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February 3, 2014

Will London’s parking sensors pass on user data when they park?

The council is investing £889,395 in the project and the first phase is expected to be completed in three years.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

Westminster’s council must ensure its smart parking system that helps drivers to find a free parking space via a smartphone app will protect user data, according to analysts.

The council, in collaboration with technology firm Smart Parking, began installing 3,000 infra-red sensors in ‘paid-for’ and disabled parking bays on 20 January, which are expected to cut down on congestion and carbon emissions.Lionel Lamy, VP of European Services Research at IDC, told CBR the council must guarantee that user data won’t be passed on to third parties.

Lionel Lamy, VP of European Services Research at IDC, told CBR the council must guarantee that user data won’t be passed on to third parties.

"For example, if it becomes a booking system, there will be some concern as to how that data is then going to be used. It should not be used for anything other than that. So it should be clear that it won’t be relayed to anybody else or any other system, providers or government body.

"Even if you don’t pre-book it, the fact that a user is opting in, the council would still have to ensure that privacy and integrity of the data is maintained as there’s still a transfer of data if you opt in."

Westminster Council told CBR it had no plans to include a booking system and therefore no personal data would be produced.

"Even if we wanted to include such a feature, which we never have, it simply wouldn’t work unless you could stop people driving into a booked bay," according to a spokesperson.

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Leith Penny, the strategic director of city management at Westminster City Council, added that the purpose of the parking bay sensors initiative is to improve traffic management.

"It is therefore absolutely in Westminster City Council’s interest for us to share access to the real-time data produced by the sensors with companies offering applications such as sat nav devices. It means more people will know about the availability of parking spaces and can act on that knowledge," he said.

"We are currently in discussions with a leading academic institution exploring how analysis of time-series data produced by the sensors might inform future traffic management; and we won’t be making any commitments to sharing historical data until we have a fuller understanding of its potential."

The roll out of the ParkRight app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, comes not too long after a successful trial with a network of 189 sensors in five London streets including Saville Row, Jermyn Street and St John’s Wood High Street.

According to the council, the scheme is expected to work in the same way after the initial phase unless future developments offer the potential to provide an even better service.

Liam Quirke, an analyst from IHS, told CBR his concerns about an appropriate business model.

"I have seen large projects that are well into their pilot phase having been funded by the EU where there remain concerns over the viability of the concept in the longer term. For instance, who continues to be responsible for the continued upkeep and maintenance of the deployed infrastructure and how will it continue to be monetised," he said.

Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, another research director at IDC, added: "Some issues may arise around unions since this may replace some of the workers who manage parking violations and the trend here is towards a ticketless system."

However, the council spokesperson said: "We are beyond the successful pilot phase and contractually committed to the bay sensor programme. The first phase of sensor installation is underway and going very well.

"Westminster City Council is responsible for the sensor installation and upkeep which is financed through parking revenue. The system is not designed to make money but it is sustainably funded. Its aim is to make parking easier across Westminster."


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