Smart Technology of Private Parking Lots in Malaysia

The Problems with Parking

​What was the longest you took to find a parking spot? For motorists in Kuala Lumpur, a study conducted by BCG in 2018 found that motorists spend an average of 25 minutes every day looking for parking spaces. That does not include the time spent in traffic congestion, which is an additional 53 minutes. Urbanization will continue to bring more people to the cities and their vehicles along with them. Further exacerbating this issue, the demand for private vehicles has actually risen during the COVID-19 pandemic (in part due to fears of viral transmission in public transportation), increasing the number of cars competing for already limited parking spaces. With the trend of major cities encouraging public transportation and pedestrianizing their urban centers, the number of available parking lots are declining. However, private vehicles still serve an important function for intercity transportation.

Modern Problems Require Modern Solutions

This article will discuss the problems with finding parking spaces in privately-owned parking lots (e.g. malls, office buildings or apartment-owned parking lots) and the state of the art solutions applied in the Malaysian market. Most people who have ever driven a vehicle or been a passenger on one have inevitably encountered these issues. First, the excessive amount of time spent just to look for available parking spots, especially during peak hours like weekends or public holidays. One could spend an inordinate amount of time burning precious fuel (or draining power for EVs) without finding that one free parking spot. In most mall parking lots in Malaysia today, occupancy sensors count the number of available parking spaces and display it at the entrance of each floor of the parking lot, allowing people to locate a free space quicker by showing the number of empty spaces availalble. However, is this really sufficient? Even if we know there is parking space available, we still don’t know exactly where it is and how to get to it. These problems can be summarized as a lack of information on parking availability, detection and wayfinding for the consumer.

Second, the limited payment options to settle parking fees. Most parking lots today still require cash payment either manually at payment counters or automated machines. Progress is being made in this regard where additional modes of payment are being implemented for convenience. These examples include cashless transactions like TouchNGo cards and Visa Debit cards, making it so you do not have to dig through your wallets for loose change. However, there would still be an issue for lack of cash if you still have to physically reload your payment cards. Can we further expand the use of these payment technologies?

Third, ticketing-based parking systems are slow and inefficient. Traffic congestion can occur outside entrances to parking lots when vehicles pile up waiting for people to manually take entry tickets or scan their payment cards. All of this runs counter to the idea of a “smart city”, where so much time is wasted by compounding these small inefficiencies.

The IoT Revolution and Smart Sensors

​Smart sensor technologies as well as the continuous development of IoT (Internet-Of-Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies enable novel solutions to the issues with private parking lots. Now, we can make sensors that are lightweight, robust and run on a fraction of the power of their predecessors. IoT-enabled devices can connect even the smallest components to the Internet.

License Plate Recognition Technology

​The current most popular smart solution for private parking lots is the use of LPR (License Plate Recognition) technology. Utilizing the latest advances in computer vision, video cameras capture images of the vehicle’s license plate at the entrance of the parking lot, extract the sequence of characters and record how long each vehicle stays in the parking lot. Users can directly settle their parking fees using a mobile app by looking up their license plate in the parking management system in a physical machine or on their website. This eliminates the need for a physical ticket to be issued to vehicle owners and provides flexibility and convenience to parking lot users. LPR technology is already seeing successful implementations in malls and department stores, such as in Sunway Pyramid, Selangor and CityOne MegaMall, Kuching, Sarawak. 

Access Control using RFID?

However, users still have to manually input their vehicle license plate number in LPR-controlled smart parking lots. Is there a way to further automate this process so that users need only to drive to the parking lot entrance and payment is automatically deducted from their accounts? Hypothetically, a user can associate their license plate number to a particular payment application. An alternative solution can be applied to this access control problem: RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) technology. RFID tags contain integrated circuits that transmit radio waves to an RFID reader, which reads the information available on the tag and passes it to a security system to lift a car park barrier or process a payment fee. We can envision a system where the RFID is integrated with a payment app, giving users the ability to seamlessly enter or exit a parking lot using automatic payment options. Smart RFID sensors can even detect the presence of RFID tags in a parked car, reporting the parking occupancy of a parking lot in real time. This type of parking lot potentially may not even require a barrier at all. Touch ‘n Go recently announced that they are expecting to roll out RFID payments for parking lots, paying at petrol stations and even at F&B drive through outlets! If more RFID applications are successful, we could see RFID as a default payment option wherever vehicles can go. 

Fully Automated Parking Systems

​But what if we do not have to search for parking spots by ourselves? Is there a solution to automatically park our vehicles at the next available space? Something like an automated valet service, where we pass our keys off and not have to worry about our cars. Precisely this is already implemented in places in the Klang Valley. In Bangsar, the KL Gateway Mall boasts an automated parking system that contains 1238 parking bays. Users can park their car in a lift and are given a 4-digit identification number for their vehicles, after that an automated system moves their car to an available bay. When leaving, users can input their number to produce the location of their vehicles. Another better example is at Isola @ KLCC, a serviced apartment located in Kuala Lumpur. The developers announced an Automated Parking System that transports and stores vehicles of their tenants by using an automated mechanical lift to vertically stack cars in multiple levels. It is an automated storage and retrieval system for cars, designed to save space in place of a multilevel parking garage. Users need only to input their car identification (through a private access card) to retrieve their vehicles. Automated Parking Systems provide a number of benefits such as improved security (lower risk of collisions and minor scrapes), eliminating time for drivers to search for parking space and better handicap access.

The Era of Smartphones

One of the most important inventions of the past 20 years, the smartphone forever changed how technology is able to be accessed and brought about a revolution in businesses worldwide. In the context of private parking, smartphone applications introduce many possibilities to improve the efficient use of parking spaces. A few examples of innovative applications are given below. 

The Park It app is a peer-to-peer parking solution that allows users to share their parking spaces when they are not using them. When you go on vacation or business trips, you can manage your workplace parking space to allow other people to use it by sending the guest vehicle’s information to parking management or to their automated system. Hence parking spaces are much more efficiently utilized and the parking space owner also reduces the cost of renting them. 

Another smartphone app, kipleCity, formerly kiplePark, utilizes LPR technology to streamline private parking management by processing payment directly in the app. When entering or exiting a parking facility supported by kipleCity, license plate readers at the gate can identify vehicles and charge them accordingly. For building tenants, the LPR technology can also identify tenant vehicles and allow access control solutions directly integrated with the app.

A full parking management solution is also available, provided by the ParkAide app. ParkAide displays full and empty parking bays to drivers, allows drivers to book a parking space and even points drivers to their cars if they have trouble remembering where they parked. On the business side, ParkAide analyzes usage statistics to allow management to better identify high-demand parking bays, lets management recommend empty parking bays and even integrates building security with an SOS button for users. 

What About Public On-street Parking?

​While smart sensor technologies continue to improve, using less power and providing longer lasting applications, the landscape of smart parking solutions continues to evolve. It will become less of a hassle for private vehicles to find suitable parking in cities, cutting down travel time and overall improving the happiness and productivity of an urban population. 

Public on-street parking or municipal parking also suffers from the same issues as private parking lots: availability, detection and wayfinding. Availability of public parking on peak hours is almost non-existent in high density areas. Parking occupancy is extremely difficult to identify; there isn’t any signboards that shows you how many parking spaces are empty. Even if there is such a signboard, you still do not know exactly where that space is and how to get there. Paying with parking coupons is a hassle; and if you receive a parking summons, you have to travel to the local municipal building to settle it. 

The next issue will explore how on-street parking is changed by the use of IoT and smart sensors in Malaysia.