Aug 19, 2021

Smart Zones 201: Enforcing Smart Zones

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Dawn Miller

VP, Policy & Partnerships

It’s been almost a year since the Coord team launched the first Smart Zone program with the Park Omaha team in Omaha, Nebraska.  Since then, we’ve gotten to speak with cities across the country about what we’ve learned from our programs in Aspen, Nashville, Omaha, and West Palm Beach.  One of the most frequently asked questions from cities interested in better managing their curbs through programs like Smart Zones has to do with compliance.  How do you enforce these things!?!

It’s an essential question to ask, and one we’re pleased to help answer.  For those curb-ophiles we haven’t gotten to share the answer with in person (or, let’s face it, over Zoom), here are some of the Coord team’s thoughts on this important topic.

(Need a review of what Smart Zones are? Check out our Aspen case study, which has a description of how the program works.)


An Ounce of Prevention
The first step in gaining compliance with any program, especially a new one, is outreach and education.  This means we:

  • Deploy street teams to speak one-on-one with drivers, providing them with information about the program and offering to help sign up.
  • Call fleets that operate in the area to encourage them to sign up through an easy online portal.
  • Educate local businesses, who not only have their own vehicles, but also interact with drivers and fleets they do business with.
  • Leverage existing community groups (e.g., downtown associations) to solicit early feedback and help get the word out.
  • Create a program website and use social and traditional media to spread awareness.

Of course you can’t reach every single driver person-to-person.  So in all cities we install metal signage to support education and compliance.  We recommend two signs:

  • A traditional regulatory sign, so it’s clear the space is enforced just like other parking regulations in the city.
  • A “marketing” style sign, which provides a little information about the program, a web address to learn more, and a number to text to book a Smart Zone on the spot or download the Coord Driver app.

Smart_Zone_Sign_Collage

 

Now, when you’re reading a blog post from a digital curb management company, you might think that metal signage sounds surprisingly old school.  However, Coord programs are tethered to real-world logistics, and practically metal signs are a good option.  First, they are relatively inexpensive to create and easy to install.  Second, the public is used to consulting metal signage for curbside guidance.

To balance the need for more dynamic curbs with communication practicalities, we recommend signs that preserve as much flexibility as possible while also making it clear to the public when the Smart Zone is in operation.  This typically means the regulation sign states the days of week and times of day when the Smart Zone is in operation, and therefore when booking through the Coord Driver mobile app or an API-integrated third party app is required.  With only essential content on the sign, the City retains significant flexibility: the City can digitally change time limits, prices, and permitted uses (e.g., truck loading, food truck space, short-term parking, tour bus loading) without changing signage.

Coord web platform screenshot

The Coord web platform allows the City to digitally set and modify regulations in Smart Zones


A final recommendation: keep it simple.  Although Smart Zones allow you to change the rules or prices as often as you’d like, doing so too often can be confusing.  We recommend reviewing the program every couple of months for potential changes, rather than some more frequent cadence.  We also recommend against other practices that might complicate or muddy your outreach message, such as placing Smart Zones next to regular loading zones.


Enforcing Smart Zones: The Nuts and Bolts
Some members of society are inherently rule-followers.  Others, of course, are not.  Therefore, like other parking regulations, enforcement is a component of any Smart Zone program.  The way enforcement works typically varies depending on whether it’s an early-stage, pilot program, or a more mature program.

Enforcement - Getting Started.  To ensure it’s easy to get started with Smart Zones, we created the Coord Inspector mobile app.  Whoever enforces parking in a city installs this iPhone/Android app on their pre-existing mobile device.  When going along a regular enforcement route, parking enforcement scans each license plate in a Smart Zone and receives a reading of whether that vehicle has properly booked the Zone.

Officers also receive alerts in Coord Inspector when a driver reports a Smart Zone is full when it shouldn’t be.  With this information, any nearby officer who is available can go to the Zone to identify any unauthorized vehicles and enforce as is appropriate.  The officer issues any warnings or violations in their pre-existing handheld device, using Coord Inspector to confirm who has and has not booked the Zone at a given time.

