Smart Parking Guidance System Demonstration

(Center Identification Number: 34100-00)


The Smart Parking Guidance System Demonstration Project (PGS) began upon its approval in the spring 2013 SGEF project cycle. A campus wide recruitment effort resulted in the hiring of several graduate student assistants representing multiple colleges and departments who have conducted this research and planning effort.  This project addresses the problem of transportation fuel wasted as a result of student motorists arriving on campus and having to circulate for a long time before finding a parking space.

Phase 2 of this project will deploy the selected technologies to track the availability of parking spaces in a selected garage and lot.  The deployment will include digital displays that communicate real time parking availability at these facilities and a mobile phone application (app).  The app will relay not only the parking availability information but also real time availability and location of other alternative transportation options that will help students complete their trip to their ultimate campus destination.  These options include bike sharing, OpenTripPlanner optimal routing information for walking and bicycling, and the location and arrival times of the next Bull Runner and HART bus service.

This up-to-date information will save students time and the aggravation of the uncertainty of parking and help them avoid wasting fuel driving across campus to another parking lot. This information will help raise awareness and educate students about how transportation options consume different amounts of energy.  It will also encourage leaving the car at home altogether and taking a more fuel efficient mode of transportation to and from the campus.  This supports USF’s carbon footprint reduction efforts of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and reporting requirements for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System. This project promotes attainment of Goal 2 of the USF Strategic Plan 2013-2018 in the use of the campus as a microlab to “develop strategic interdisciplinary research initiatives that solve critical problems.” Furthermore, this project advances one of the aims of the USF 2010-2020 Tampa Campus Master Plan Update, Transportation Element, to develop a sustainable multimodal transportation system.

Research Progress (Phase 1)

The student researchers under the guidance of Dr. Yu Zhang have completed the administration of a parking user survey that collected data about travel and parking behavior, in addition to preferences for smart parking information.  In coordination with staff of USF Parking and Transportation Services, the students also have identified four smart parking technologies, ranging from the conventional to the cutting edge. They have researched their feasibility for use on the USF Tampa Campus based upon a set of criteria, and have consulted with Campus Police regarding possible multiple uses of smart parking technologies for enforcement purposes (a potential cost sharing source). The students identified universities with smart parking systems and collected information about their systems, satisfaction with them and the vendors with whom they have contracted. Under the guidance of Dr. Pei Sung Lin, the students have designed an observational study to measure baseline fuel consumption due to circulating in lots and garages. They have submitted it for IRB review. Under the guidance of Dr. Sean Barbeau, students also have researched the compatibility of the OpenTripPlanner and HART’s OneBusAway server software with mobile clients, industry bike sharing application programming interfaces (APIs), industry smart parking APIs, and the USF Bull Runner API, in preparation for the development of the USF “MoBullity” mobile app interface that integrates several sources of real time traveler information for easy use by students. These students have met with staff of Students with Disabilities Services regarding adaptive programs for information accessibility and with staff of USF Information Technologies to ensure compatibility with the iUSF app.

Campus field trips to determine relative suitability of candidate parking facilities for the demonstration, combined with survey results and information from PATS Operations Manager has led to the selection of the Collins Garage and Lots 29A and 29B for the demonstration. Numerous conference calls with parking vendors and meetings of subgroups of the Team have provided the information needed to draft an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN).  The ITN defines performance specifications of the smart parking system, including open source API requirements that will make parking count data available for future student research projects. The ITN will solicit proposals from parking vendors. It is anticipated that responding vendors will propose solutions that may include one or more parking sensor technologies, such as inductive loops, radio frequency identification (RFID), license plate recognition systems, and individual space sensors. The ITN specifications draw upon the experience of one university in particular, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that has successfully implemented and expanded their smart parking system with a track record of several years. UW has used the smart technologies the Team is strongly considering for USF Tampa.  UW also uses T2, the same parking management software that PATS uses.

Additionally, the Team continues to explore a potential institutional partnership with the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) that brings possibilities for the use of cutting edge, highly accurate RFID technology, combined with low cost, convenience and greater parking pricing options for PATS parking management.  Team members have met with THEA’s representative.

In-House Camera-based Solution

Finally, in addition to the solutions proposed through the ITN process, it also is proposed that this project concurrently support the development and testing of a camera-based solution in the Beard Garage, created in-house.  This effort will provide an opportunity to demonstrate and compare alternative technologies for future decision making.  The camera-based solution and its associated budget is incorporated in this proposal.

