Parking at the ballet
Planning a night out at the ballet usually involves travel considerations. Is it a Bank Holiday/will there be engineering works/how late do the trains run on a Sunday/will there be any point in taking the car ? The answer to the last question, in most major cities, would be no. Trying to find a parking space could take you as long as the journey itself, and it’s extremely stressful when you know you’re working to a curtain-up deadline that is immovable, rather like the traffic.
Anything that encourages people to go to the theatre and see live ballet performances is a good thing. It’s good for the soul and the economy. If you can park, you’re more likely to browse the shops while you’re there too. It’s altogether less off-putting if you want to use your car (who doesn’t, when it’s minus one in Spring?) but you don’t want to join the holding pattern of other cars looking for the holy grail of an empty parking space.
And there are encouraging schemes that are working to address this. In London’s Mayfair, Westminster City Council is trialling sensors that link to an app called ParkRight, which will guide you to a space on a map. But there’s a lot more that these smartphone apps can do to help with parking.
The free Parker app (on Apple and Android) gives you information about how much it costs to park in a particular bay and also lets you pay for it via your phone. You can set alerts so that you don’t overstay your welcome when the ticket expires, and you can take a photo of your car and be guided back to it when you want to. The system has been working for more than two years in Los Angeles.
The way the Parker app works is simple. Sensors in the road (light sensors and magnetometers) detect whether a car is parked in a space. Crucially, the magnetometers differentiate between a car, a person and an empty bag of crisps or other rubbish blowing about, so you really do know whether that space is empty or not.
So, when a parked car moves away from the sensor, it sends the information to a nearby beacon which is often sited on the side of the road, which passes the data onto a centre where a virtual map of all the parking spaces in the area is collated in real time – it’s updated every 2 minutes.
The app gives you information about how many parking spaces there are by displaying coloured dots. Blue means there are two or three spaces, green indicates four plus spaces and red means you’re in trouble and there is only one (or no) spaces left. Head for the blue or green areas and even if a batch of drivers are all headed for the same area, chances are you’ll still get your space. You can check availability before you leave home, and when you get close to the area where you’d like to park, you switch on the voice control to guide you towards the spaces, so it doesn’t distract your driving.
These schemes need your support because they aren’t inexpensive. Streetline, the makers of the sensors and the Parker app, charges up to £200 for each sensor and a monthly subscription for the Council to access the data. This high price has ended one trial scheme, but as with all things, if it proves a hit with the parking public then the incentive will be there to find the money and make parking easier for all of us.