Enforcement - Scaling Up.  Although the officers handling enforcement in Smart Zones today generally like Coord Inspector, in the long run it is more convenient and streamlined for officers to be able to use a single app to look up Smart Zone bookings and perform their other enforcement duties, such as regular parking enforcement.  Therefore after a pilot period, a City will typically want its enforcement technology vendor to integrate with the Coord API.

Staffing Enforcement.  A common question we get is whether a City needs to hire additional enforcement personnel to run a Smart Zone program. In short, our experience is that they do not. Our partner cities thus far have instead incorporated Smart Zone enforcement into their existing officers’ duties.  For example, in the City of Aspen, each day one of the City’s five officers is assigned to focus on Smart Zones.  They estimate that this focus takes about 20% of that officer’s time, and the rest of their time is spent on other enforcement duties.

The above numbers in Aspen reflect a program that’s in a “steady state.” Early in a City’s program, following a period of outreach and warnings, we recommend an increased enforcement focus on Smart Zones for about four to six weeks.  In Aspen, the officer leading the Smart Zone program efforts spent about 40% of his time during this initial period focusing on Smart Zone education and enforcement.  We find this can help jumpstart participation and signups from the groups that are not inherently rule followers and build awareness that these are enforced spaces for drivers who are not eligible to use the Zones.  In Aspen, they’ve experimented with periodically (e.g., every few months) increasing an officer’s focus on Smart Zones for a week, which can serve as a “booster shot” as needed if data from the Smart Zones demonstrate that compliance is declining.

Of course, the amount of staff time necessary also depends on the size of the program and the level of compliance commonly seen in a given city.  If your enforcement team is already far smaller than you really need, a Smart Zone program unfortunately does not fix that problem (though it can help a little, since enforcing Smart Zones is easier than enforcing the traditional time limit regulations on loading zones).  Since the program generates revenue from user fees on the space, some cities may choose to use this funding to bolster enforcement resources and thus program compliance, enabling drivers and the City to reap more safety and mobility benefits.


Is This Really Working?
So this all sounds nice in theory.  But how is it really working?

Adoption.  Adoption is one important indicator of whether the program is working.  In short, pilot adoption is going really well.  Through the approaches described above, Coord’s Smart Zone pilot cities have achieved:

  • Over 60 fleet signups, including small, local fleets and national brands such as US Foods, UNFI, fleets contracted to deliver for Fedex, Sysco, ReddyIce and Alsco
  • Over 800 driver signups
  • Over 6,000 paid bookings

With larger deployments and longer-term programs, even more fleets and drivers are going to get involved in the coming months.

In the second month of Aspen’s Smart Zone program, we used cameras to study what share of commercial drivers were properly booking Smart Zones.  The study found that about 60% were properly booking curbside Smart Zones, a very encouraging finding that early in the program.  A much smaller share - 30% - were properly booking alley Smart Zones. With this information, the enforcement team knew it needed to shift more outreach and enforcement to the alleys.

Driver Experience.  Another indication of whether the program is working is the driver experience. In the Coord system today, there are three ways to access Smart Zones:

  1. Quick-Book: The driver arrives at an open Smart Zone and starts a session on-the-spot using a single tap
  2. Last-Mile Hold: The driver indicates their desired Smart Zone at the beginning of the trip, and the Coord system auto-holds this Smart Zone (or the nearest available Zone within a reasonable radius) for them when they’re ½ mile away
  3. Third-Party Booking: A third party (e.g., a retailer, a resident using a moving company, a fleet manager) starts the session for the driver.

Today, most drivers are using the quick booking feature.  These drivers feel confident enough that a space will be available when and where they need it that they don’t feel the need to use the last-mile hold feature.

