Originally published in the September 2021 edition of IPMI’s Parking & Mobility magazine

Recently, discussions of ‘curbside management’ have reached a fever pitch, especially as vaccinations are slowly pushing traffic levels to pre-pandemic levels. Despite all the buzz, curbside management is by no means a new concept. Within minutes of driving along a city street or walking down a busy sidewalk, you’re sure to see signs of it – literally. Signs for loading zones, no parking, pick up and drop off areas, short-term parking – all examples of traditional curbside management strategy.

Over the years, the fundamental goal of curbside management hasn’t changed: to make the most effective use of your limited, high-demand real estate. On the other hand, how the curb is being used has completely transformed due to a multitude of factors from digital business transformation to changing customer behaviors. Curbside use is evolving so quickly that manual, signage-reliant curbside management methods are being left in the dust.

However, there is one piece of the curbside management puzzle that is flourishing: parking. Modern, consumer-friendly parking apps and smart parking solutions are thriving like never before. Given their success and rapid adoption, it’s surprising these technologies rarely come up in larger discussions of curbside management strategy. Now, with customers increasingly embracing digital experiences, there’s an opportunity to rethink how the successful features of smart parking technology can apply to the curb. Ultimately, leveraging digital parking solutions in new ways gives cities, universities, and municipalities a practical first step towards a consumer-friendly digital curb

Pitfalls of Static Curbside Management

Currently, curbside management strategy is heavily reliant on street signs and hardware to communicate policy. Because updating them is a manual, time-consuming process, policies and rates often become generalized and fixed. For many years this approach worked because changes in consumer behavior and business needs occurred much more slowly. Unfortunately, the mostly analog systems of curbside management sacrifice the ability to anticipate and react to rapid changes in curbside demand and customer expectations.

Part of what makes today’s curb so difficult to manage is how fluid it’s become. With curbside usage and demand more dynamic than ever, inflexible curbside management continues to fall short in a few key areas:

Doesn’t Accommodate New Business Models

A decade or so prior, perhaps the biggest curbside management challenge looming on the horizon was the rise of online shopping. Now, digital transformation upends the landscape every few years. Businesses like rideshare, multi-modal transport, and delivery apps (to name a few) seemingly come out of nowhere and change traffic demands overnight. Since most of the current approaches to curbside management are so reactive, it’s nearly impossible to monetize curbside usage for the most popular, newest services.

Tends to Undervalue the Curb

Similarly, constraints on traditional curbside management lead to routinely undervaluing our most highly used areas. With limited real estate and increased demand, there’s so much potential to monetize the curb. However, attempts to do so often run into a wall because it’s impossible to monetize equitably without accurate information on how and when each individual curb is being used. In the end, blanket curbside policies can’t maximize a given curb’s value because they cannot dynamically adjust policies to different use cases in real time.

Creates Inequitable Curb Access

High demand areas also create a constant tug of war for curbside access. On a given day, one location might need to be used variably for public transportation, freight deliveries, cars, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians. Equitable curbside management ensures that the right people get access to the curb when they need it. While providing equitable curbside access is essential to ease congestion, equitable is not the same as making it a free-for-all. Without flexible policies, you may inadvertently impede traffic flow by prioritizing certain vehicles, which can lead to compliance and enforcement issues down the line.

Enforcement and Communication is Difficult

Even with the best of intentions, the manual processes driving the current approach to curbside management can make enforcing it a Herculean task. The curb is being used in such wildly different ways, it’s hard to create unified enforcement strategies, let alone ones that are equipped to keep up. However, a lack of compliance isn’t always the result of an error in enforcement. Often, incorrect curbside usage is simply the result of policies that are confusing or inconsistent. When signage is unclear and people are in a rush, they’re more likely to chance a ticket, which snowballs into more compliance issues over time.

New Policies Aren’t Driven by Data

Many of the approaches to curbside management are reactive because they’re based on old information. Real-time visibility into peak demand, turnover, and traffic flow are essential to making smarter decisions that increase revenue and ease congestion. Short of regularly canvassing every curb, digital solutions are the only way to realistically gather this kind of information. Luckily, hesitation to invest in new technology is slowly dissolving in the face of the widespread popularity of digital experiences.

Extending Smart Parking to the Curb

Today’s curb is a constantly evolving landscape of transportation initiatives, customer expectations, public needs, and more. Signage and other analog curbside management methods have proven too inflexible to fully maximize the curb’s true potential. Even with unlimited resources at your disposal, you’ll struggle in the long-term without a fully-integrated system that can leverage all your data sources and traffic systems.

