Chris Yigit is Business Development Manager for the AutoVu product at Genetec. Request more information about the company at www.securityinfowatch.com/10213771.
License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology has gained popularity among many parking operators and can be a powerful addition to any security and parking application. Benefits include a significant and positive impact on operational efficiency, limiting corporate liability, improved customer service, increased productivity and accuracy, enhanced facility security and the ability to automate billing processes.
LPR systems essentially combine a specialized plate-reading camera with highly-advanced software to automatically identify vehicle license plates in a variety of mobile and fixed installations. The LPR camera is one of the most important components of the solution, responsible for recognizing license plates in its field-of-view, capturing context images of the vehicle and its license plate, and processing the image to extract accurate license plate characters using a form of analytics called optical character recognition (OCR).
The parking application software then takes over by matching incoming license plate reads against a list of vehicles, and automatically alerts operators to vehicles with unpaid fines, expired time limits and without permits. Using LPR cameras mounted on parking enforcement vehicles, operators can optimize their routes and become more efficient at covering many types of parking zones throughout a city. This helps municipalities improve parking services for residents and businesses.
Installing LPR systems for parking enforcement offers great opportunities for the security integrator looking to expand their offerings. The first reason is that it is typically not an intensive and resource-dependent undertaking; the second is that LPR is a natural add-on to video and access control systems that integrators already offer. In a vehicle access control application, the benefit of unification under a platform is clear: to use the vehicle plates as key cards, automating vehicle entry and exit. When combined with video surveillance, LPR data can be used as supported evidence in investigations, or to help increase security in parking lots.
LPR Finds Success in Aspen, Colo.
An example can be found in the city of Aspen, Colo., where the city’s parking enforcement oversees nearly 850 commercial on-street parking spaces in the city center, a 340-space public parking garage and nearly 3,000 residential parking spaces. Most of the commercial on-street spaces in the downtown area are managed with a pay-and-display system, with the remainder located in small pockets of unpaid spaces with time limits between 30 and 60 minutes. The parking garage is gated, and therefore mostly self-regulating.
Before installing an LPR-enabled parking strategy, three officers were devoted to the residential zones, sweeping them daily for expired display printouts or lack of payment. Approximately one and a half of the four residential zones could be properly patrolled in any given day, and throughout the week the officers would rotate, eventually getting to each residential parking spot once or twice per week.
Since installing an LPR solution from Genetec, the residential parking enforcement team has dropped to two officers, and each space is patrolled 2-4 times per day. Where it previously took an hour to sweep one given area, it now takes five minutes, enabling a 900-percent increase in coverage, with less staff.
In addition, the list of parking violators in Aspen has been reduced to nearly zero since implementing the technology, and the number of bootable cars has halved. “We now have a photograph of any cited car, so there are no more ‘I wasn’t there’ excuses,” says Tim Ware, Director of Aspen’s Parking Enforcement Department. “Along with the GPS coordinates, we have detailed images down to the wheels and valve stems of the vehicle that can prove the vehicle has not moved — but we almost never even have to take it that far anymore. You just can’t argue with this system because the accuracy is dead on and it’s indisputable.”
Since use of LPR technology began, Aspen’s Parking Enforcement Department has even helped to apprehend criminals when the system alerted them to a warranted vehicle and they were able to pass the location on to police.
LPR Makes Paying Easier
One growing trend in municipal parking and paid parking lots is ‘pay-by-plate’ technology. With pay-by-plate, consumers enter their license plate number at the payment kiosk to purchase parking time, make their payment and go. The license plates themselves are added to a database of permitted vehicles and updated in real-time to the LPR software in enforcement vehicles. A parking enforcement officer can then patrol the lot or the district to automatically identify the vehicles that should be ticketed.
One of the country’s first Pay-by-Plate Parking (PBP) systems can be found in Borough of State College, Pa. Home to more than 42,000 residents, State College Borough is a bustling college town that attracts many visitors with its popular restaurants, nightlife, active arts scene and abundant retail options. “Until recently, we were operating a very diverse, manually operated parking system with at least 5 or 6 different types of parking permits including the type you display on your dashboard, or hang on the rear view mirror — as well as different systems for parking lots, street parking and resident permits,” explains Charles DeBow, Parking Manager, Borough of State College. “We wanted to create a new type of unified parking system throughout the Borough that would make the lives of our residents and visitors simpler.”
Having recently installed LPR cameras on their parking enforcement vehicles, the Borough’s parking officers are now able to automatically capture license plate numbers to enforce parking permits, time-limited zone rules and parking lot checks. Using the LPR software installed inside the car on a ruggedized laptop, the Borough’s parking officers are able to easily monitor incoming reads from LPR cameras as they go about their patrols. The system automatically captures license plate characters, vehicle images, time stamps and GPS coordinates — making it easier to enforce parking restrictions, while decreasing the number of parking ticket disputes and increasing compliance.
“We have only had our Genetec LPR system installed for a few weeks now and already the system is proving its worth,” DeBow says. “We have about 2,000 cars that are eligible to be booted at this stage and the LPR system has already proven to be a highly effective tool at finding the people who owe us money with very little effort. Our parking enforcement officers can just drive around and the system automatically scans license plates and compares them with our database of permitted vehicles or scofflaws and alerts our staff when they need to take action. At this rate, we expect the system to pay for itself in 18 months or less.”
Some of the more sophisticated LPR systems available on the market today such as Genetec’s AutoVu (learn more about this product at www.securityinfowatch.com/10216915) can easily integrate with third-party ticketing systems, pay stations and pay-by-phone applications, so that parking facilities can incorporate this advanced LPR system as part of a comprehensive Pay-by-Plate ecosystem.
Chris Yigit is Business Development Manager for the AutoVu product at Genetec. Request more information about the company by visiting www.securityinfowatch.com/10213771.