Thursday, June 5, 2014

Parking Sensors To Show Available Spaces, Huh?

OK, I admit I haven't read very much about this parking sensor program in the Bronx, because honestly, I can't imagine a weirder way to spend taxpayer time and money. But the program has been officially announced on the DOT web site and is coming up in the news more, so I suppose I'll have to research the matter someday.
What is this grand experiment of which I speak? Well, once upon a time, along portions of Arthur Avenue and East 187th Street in the Bronx, electronic sensors were installed in the pavement beneath metered parking spaces. These sensors detect when a car has pulled away from its location. When a car leaves, a signal is sent to a receiving station and that signal is represented on a map as a block with a potential parking space. This map is published on the DOT web site for all to see. A Mobile App is soon to follow. And that is how every boy and girl in this city will one day be able to find a parking space.
I don’t know about test audiences in obscure areas of the Bronx, but in the places I park in this wonderful city, parking spaces appear and disappear in a New York Minute. Anyone who has parked extensively in the city will recognize the “Lion” method of parking as dubbed in this blog which is to wait on a particular block until a space becomes available. Needless to say, there can be more than one Lion on a block at a particular time and even when a space opens up right in front of you, you don’t always get it, either because of another Lion who anticipated faster or just a lucky Shark that happened to be cruising at the exact moment a person signaled his car doors to open. So, in most cases, the appearance on a map of a freed parking space, while a truly immaculate event, probably won’t mean much by the time you get there which, of course, will return you to consult the map again to see what other neighborhood blocks have freed up spaces. So you might have to drive around a bit to find a parking space...
Last I heard the New York State legislature (and most other state legislatures as well) has determined that texting while driving increases the likelihood of accidents. That is why in New York State texting, (which requires looking at your mobile phone) while driving is illegal and considered highly dangerous. How will looking at a map on that same phone for an indication of a parking space differ, especially when that parking space will likely be gone by the time you get there?
In fact, it seems like a handy tool like this will make it more likely that more drivers will be converging on a block with an open parking space than would have otherwise. So maybe as more and more people use this service, the wisest (and safest) thing might be to go to blocks that don’t indicate available parking. This is New York. Chances are someone will be leaving eventually and you won’t have to compete with all those other drivers staring into their mobile phones. Plus, I don’t know about you, but parking is competitive enough in this city and won’t even more people than ever consider parking in the city because they see some open spaces on a map and believe that parking is readily available?

The following excerpts of the DOT announcement set off a few alarms with me. What do you think?

“The real-time parking map, now available on the Department of Transportation’s website and on Streetline’s Parker smartphone app later this spring, uses state-of-the-art sensors installed last year at no cost to the city in the roadbed”

Obvious red flag: it's being installed and facilitated by a for-profit company. Make no mistake, certain aspects of this program may be provided by outside interests, but something like this could never be implemented without considerable time and effort by the DOT, their data analysts, traffic managers, permit offices, etc., etc. So what is driving this unusual collaboration? A for-profit company is probably not doing this soley for the public good. Or are they? At least it’s safe to assume the DOT is into this purely for the sake of facilitating easier parking about which Mayor Bloomberg has always been so sympathetic. Don’t you agree?

“Interested motorists can sign up for the service for free on the PayByPhone website and register their license plate numbers and credit card information on encrypted servers and download the PayByPhone app.”

Because we know that a database of exactly where your car has been and where your credit cards and smart phones have been used is not information that could be accumulated and disseminated (bought and sold?) or used against you in any way.

“The app, payment processing and customer service will be provided by PayByPhone, the bidder chosen by the Department of Transportation following a 2011 request for proposals, and the service comes at no taxpayer cost.”

No cost at all because the start up costs, software development, network server time, encryption and PCI compliance, not to mention the design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of a complex, outdoor sensor system , and mapping of this information in some user recognizable format are being donated by the kindness of the for-profit company’s hearts.

I’m not saying a system like this wouldn’t work in a town like Goshen, New York (pop. 13,687) or that, assuming this map could be part of your onboard navigation system and spaces could be reserved until you got there, and that everyone else using it or not using it would respect the rules of reserved parking, but right now, biased or not, in New York city I still prefer my own parallelspaces Parking Map.

Whatever their professed promises for this program like ease of parking or simpler mobile paying, you can bet it's about making money: money for private business that are installing and maintaining the sensor and payment systems and more parking revenues for the city from car owners already besieged by high registration and insurance costs, not to mention inflated inspection and repair and wear and tear expenses that all go with having a car in the city.

just sayin...


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