September 21, 2021

AI and the Battle for the Curb

Paul Dillon

VP of Sales
Almost a century ago, parking was designed for private vehicle storage so citizens could park, leave their cars, and spend money at local businesses. In that context, parking was first and foremost a public good. Today, the prolific rise of online services like e-commerce and TNCs have fundamentally changed the demand for parking, and the modern curb has become priceless real estate that serves as a conduit to trillions of dollars worth of economic activity across the globe.

Parking and the Digital Revolution 

Before the pandemic, commercial vehicles were already estimated to make up at least 30% of parking activity. Not only did that percentage rise during lockdowns, but the actual number of commercial vehicles also rose with demand. E-commerce saw a decade of growth in a few months, restaurant deliveries became the dominant distribution channel, and newer categories like alcohol delivery went from fringe to mainstream.


Commercial vehicles park as many as 10B times each year, including over 25B parcel deliveries, 2B shared rides, 1B meals delivered, and 1B grocery deliveries. A lack of supply of commercial curb space frequently forces those drivers to park illegally, with fleets like UPS paying over $30M annually for violations in NYC alone.Commercial vehicle violations like double parking and blocking bus/bike lanes represent a serious public safety concern, and the 20-30% of drive time spent looking for parking increases congestion and vehicle emissions.


The enormous growth in delivery activity will continue to increase year over year. Not only infrequency of stops, but also in non-traditional delivery time segments. Cities should adopt new curb management policies, practices, and technologies to align with these changes or face an increase in safety violations, revenue loss, and poor consumer experiences.    


New Problems Require New Solutions

Cities have been focused on this issue for years now, but traditional parking systems can’t keep up with the pace of innovation of its users. Commercial fleets don’t want to double park, but there’s more demand than supply and taking the small chance of getting a ticket is well worth the time savings. This is a structural problem of economic incentives, and it likely can’t be fixed without a structural change to the system itself.


Fortunately, over the last decade several emerging technologies have hit their stride that comprise a new, digital infrastructure for the curb. One of those technologies are cameras with computer vision software that can monitor the curb and generate real-time data, which is arguably responsible for enabling the most significant evolution in functionality.


That said, cameras are one part of a larger curb management solution. When you combine them with a digital curb inventory, data analytics, and smart signage, you get a system that can solve problems today while laying the groundwork for an autonomous future.Camera systems enable a truly dynamic curb platform that provides cities, citizens, and fleets with complete transparency into the curb rules, rates, and occupancy in real-time.


Demand-Based Curb Allocation

The key challenge to improving the allocation of curb space is knowing what demand looks like in the first place; after all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. These days, a single camera can detect exactly when different curb space is occupied, the types of vehicles, and exact dwell times. Compared to manual data collection, a cost-effective camera solution can get you 10X more data for less than 10% the cost.


With that data, you can estimate the type of user based on the type of vehicle and dwell time (i.e.brown truck that stays for 45min is UPS). With a blueprint of demand, cities can adjust their allocation of curb inventory to better serve the various types of users. But why stop there? Demand changes over time, so allocation should too. With the addition of smart signage, cities can program the curb to respond to demand in real-time, fleets can integrate the dynamic rules with an API, and every driver can see the rules on the sign.


Enforcement, Compliance, and Public Safety

Most cities don’t currently charge for commercial zones, which makes them difficult to enforce. On top of generating revenue, enforcement is necessary to change behavior and promote compliance. Most cities desire a 100% capture rate for safety violations like double parking and blocked bike lanes, but current operations barely move the needle.


A single camera to detect violations in real-time and alert a nearby officer. Better yet, adding an LPR camera enables cities to automatically issue citations, though in many cases this will take time and policy change. If UPS got a ticket every time they actually parked illegally, they would become economically incentivized to be compliant.


The $100B Elephant in the Room

Today, cities are missing out on $5-10B in parking revenues from charging commercial vehicles for curb usage. That factors in all of the parking sessions across use cases with a trip-based fee for ride share and food delivery and an hourly rate for commercial loading. The real number would vary widely based on the fee structure, compliance rates, and enforcement activity,


The curb has attached cities to the explosive growth of tech companies fueled by venture capital dollars, and as a result cities need to make decisions based on the laws of exponential growth. Using conservative growth rates, even $1B in potential revenue today will become $100B in revenue by 2030.


What Cities Can Do Today

Learn from other cities and their programs, talk to fleets and citizens about their experiences, ask existing vendors about their roadmaps, pilot new technology solutions, and collaborate with startups building new solutions. There will be 10s if not 100s of billions of commercial vehicles and AV's by 2030, one way or another. There’s a long road ahead, the sooner we start the better.

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