The feasibility of camera-based parking tag classification will be investigated by the students.  At each entry and exit of the Beard Parking Garage, a high-resolution camera will be installed.  When a vehicle enters or leaves the garage, the camera-based system, focused on the windshield, will take a snapshot and perform the following tasks:

(a)    Identify and crop the parking tag region in the image.

(b)   Run pattern recognition and text recognition algorithms on the extracted tag to detect letters such as “S”, “E”, “GZ”, etc.

(c)    Using the recognized text, update the database on the central server (the same server that is the data source for the smart mobile phone app).

Smart detection of tag type will be performed in real-time so that the app users have as accurate information as possible.  The students will answer the following research questions:

(a)    What is the ideal installation to ensure a classification success rate better than 95%? This includes identifying a suitable camera type, installation location and height, focus angle, illumination levels, etc.

(b)   What are the appropriate pattern recognition algorithms suitable for this task?

(c)    What hardware/software optimization needs to be done to meet the real-time processing goal?

There are three project phases for the in-house camera-based solution.  These are:

  1. Data collection and analysis
  2. Fine-tuning algorithms
  3. Hardware and software (real-time embedded system) implementation

Under the guidance of Dr. Srinivas Katkoori, two Ph.D. level Graduate Student Assistants will research and develop the proposed camera-based solution over spring and summer semesters 2014, with prototype deployment anticipated by the end of the summer, and testing during fall semester 2014.

Expected Energy Savings

Baseline data and data collected after parking guidance system implementation, collected in the observational study, will verify the calculated estimates below about the expected savings of CO₂ emissions.

  • Assuming 0.83 miles traveled circulating per vehicle x 100 vehicles per day x 20 parking facilities x 70 school days per semester the PGS will be saving around 116,200 VMT, 5050 gal fuel (for average of 23 mil/gal), 14,000 hours and 45 metrics tons CO₂ emissions per year caused by circulation.
  • Assuming 1.2 million across-campus car trips annually x 1 miles traveled per trip the PGS will be saving around 1,200,000 VMT, 52,175 gal fuel and 465 metric tons CO₂ emissions per year from across-campus trips.

In total the PGS can contribute to a reduction of 510 metric tons CO₂ per year.


The students have presented their findings at meetings of the PGS Team.  The Team represents a coordinated effort among staff of Parking and Transportation Services, Facilities Planning and Construction, Administrative Services, and academic units such as the Patel College of Global Sustainability, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business Administration, the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, and Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) of the College of Engineering, and the Student Environmental Association.  The Team has also reached out to USF Information Technologies, Campus Police, and Students with Disabilities Services.  An additional 200 representatives of the student body will be recruited to participate in the observation study.


Ongoing implementation activities for the remainder of fall 2013:

  • Refine ITN, submit to USF Procurement Office and establish ITN evaluation committee.
  • Schedule pre-proposal meeting with vendors.
  • Issue ITN.
  • Design MoBullity mobile app interface via wireframe mockups.
  • Design server-side architecture, using OpenTripPlanner and OneBusAway software that integrates several sources of traveler information from available APIs.

For implementation in spring 2014:

  • Conduct parking occupancy survey and study to determine internal campus trip patterns to establish baseline conditions.
  • Hold pre-proposal meeting with vendors.
  • Receive and evaluate vendor bids, select vendor(s) and initiate procurement process.
  • Hardware installation, testing and adjustment of the smart parking system.
  • Implement prototype mobile app client, based on language and platform, from information compiled during fall 2013.
  • Implement prototype server-side system based on OneBusAway and OpenTripPlanner that use the available APIs for other USF traveler information systems.
  • Develop camera-based solution in the Beard Garage.

For implementation in summer 2014:

  • Conduct soft roll-out of smart parking service for testing by students.
  • Troubleshoot and fine tune mobile phone app.
  • Develop camera-based solution in the Beard Garage.

For implementation in fall 2014:

  • Conduct follow-up user and observational surveys.
  • Determine impact and energy savings from survey analysis.
  • Camera-based prototype deployment and testing in the Beard Garage.
  • Prepare memorandum about the results of the project for use by the Office of Sustainability’s documentation of student efforts.

Project Budget

Total Project Cost     $250,000

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