May 21, 2011 Update: Fired CPA manager Dale Fraser stated in 2008, “Calgary Parking Authority did create the proprietary approach to this new parking system. And we [CPA] do have a patent-pending on this approach …”
Dec 4, 2008 Update: See Privacy Investigation Report concerning Calgary ParkPlus
In this Reimagining the Wheels article, I will talk about the ParkPlus System, a Calgary Parking Authority (CPA) created state-of-the-art parking system. ParkPlus is much more advanced than the good old parking meters, the newer pay and display system, or even this type of hybrid meter. Regular readers may remember I have previously promised to blog more about ParkPlus here. Well, I’ve finally kept my promise. (big smile)
To provide a deeper insight into ParkPlus, I’ve also taken time to interview CPA’s general manager Mr. Dale Fraser and Calgary Alderman Mr. Dale Hodges, two of the participants in the creation of the ParkPlus system.
The Business of Parking
You may not realize this but Calgary Parking Authority is a completely self-funded operation. In 2007, after expenses, CPA actually *paid* a total of $17.9 million to the City of Calgary (an $1.9 million increase from $16 million in 2006).
Now, observant readers will notice that old style parking meters sometimes got vandalized or money stolen. To give you a rough idea of the monetary impact, CPA’s meter repairs, parts, and overtime costs have totaled more than several hundred thousand dollars since 2006. I will mention how ParkPlus addresses these challenges in “The Technologies” section.
The ParkPlus system can also reduce parking enforcement cost ($6.3 million in 2007) by making parking enforcement more efficient. And ParkPlus has the potential to increase revenue from parking operations and enforcement by increasing tickets purchased (because it is more convenient for people to pay by credit cards or cell phones) and issuing more parking tickets to violators (with photos as proofs). (note: As a driver that doesn’t enjoy being ticketed, I am torn to call “issuing more parking tickets” a “benefit“!)
For the financial and business types, you can download a copy of CPA’s Financial Statements here.
And by eliminating the painted lines defining curbside parking spaces, CPA has also managed to allow more cars to be parked on the streets of downtown Calgary. And I’ve been reassured by CPA that they have even collected statistics to confirm that 20% more cars are able to park than before. By the way, more parking spaces also means happier Calgarians (less time wasted to hunt for a parking spot) and increased revenue for CPA.
The ParkPlus System consists of three components:
3) Cellphone and Web-based user account system designed and implemented by MTS Allstream.
“Using our state-of-the-art digital imaging technology, Tannery Creek’s autoChalk detects parking time violations while scanning at normal traffic speed (25 mph) up to 8 feet away. Productivity of your staff will quadruple, with more revenue, less costs, reduced injury and improved working conditions.” (for more cool details, check out Tannery’s web page)
2a) A casual inspection of the ParkPlus’ Cale pay machines (CWT 2115) indicates the machine are quite sturdy. CPA was reluctant to discuss security features of these pay machines but further research into CPA’s CWT 2115 reveals it does have several desirable security features to reduce theft and vandalism, including “Intelligent seismic vibration detector to prevent break-in installed. An alarm can automatically be sent to a security guard and an audible alarm can be triggered. The detector can differentiate between different real attacks and normal operations.” (For more info, see CWT 2115 product highlight)
2b) And there is an efficient solar cells on top of the pay machine. The machine can run for weeks with a fully charged internal battery.
3) The cell phone payment system allows users to create an account online with the user’s cellphone number and license plate information and then put some money into his/her account. After creating an account, if the user wants to park at a ParkPlus Zone, he/she can simply call the ParkPlus system’s phone number (403-537-PARK (7275)). And then pay by entering the parking zone, and the system will charge for the maximum allowed time. And if the user returns before the parking time expires, the user can simply call the system and the unused portion will be refunded to the user’s account. The user can even use the system to set up a reminder and have the system calls the user minutes, say 5 minutes, before the parking time expires!
During my interview with Dale, CPA’s General Manager, he mentioned that the CPA has applied for worldwide patent protection of the ParkPlus system. As someone interested in intellectual properties like patents, I have always tried to learn more about the key ideas behind interesting patents. So I’ve tried various US patent searches to try to find the ParkPlus related patent(s) (including this search with 2 results not related to ParkPlus and this search with no results at publication time).
