Smart Parking, IoT valet parking for Smart Cities

María Cascajo Sastre    1 March, 2016

Parking is one of the most repetitive and time consuming activities we carry out in life. We spend on average up to 106 days in our life, finding parking spaces. Technology wears the red jacket to save our day again.

There are basically two trends in parking systems and a widespread standard is yet to be established:

  • Sensor-powered parking systems
  • Data-driven reservation systems

Let’s see an overview of both as well as pros and cons that decision makers need to evaluate when choosing between both systems

Sensor-powered systems take the burden away from drivers. They use robust sensors buried under parking spaces that need to be both resistant against mechanical impact and powerful enough to broadcast status information to outdoor beacons that collect nearby sensor data and relay it to a central system that manages space availability and informs drivers how to get to unoccupied spaces. The initial cost is higher as space needs to be literally dug-out of the ground to insert sensors. Once the beacons and sensors are in place the operational cost is low. It is easier to use for drivers, less distracting that depending on an app installed on our smartphone and is as durable as the life of the sensors and beacons.


Data-driven parking systems, allot and allocate parking spaces to users and are normally app and BigData driven. The user requests a parking space, gets one assigned, confirms being parked and is charged for the usage of the parking space within city parking regulations. It is easy to deploy, requires very little initial investment (app development, mapping of available parking spaces and signs that clearly delimit and identify each parking space to make it easy for drivers to find the space and for parking regulators to control that allocated spaces are used for the assigned time and not more. It requires constant connectivity as it is a reservation system that works ahead of using. It can be deployed not only within cities but also within companies with large premises that usually require an administration overhead to assign parking spaces to employees and visitors.

There is no clearly perfect solution as every solution offers different results in terms of initial cost, maintenance costs, operational glitches and considerations, etc. Cities have options and have to determine whether sensor-powered or data-driven models suit their long term plans better.

In both cases occupation levels can be controlled in real time and can easily enforce parking space policies for people with special mobility needs, or special type of vehicles (electric plug-in cars, shared vehicles, buses, etc.)

Santander and Málaga in Spain are two showcase cities for sensor-powered systems, whereas Madrid, Santiago and Oviedo, three other Spanish cities, have also been solid testing grounds for data-driven parking pilot projects.

More than just a private time saving feature

So why is it absolutely strategic for Smart Cities to streamline outdoor Parking? Shouldn’t that be a private issue that affects each and every citizen and not public authorities? It is strategic and by no means should it not be priority for Smart Cities. There are three powerful reasons:

  1. First and foremost the purpose of Smart City services is to improve citizens’ lives and this has a direct and measurable impact on their quality of life
  2. Efficient city traffic and cutting on extra unnecessary mileage has a positive impact on keeping city pollution within manageable limits and therefore helps cities maintain their emission levels within standards that are becoming tightly regulated and controlled
  3. Reducing commuting time has a huge impact on productivity and therefore helps local economy flourish. Drivers and commuters caught up in traffic jams are away from their work places and are tied up to consume and visit shops and businesses

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