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Parking Stress Relief part 2: Global counts using inductive loop technology or ANPR

In part 1 of our parking stress relief series we discussed the issues of poor parking and the considerations needed to select the right technology. In part 2, we will cover technology that monitors the overall capacity of the car park, known as global counts within the industry. 

Global counts allow you to determine the number of free parking spaces in a car park, but not to pinpoint where these spaces are. The software behind the vehicle counting technology knows how many spaces are in the car park, how many cars have entered the car park, and how many cars have exited the car park. This allows the number of free spaces to be calculated. This basic information cannot give detailed car park statistics, but can be used to provide management reports for usage and capacity.

More sophisticated applications split the car park into zones, to provide extra guidance to drivers (when coupled with variable message signs) as well as providing more granular intelligence to the car park management team. This level of information is necessary if you have a particularly large car park or you have a multi-story car park and want to save drivers time by directing them to available spaces. Whether monitoring the whole car park or individual zones, the monitoring system relies on vehicle detection data to count the cars in and out. This can be generated either by inductive loops or cameras. 

Inductive loops

These are the most prevalent and one of the most cost-effective options for simple counting of vehicle movements in and out of car parks. A loop of insulated, electrically conducting wire is installed in the carriageway with a current passed through. When a vehicle passes over the loop the current is interrupted providing a signal that a vehicle has entered or exited the car park.

Advantages

  • The most straightforward way to count vehicles in and out of a car park. 
  • Extremely low power consumption means a loop based system can be fully solar powered. 
  • Ideal for use in multi-story car parks to count the number of vehicles on each level. 

Disadvantages

  • Inaccurate counts can occur if car park users don’t adhere to the entry and exit routes.
  • The loops need to be placed such that vehicles must pass over them and not drive around them.
  • As the vehicles are not identified such a system will not feed into an enforcement operation.

Inductive loops are ideal for car parks that either have an existing enforcement mechanism or do not require one. For example, an office car park with multiple sections where users are frustrated by circling already full sections when they could have driven straight to a section with spaces. 

Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) 

Specialist cameras are placed at the entrance and exit to a car park and take timed images of the vehicles entering and exiting the car park. This includes close ups of the vehicle’s license plate. 

Advantages

  • Capturing license plates means these can be used in enforcement situations.
  • By identifying an individual car, the duration of the visit can be calculated as well as monitoring repeat visitors.
  • If coupled with barrier control these cameras can be used to only permit certain cars.
  • Can feed into payment mechanisms

Disadvantages

  • Large volumes of data are generated by capturing images, which requires both storage and processing, making this costlier to run
  • Expensive to install 
  • Accuracy levels vary depending on weather conditions and installation quality  

ANPR solutions are ideal when you want to couple enforcement with global counts, for example at a retail park. 

Regardless of the method used to collect data on vehicles entering and exiting a car park, once you have it, you can interrogate the data to better understand how your car park is being used and allow informed decision making on the management of the car park. 
You can also share it with your users. This could be on variable message signs (VMS) placed on the approach to the car park, on each level of a multi-story, or the data can feed into parking apps that display car parks with available spaces. In a workplace environment it can be published on the intranet for employees to check before heading into the office.

Regardless of how you disseminate your parking information, users will thank you for saving them queuing around an already full car park or starting a journey that will have a stressful ending. You’ll benefit from happier car park users, smoother and safer traffic flow around your site as well as understanding how your car park is being used.

Look out for the next in our series where we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of individual bay monitoring technology.

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