I am speculating here, but one reason that the CPA ParkPlus patent application is not public yet may be due to the allowed 18 months 35 U.S.C. 122 (b) (c) (B) delay. (To me, US patent is one of the most important ones to apply for, simply because the US is one of the largest markets and it has a reasonably strong patent protection regime.)
Now, for some insightful public information, here is Tannery Creek Systems’ US patent application 20070029825 “System and method for parking infraction detection”. Pay attentions to the “Claims” section. And pay special attention to the “Detailed Description of Invention” section as it is required by 37 CFR 1.71, MPEP § 608.01 to be “in such particularity as to enable any person skilled in the pertinent art or science to make and use the invention without involving extensive experimentation“. (ref USPTO MPEP 608.01(g) )
I look froward to reading ParkPlus’ patent application when it becomes public. I enjoy reading patents because they teaches us a lot of interesting things. Plus some patents are strong while some other patents may become invalid when under closer scrutiny. Anyway, the ParkPlus patent application should be a good read.
Because of the efficiency of ParkPlus enforcement vehicle, my days in committing “rational crime” is probably numbered (or greatly reduced). (big smile) Have a read of the above linked Financial Times interview for more info if you like. It is a fun read.
Quoting from the Crime and Punishment section in this article (emphasis added), “These empirical studies have also shown that the probability of getting caught has a more deterrent effect on criminality than the term of the punishment.” Ha ha, it works for parking tickets too. (smile)
Now, saving the best for now, here is a video me interviewing CPA General Manager Dale Fraser and Alderman Dale Hodges. Enjoy.
Some Privacy Concerns
I am not a lawyer, but I think Calgary Parking Authority still has to abide by the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). What concerns me here is CPA’s systematic storing of license plates information captured by the ParkPlus enforcement vehicle. Dale, CPA’s General Manager, suggested that since the license plates information are in clear view on the street already therefore they can be considered “public” information. The example given by Dale was we can go out onto the street today and start writing down all the license plates numbers, precisely where these vehicles are located, and at what time, thus there is nothing new or wrong with the data collected by ParkPlus.
In my humble opinion, the problem with Dale’s argument is that it ignores the systematic, complete, and efficient nature of these captures. Now, imagine if I had outfitted my car with cameras and infrared laser like a ParkPlus enforcement vehicle and started driving around downtown capturing license plates information. I will be very surprised if my camera-equipped car roaming downtown does not lead to puzzling looks by Calgarians or even being stopped for questioning by the police.
I don’t ever want to see Canada becoming a “surveillance society” like the UK (see reports from BBC, Guardian, and CNet). The information collected by ParkPlus and potentially dangerous precedence set by ParkPlus may be the first step on a slippery slope towards a surveillance society. To better appreciate what a surveillance society is like, I recommend reading this BBC report and scanning the UK Information Commissioner surveillance society report (PDF file) to gain some perspective on surveillance.
If you are concern about the legality and the potential invasion of privacy by the ParkPlus enforcement system, you may wish to contact the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, Mr. Frank J. Work. And ask the OIPC to investigate and publicly report on the privacy measures CPA needs to institute to ensure the protection of the privacy of Albertans.
I think ParkPlus is a truly revolutionary and state-of-the-art parking system that reinvents parking. At the same time, I won’t allow my admiration of the cutting-edge technologies and potential monetary benefits to overshadow my desire to see Canadians’ rights to privacy be respected and protected.
1) Here are some more reading materials if you wish to learn more about the ParkPlus System.
a) It’s Time for Change – Calgary’s New Approach (PDF file, 2 pages)
b) Calgary: The City Steps Out on its Own (PDF file, page 4-6)
2) Without turning this note into a lengthy essay, I have chosen to skip the discussion of whether police should be allowed to use ParkPlus data (those that have no parking violations) without court supervision. You see, even the US FISA has an FISC.
3) Here is a Globe and Mail blog entry about Google Streetview where they take candid snapshots from the street.
4) Here is an earlier version of info sheet about the ParkPlus system.