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Consider and evaluate user needs when designing communication infrastructure.
Experience from the smart parking field test at the Rockridge, Oakland BART station.
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Smart Parking Linked to Transit: Lessons Learned from the San Francisco Bay Area Field Test


The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, the rail agency serving the San Francisco Bay area, includes a total of 43 stations, with approximately 46,000 parking spaces at 31 stations. Due to the Bay area's high share of transit commuters, parking at the stations is in high demand. Many of the BART stations have a parking shortage, especially during peak commute hours, and it is difficult to secure land and funding for additional spaces. In 2002, BART implemented a monthly reserved parking program to guarantee commuters a space during peak hours. However, when monthly subscribers do not take transit everyday, reserved spaces are underutilized. From 2004 to 2006, researchers implemented a smart parking field test at the Rockridge, Oakland BART station to complement the monthly reserved program by providing daily flexibility during the morning commute to those who do not use transit everyday.

The project included in-ground sensors in the BART parking lot to determine available parking spaces, two changeable message signs (CMSs) located on the highway that display dynamically updated parking availability information for motorists, and a computer reservation system accessible via the Internet and a telephone Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. This paper examines the institutional, user perspective, and operational lessons learned from the smart parking field test.

Lessons Learned

The objective of the BART smart parking program was to provide drivers with the necessary information to make informed decisions in order to streamline the parking process and improve parking efficiency. In an evaluation of the BART smart parking field test, more than 30% of respondents indicated that smart parking encouraged them to use BART instead of driving alone to their typical place of work or on-site work location, and 55.9% stated the same for commutes to an off-site work location (e.g. to attend meetings). The program also attracted a new user population to BART; 49% of respondents had not previously used BART to commute to work. In addition, smart program users increased BART use by 5.5 trips per month for on-site work commutes and by four trips per month for off-site commute. The program reduced overall vehicle miles traveled by an average of 9.7 fewer miles per participant per month. While the smart parking field test was effective at providing parking flexibility during the morning commute to those who do not use transit everyday, feedback from project participants uncovered a number of issues with the infrastructure used to communicate with smart parking participants. The following lessons outline ways to enhance the effectiveness of smart parking communication systems.

  • Install CMSs on all nearby, popular commute routes with access to the transit station. The changeable message signs (CMSs) were located on Highway 24 in Oakland. The signs displayed two alternating messages: 1) the number of parking spaces available at the BART station, and 2) static directions to the station from the highway. While project managers believed the signs to be instrumental in encouraging drivers to participate in the field test, results from the focus groups and surveys indicated that signs were underused. Participants raised two issues: 1) the signs were not located on their commute route, and 2) the information on the signs was not descriptive enough. Increasing public outreach would help to clear confusion regarding the purpose of the information displayed on the CMSs.
  • Increase lot signage, including signs in Spanish, to help travelers find smart parking spaces. Fixed station and wayfinding signs to the smart parking service were installed on local streets leading up to and at the parking site. While the signs provided users with directions and information on how to access the smart parking site, participants noted that better fixed signage indicating which parking spaces were designated as smart parking spaces would have been helpful. Furthermore, providing fixed signage in Spanish or additional languages would be beneficial for diverse populations.
  • Ensure that the website and IVR system communications are user friendly and intuitive. The smart parking field test participants had the option to make parking reservations through an online reservation system or a telephone Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Users expressed greater satisfaction with the online system versus the IVR system. However, users believed that both systems could be improved by designing more user-friendly systems.
    • In regards to the online reservation system, users noted that:
      • The process for creating an account should be simple,
      • A parking reservation reminder sent to a mobile phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) would be helpful.

      In regards to the IVR system, users noted that a successful IVR system should:

      • Repeat and confirm information,
      • Understand verbal commands in noisy environments,
      • Include multiple language options.
      • Provide a touchtone option for users having difficulty with the voice recognition, and
      • A courtesy phone or kiosk should be provided nearby the parking lot for those travelers without a mobile phone.

A critical success factor in the design of a smart parking program is providing users with clear and helpful information to find and reserve available parking spaces. The lessons above indicate that it is important for parking information to be displayed in a location and language that will attract users. It is equally as important to create a reservation system that is easy to use and meets the needs of the users. Considering and evaluating user needs when designing the communication infrastructure will greatly enhance user satisfaction.