A small share of sessions, about 10%, take place using the last-mile hold feature.  We expect this feature will continue to gain traction as Smart Zone programs get larger and more established.  Drivers are more likely to take advantage of this feature when they are more experienced with the Coord Driver mobile app, when they want a little leg up on getting their preferred Smart Zone, and when their fleet or dispatch software is integrated with the Coord system so the entire process is automated for them.

A common question we get is whether drivers who use the last-mile hold feature actually find available space when they arrive at the Smart Zone.  So far, they do so in 81% of cases.  Though far from perfect, this level of success in pilot programs is quite encouraging.  For every 100 overall Smart Zone sessions, 1.8 drivers tap a button in the Coord app to report a “Smart Zone full” that shouldn’t be.  When this happens, the driver is shown the nearest available Smart Zone, the incident is recorded in the system for analytical purposes, and a live alert is sent to the enforcement team.  Of course, we wish this button never needed to be pushed.  But all told, these statistics combined suggest most of the time - about 98% of the time - the driver has a smooth experience using Smart Zones.


Follow the Data: How to Make It Work Even Better
It’s also important to remember the ways a Smart Zone program provides a wealth of data we and our city partners can use continuously to improve compliance and the experience for drivers.

Strategic outreach and enforcement.  Program managers have several valuable live datasets at their fingertips they can use to optimize enforcement. First, they have access to the “Zone Full Reports,” which show how often a driver with a hold was unable to use that space.  Second, they have access to data about officers’ license plate scans from the Coord Inspector mobile app.  Third, they have access to violation and warning data.  Analysis of these data can show when and where there are compliance issues, so the City can focus enforcement resources to address the problem.

Meet unmet demand.  Another approach is to use these data, in combination with booking data, to understand unmet needs for space.  Areas and times with compliance problems may be candidates for additional or expanded Smart Zones.  They also may be candidates for an expanded “buffer” in the Smart Zone.  The Coord system allows you to build in an assumption for some level of noncompliance (e.g., 30% of the Zone length).  Building in a buffer reduces the amount of bookable space to account for some noncompliance, therefore improving the reliability of the hold feature.


Looking to the Future
Hopefully this blog post has demonstrated that although Smart Zone programs are not going to yield 100% compliance, even the baseline compliance rates are strong enough to create a program that meaningfully improves upon the status quo in a way that is practical and achievable - legally, politically, budgetarily - in most cities today.

Some other curb management solutions start with the hardware - a sensor or a camera - and structure their programs around using that hardware. While the potential around computer vision is very exciting, it also requires non-negligible financial investments, access to power (circuits, batteries or good sunlight), securing mounting locations, and overcoming legal and political hurdles. Truly automated enforcement, in which citations are mailed without human participation, would be very beneficial for programs like Smart Zones. But few localities have the authority to do this today, and gaining this authority typically takes both significant time and political will.

At Coord we've taken a different approach. We started by developing software. Our programs rely entirely on things we already have and that are broadly accepted: metal signs and the mobile devices already in the hands of nearly every driver and enforcement officer today.

This comes with a lot of advantages. Cities have choices about whether and when they use cameras or sensors. Some locations might be worth the investment in hardware, while others might merit a Smart Zone but not a hardware investment. Different hardware might be more suitable for different locations, or a City’s needs may evolve over time. Whichever hardware a city chooses, the Coord system can incorporate data feeds from this hardware to improve the reliability of last-mile hold sessions, provide enforcement officers with enhanced intelligence, or support fully automated enforcement programs. Coord also offers a unique hardware-free option, creating an entry point into digital curb operations that is achievable, scalable, and meaningfully impacts our streets.

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Dawn Miller

VP, Policy & Partnerships

Dawn is Coord’s VP for Policy and Partnerships. She focuses on Coord's work with public agencies. She previously served as Chief of Staff at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the City agency that oversees New York City's taxi, car service and ride-hailing industries. Dawn launched TLC’s Research and Evaluation practice, serving as its first director, and worked as a researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. She lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn and loves parks, bikes, beaches, stoop-sitting and group fitness.