City turns to data analytics for parking

The city is looking at ways to outsmart potential parking problems by using real-time data analytics and predictive modeling.

The Parking Services Department recently began working with Smarking Inc., a San Francisco-based software technology firm that provides support tools for parking professionals, not only to analyze existing parking services data but also to enhance decision making in terms of managing citywide parking services.

Josh Naramore, GR Mobile manager for the city, said the best part of the project is having the ability to educate, inform and make better decisions related to managing the system for customers.

“We are able to do it, but you would make decisions moving forward based on the previous months-worth of data, and this is going to be more real time,” said Naramore. “You can actually make decisions to manage the facilities, to better provide services for people who are coming downtown and people who are using the parking facilities.”

Pam Ritsema, managing director for Parking Services, provided a project update on using Smarking’s predictive software during the Feb. 11 Grand Rapids Parking Commission meeting, and indicated the California-based firm began analyzing initial city data about a week ago.

Smarking uses data analytics, historical and real-time occupancy patterns, and pricing to help parking professionals make effective operational decisions. The firm aggregates existing parking data and then presents the information in an online analytics dashboard with various metrics, including: current occupancy, prediction for entry and exit during the next hour, and an occupancy prediction for the coming week.

Ritsema said some of the specific indicators the department is interested in are predictive space allocations to inform decision making for allocating visitor and card spaces throughout the day; optimal card/visitor space allocation by facility; over-sell percentage by facility; overnight card and ticket activity; and how cards are being used to potentially consolidate existing card programs.

As of Feb. 5 there were more than 6,700 cards issued for parking spaces in lots and ramps throughout Grand Rapids; only 423 cards are still available for seven of the 24 facilities.

The Grand Rapids parking facilities included in the parking status report are Ionia Mason, Monroe North Lot, Ionia North Lot, Dash West-Area 8, Dash West-Area 7, Dash West-Area 9, Scribner Lot, Government Center, DeVos Place, Pearl Ionia, Louis Campau, Monroe Center Ramp, Ottawa Fulton, Cherry Commerce, Gallery, Weston Commerce, Area 1, Area 2, Area 3, Area 4, Area 5, Dash South Area 6A, Dash South Area 6 and Market Lot.

Once the Grand Rapids analytics dashboard is up and running, the online portal allows the user to look at key performance measures based on the overall system, as well as individual parking ramps and facilities. The lag time for real-time occupancy data is anticipated to be seven to 10 minutes, which will provide informed decision making, according to Naramore.

“Instead of the anecdotal, or when somebody brings to our attention ‘there is a problem over here,’ we will be able to know before there is a problem. We will know what the thresholds are,” said Naramore.

Working with a predictive tool or data analytics was one of the policies and priorities outlined in the Mobile GR Priority Plan, which was formally adopted by the Parking Commission last week. Using a utilization-data system to enhance the process for identifying availability of monthly permits at each of the city’s facilities was designated as both urgent and important in the priority plan.

Naramore said the project is all part of the city’s initiative to use data to “not only inform our decision making but to educate the public on stuff, as well to show them why we are doing the things we are doing.”

Although Grand Rapids’ parking data analytics online dashboard is not expected to be accessible by the public due to security and data server concerns, the parking department indicated exported report documents would be a feasible option to provide information to the community. Department staff also said other tools, such as a parking availability mobile application, are expected to supplement the internal data analytics tool for customers and visitors to the downtown area.

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