Paid parking sparks investment in perimeter security
By Rosie Lombardi
Toronto and Calgary introduced paid parking this spring to provide disincentives to using cars, and this is part of a broader green trend.
“The best environmental policy is paid parking,” says Vince Mauceri,
general manager of transportation operations and technology at
Metrolinx, an agency that’s developing integrated transportation
strategies for the Toronto and Hamilton regions.
By Rosie Lombardi
To control and cash in on the flow of suburban commuters, city planners
are retrofitting previously open transit parking lots with access
control systems, fee collection technology and extra security.
The move will provide a valuable new revenue stream to cash-strapped
municipalities so they can recoup the true costs of maintaining transit
parking facilities. “We lose $4 million dollars annually just on
parking, and that’s not acceptable,” says Domenic Garisto, property
development manager at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
What combination of physical and logical security are Toronto and
Calgary using to serve their purposes? Interestingly, vendors and
municipalities have different approaches to cobbling components —
gates, access control, payment systems and enforcement — to create
hassle-free systems for paid parking.
Different angles in vendors’ wares
Free and paid parking lots have similar security problems in terms of
theft, vandalism, and assaults, says Willem Ryan, a Lancaster, PA-based
product security manager at Bosch Security Systems.
Most transit facilities already have video surveillance systems or
security patrols in place to handle general security. As an added
precaution, the TTC hired Intelliguard, a private security firm, to
patrol its lots until the end of 2009 to handle the transition to paid
parking, says Garisto.
The central challenge in switching from free to paid parking lies in
introducing access control and payment collection systems that can
handle enforcement of violations.
There are many well-established companies that specialize in parking
payment systems, says Ryan. These vendors provide the pay and display
machines that many facilities use to issue the tickets parkers place on
their dashboards or windshields to indicate valid parking.
Security systems providers such as Bosch provide licence plate
recognition technology as a secondary layer of security, which is
typically integrated by third parties with these payment systems, says
Ryan. “Enforcement is one of the key roles of licence plate recognition.”
Cameras capture licence plates as cars enter the lot, and digitize them
along with a time stamp and other information to create a record, he
says. “Licence plate video needs to be integrated with the ticketing
system so you can correlate the video evidence and time stamp of the
ticket. It provides an extra level of record-keeping if a dispute
arises.” These are similar to video systems that capture video evidence
to support point-of-sales transactions in retail.
Bosch’s licence plate technology can also be used as part of access
control. Cameras mounted near entry and exit points can automatically
open gates and grant access to parkers who register their licenses and
pay in advance, or deny access to cars with a history of non-payment of
However, Montréal-based Genetec, uses a
different, paperless approach that avoids the need for gates or
physical barriers. Designed to work with payment systems that capture
license plate information upfront when parkers buy their tickets or
monthly permits, licence plate recognition is used for enforcement
after cars are parked, explains product manager Manon Blouin.
Security vehicles equipped with two cameras make timed rounds, reading
licence plates within the parking facility to identify illegally parked
vehicles. The cameras extract the licence plate characters and match
them to a database of valid parkers loaded into the vehicle’s computer,
“You don’t need gates and you don’t necessarily have to display a paper
permit,” she says. This approach avoids the delays that may come up in
raising and lowering gates when a multitude of last-minute parkers rush
in at the same time to catch the 7:05 train. “You don’t want to impede
the movement of traffic. If commuters have to wait to get into the
parking lot, they’ll just take the car downtown.”
Genetec’s mobile system can also be integrated with police databases to
identify stolen or uninsured vehicles and unpaid parking fines, she
adds. “The Insurance Bureau of Canada uses our system in Toronto to
find stolen cars.”
But at the other end, parking payment systems vendors are also offering
licence plate recognition technology as part of a complete solution.
The TTC opted for an integrated pay and display system provided by
Mississauga-based Zeag Canada Ltd, which is also used by the Toronto
Parking Authority in public parking lots throughout the city, says
“We always had gates that were activated by a Metropass,” he says. But
this equipment was old and needed to be replaced in any case. “We
implemented new data-arm equipment that accepts cash and credit cards.”
Licence plate recognition is part of the same system, he says. Video
cameras read licenses at each entry point, and provide the back-up
tapes needed if authorities need to find a licence plate of a
particular car. These cameras will soon be set up with two-way
communications lines to a control centre as a customer service feature
that allows commuters to get help if there’s a problem, as transit
facilities don’t have an operator on-site. Although they aren’t
currently set up to provide general video surveillance, they could be
used for this purpose, adds Garisto.
Cowtown’s home-grown solution
Calgary’s transit authorities opted for a system developed by the
Calgary Parking Authority (CPA) to handle its switchover from free to
paid parking, says the CPA’s general manager, Dale Fraser.
The project started four years ago when the CPA’s aging meters needed
replacement, says Fraser. “We did a global scan of the industry to see
if the available technology met our needs.”
A customer survey conducted after the CPA ran two trials of pay and
display machines revealed that parkers disliked the time-consuming
approach of parking their cars, then walking over to a machine to get a
ticket, then walking back to their cars to display it. In addition,
enterprising street people quickly started up a black market in hawking
tickets obtained from parkers. “They became very aggressive when
approaching the public, and many customers felt intimidated,” says
No vendor’s system met Calgary’s particular needs completely at the
time, so the CPA decided to develop its own solution, he says. “With
respect to vendors, many have satisfied customers. But Calgary was in
unique circumstances, and we didn’t want to wait for the right
Calgary’s ParkPlus system is based on zones and licence plates, and
uses a different approach in collecting parking payments, he says.
“The machines are different from typical pay and display machines –
they’re simply payment locations. Customers enter their zone code,
which is the location number of the area they’re parking in, enter
their license number, make a payment, and they’re on their way. We were
the first in the industry to introduce a keyboard to facilitate that.”
The system offers other advantages. Customers can set up accounts
online and off in advance that allow them to pay with their cell
phones, he says. This also facilitates customer service features such
as call-backs when expiries are coming up or warnings that parkers are
in a towing zone. “About 30 per cent of our customers pay by cell, which
is the highest percentage in North America.”
No gates or access control mechanisms are used at entry points, he
says. “For enforcement, we use special vehicles that drive around
streets equipped with licence recognition cameras, GPS and other
features. Information in their enforcement databases are compared to
the payment database – if there’s no match, people get a fine in the
mail with a colour photo of the vehicle and other information.”
An added benefit is the reduction of credit card fraud, he says. “If
someone is using a stolen credit card, they must expose themselves
since the parking transaction is tied to a licence plate. We’ve served
2.5 million customers since we introduced ParkPlus in September 2007,
but our fraud rate is less than 1 per cent of gross revenues, compared with 3
or 4 per cent in some places.”
Many municipalities in Canada and beyond have expressed interest in licensing the system, including one in Ontario, he adds.