For years, parking apps and other smart parking technologies have steadily been applied to uses outside the traditional parking space. When considering the most pressing challenges facing curbside management today, digital parking solutions seem uniquely suited to being the foundation of a digital curbside management strategy.

Modernizing parking to meet today’s customer expectations has helped parking providers streamline operations, bolster enforcement, and increase revenue. By utilizing the most effective strategies and takeaways from successful digital parking, we see a number of potential benefits for the curb:

Maximizes Curbside Value

Fixed pricing policies only work if the demand for a given area never changes. Of course, we know that this isn’t the case. The value of the curb is constantly fluctuating. Dynamic pricing models are ideal to both maximize a curb’s value and increase turnover, but until recently the limitations of manual curbside management made their implementation impossible.

Smart parking solutions provide a practical, user-friendly way to introduce equitable dynamic pricing to support curbside management. Pre-configured rates can be automatically adjusted based on peak hours, specific vehicles, locations, or a number of other factors. Tailoring individual areas with flexible pricing is a great way to encourage optimal curbside usage. Because the pricing policies are managed in the backend, they can be implemented quickly without causing user confusion.

Streamlines Enforcement and Closes Compliance Loopholes

Digital parking systems also support integrations with enforcement and permitting systems, which is essential to successfully roll out dynamic curb use or flexible pricing models. Since vehicles are tracked across the entire system, it also closes commonly exploited enforcement loopholes. In practical terms, comprehensive, digital enforcement makes it significantly harder for users to abuse short-term parking or avoid progressive rate increases by jumping between different zones. Less manual enforcement and more visibility also helps streamline enforcement operations so you can concentrate your efforts in the areas that need it most.

Simplifies Passenger Loading Zones

Recently, the influx of rideshare apps and other mobility solutions have turned traditional passenger loading zones into chaotic free-for-alls. The situation is exacerbated when newer businesses find themselves competing for space with other public and private transportation providers.

Digital permitting, geofencing, and other features used in smart parking technology provide flexible options to manage and monetize passenger loading zones. Designated loading zones or temporary loading zones can ease congestion and accommodate specific events or unexpected traffic disruptions. Reservation systems could also potentially play into curbside management for tourist destinations, cities, or universities. For instance, they could be used to encourage tour or charter buses to book designated loading zones in advance – giving you better control over traffic flow.

Increase Efficiency for Commercial Loading

Most smart parking systems already integrate with commercial permit systems, making them an ideal solution to optimize loading and unloading times. Additionally, smarter ways to control and communicate the specific parameters of commercial loading zones makes them significantly easier to monitor and enforce. Not only that, but increased visibility of loading zone usage and traffic can also be shared with fleet drivers so they can alter delivery routes in real time.

Creates More Equitable Curbside Access

Physical signs, hangtags, and permits have struggled to keep up with the increasingly complex demands of the modern curb. This is a common source of frustration for people who expect, or more importantly, require special access to specific areas. Digital permitting systems are already being used by smart parking technology to easily implement varied zoning rules and pricing. A digital curbside solution helps make the curb more equitable by efficiently communicating and keeping track of things like disabled parking, promotional parking, resident-only parking, and more.

Better Communication of Complex Curbside Policies

Dynamic pricing models are a popular idea, but the realities of updating and maintaining signage often stop these initiatives from getting off the ground. In truth, communicating and enforcing flexible pricing models is nearly impossible without doing it digitally.

Smart parking solutions help overcome these hurdles by providing a user-friendly way to communicate up-to-date information on current curb policies in real time. This also helps streamline operations since it cuts back on the need to update and maintain signage. Once configured, users can be notified automatically based on their location, vehicle type, or any other criteria.

Enables Better, Data-Driven Decisions

Widespread pitfalls and trends in curbside management have only recently come to light because of an abundance of new data. Similarly, the foundation of effective curbside management rests on the ability to leverage every system and data source at your disposal. A digital curbside solution enables better data-driven decisions by giving you a comprehensive view of your curbside rates and policies.

Important Takeaways for Smarter Curbside Management

The future of effective curbside management is digital. Smart parking technology provides a practical approach to achieve dynamic, efficient, and user-friendly curbside management. However, given the variability between different cities, universities, or municipalities, it’s impossible to prescribe a single winning approach. Collaboration between hardware and software partners is critical to ensure that a curbside management solution fits your needs in both the short and long-term.

In order to create meaningful solutions for the curb, the industry must embrace the unpredictable, evolving nature of curbside needs. Effective curbside management rises from a willingness to embrace its many unknowns. A technology partner’s flexibility to collaborate and change over time will be particularly important to achieve long-term success.

To learn more about paving the way to a digital curb, check out our full white paper here.