know immediately if a car was
occupying what was supposed to be an empty space. Thus, fewer
staff would be required.
It's possible Ottawa could eliminate up to one-third of its
patrollers. That adds up to 15 full-time employees at $23 per hour
for an approximate total of $725,000 in savings after stat
holidays and Sundays are taken out of the equation. It does not
include the costs of benefits and other expenses such as uniforms
and equipment. Perhaps another $100,000 could be reduced from the
part-time staff, as well, pushing the total closer to $1 million a
Coin collectors could also be taken off the public books,
leading to further savings.
While the concept seems to make sense, there are still many
people who either have no cellphone, credit card or both. That's
why the players in this game readily admit that full
implementation is still down the road. However, they have little
doubt that day will come.
"If you think of when the phone was invented," said EximSoft
chairman and CEO Diju Raha, "Alexander Graham Bell offered the
patent to Western Union for $100,000, but they refused it, saying
no one would ever talk on the phone. Now, cellphones have exceeded
landlines in North America. And cellphones are evolving so quickly
that soon they may be used for everything, such as an e-wallet for
personal identification like a driver's licence and even a
As for not owning a credit card, Mr. Raha said those customers
could simply pay a certain amount beforehand - as many cell
customers do - and use that fund when parking.
"The beauty is you collect revenue without paying people to go
to empty meters," added EximSoft technology vice-president
Amalendu Chatterjee. "Instead of giving tickets, the fines come
straight off their credit cards or their bank account. In the end,
you want compliance to the rules, but you want to make it easier
for everyone, too."
Verrus CEO Neil Podmore, who estimated his company now manages
about 150,000 parking spaces, said the system alleviates stress on
many levels, including scenarios such as car lights being left on
in a private lot. "Once they're registered, the lot attendant can
punch in the car's plate and get the information to call the
customer to let him know."
In terms of private and city lots, another benefit is that
customers can log on to the Internet to book their spaces before
they even start their cars. Want to make sure there's a space
available when you get to the theatre or the game? This is how you
Used on a small-scale in British Columbia, Seattle, Denver, and
around London, the idea has met with positive reviews.
Sandra Kurylo, director of financial services for the city of
White Rock, B.C., said the system is working as well as advertised
for the community 45 kilometres from Vancouver. "We've implemented
the parking technology along eight kilometres of our waterfront.
We're removing hundreds of meters because it works well and there
are many benefits."
So far, so good, says White Rock mayor Judy Forster. "Now that
this new parking service is complete, the shops and restaurants
along Marine Drive will be patronized by more customers - and
happier ones. No one likes digging for spare change or leaving a
restaurant to add coins to their meter."
Some restaurants, she added, have their own accounts and will
offer diners free parking for their business.
Ms Kurylo said the initial investment of $490,000 for the 900
parking spaces will be recouped within two years. Consultants have
told her the life span of the technology should be about seven to
10 years, meaning White Rock will reap greater profits than ever
for at least five years.
"But it's not just the money," she stressed. "It has increased
security by eliminating theft, which protects the taxpayer's
dollar, it has reduced customer and business complaints, and it
has eliminated the cost of maintaining the old meters. It has
achieved all our goals and more."
This article was published on
June 20, 2005, Ottawa Business Journal By Scott Taylor