Parking made easy

When the sensor detects the presence of a vehicle in a parking bay, a signal is sent to the back office computer and to the hand-held units carried by parking marshals.

The days of motorists circling blocks to find an open parking spot in the CBD could be over if a new app developed by Street Parking Solutions, called ParkFind, takes off.

The application, launched two weeks ago, is the first real-time smartphone app, which guides drivers to open parking bays around the city centre. After downloading the app from your app store and signing in using your email address and licence plate number, the app will navigate you to the nearest parking spaces by use of colour codes – red having the least number of available parking, and green having the most.

Motorists are also able to pay for parking through the app, and also search for parking near to where they need to be.

Josh Lindenberg, the operations manager at Street Parking Solutions, which is contracted by the City of Cape Town to manage paid parking in the CBD, said he believed the company launched the app at the right time, because traffic congestion in the city centre was getting worse.

According to an IBM report, over 30% of city traffic is caused by drivers looking for a parking spot, and it is exceptionally difficult to find open parking bays, especially in the CBD.

Mr Lindenberg said the app worked with the sensors in each parking bay, which detects whether there is a car in the bay or not.

“We took it one step further, and now the data ties in with the kind of information we are providing, such as the parking marshal’s name, tariff, which comes from our parking management system.

“So now the sensors know there is a car there, plus our management system’s information, you’ve got two different sources, and you can go as far as knowing what the person has paid, how they have paid – and obviously that’s private information.”

Once the user finds a spot and parks, the marshal will scan in the car’s number plate and initiate a parking session using their smartphone.

When the session ends, the user can pay for the parking using the app, which can be associated with their bankcard, or they can choose to pay with cash and end the session on the app.

Mr Lindenberg said the app updated every minute because shorter update intervals would slow it down.

However, the updated data is only available weekdays from 8am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm.

“We don’t provide parking availability data after hours, but we are working on that,” said Mr Lindenberg.

Asked about parking tariffs, he said the parking price in the CBD would remain the same as they did not have the mandate to change it.

“We don’t charge a subscription fee or anything like that.

“I also don’t think the City will extend paid parking into the evenings when the app gives data after hours, but we have nothing to do with that decision.

“It’s early days. We had to get it out and see what people are saying about it, and then just continue adding functionality and (improve) the app experience, making the parking experience friendlier.”

The app has only been rolled out in the CBD so far, but Mr Lindenberg said they plan to roll it out all over the city. “It’s great having it in the CBD, but we want to get it to Sea Point, Bellville and Strand.

“Our borders right now are Buitengracht, Buitensingel, Roeland and Harrington streets to the Convention Centre. It’s just the central city at the moment.”

He said so far it had been well received. “Right now, we are sitting at a few thousand downloads. Considering that it is a localised app, we are happy with the uptake.”

He said he believed the application would assist the City with planning and traffic in the long run, but warned that while the app made parking in the CBD more convenient, it would get stricter.

“I think the City will start enforcing stay times and eventually they will do away with cash,” said Mr Lindenberg.

Right now, motorists who park in Cape Town have the option of paying with debit or credit cards, cash or Snapscan.

The ParkFind App has also been endorsed by the City.

“There are occasionally issues around availability of marshals to receive payment, as well as negative interactions between marshals and the public which is partly because some motorists are aggrieved when requested to pay for on-street parking. The City and Street Parking Solutions strive to minimise these issues and resolve them to the satisfaction of the customer when they do occur,” said Mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron.

He said the ParkFind App would facilitate payment even if a marshal was not available to receive it.

However, he added, while the app made parking in Cape Town a whole lot more convenient, there were concerns about potential driver distraction while using it to find parking.

“In this regard, the City urges drivers not to use any handheld communication device while operating a vehicle, whether making a voice call or using a mobile application. The use of a mobile device while driving is against traffic regulations.”

He also encouraged people to use alternative means of transport in an attempt to relieve some of the congestion in the CBD.