Finding a parking spot in densely populated areas can be a real pain. It's expensive, time consuming, has potential for sever fines and often requires a lot more driving than planned. But now, "smart park" systems are looking to leverage the technology we carry with us everywhere--our smartphones--to make the whole process less painful. Here are a few of the best parking solutions we've seen so far. San Francisco's SFpark

The first is right here in the U.S., in sunny San Francisco. The Golden Gate City is full of tech-savvy people glued to their mobile devices at all hours. It's also a city with limited parking, dense traffic, and a penchant for double parking. The experiment is called SFpark and it's run by San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency. The idea is that there will always be an open spot on every block with meters.

How will they do that? A variable rate is enacted to price certain people out of parking when the streets are busy. Higher tiered pricing can be as much as $6 per hour. For those looking to park, it immediately becomes a cost/benefit analysis. An app running on the driver's mobile will clearly show the rate and number of spaces available. It's likely no one will park for $6 an hour when, around the corner, there are spots for $3 an hour. That sort of transparency is what the program offers drivers.

SFpark is able to display this data due to a new system of road sensors and electronic meters. Real-time data is sent to SFMTA and is relayed to the app. SFMTA can lower or raise prices throughout the day to always have a spot open. During the trial program, they will be analyzing the data to see how much economics play a role in parking behavior. Some criticism says that this only means those who can afford the higher prices stand to benefit, instead of the normal first-come-first-served. But the data shows that only 20% of the time do people continue to park when rates are going up. The goal isn't to economically segregate, it's to get busy drivers off the road.

Spain's Urbiotica

Across the pond, similar efforts to streamline parking are underway. Several cities in Spain are running a pilot program developed by Urbiotica, an urban solutions firm. Just like SFpark, the system has sensors in the parking spaces that detect when a car is present. When the sensors show a space available a signal is sent to a database that gets pushed out to drivers looking for a spot. Drivers can access the information from their mobile, like SFpark, but also the information can be displayed on billboards to get the message across to more people. The cost for the sensors are about $400 each.

There's a lot that these programs can do to further take the headache out of big city transit. Not everyone can take public transit, and for those who need personal transit, smart parking can take time out of hunting for empty spaces. The costs involved may appear prohibitive for some cities, but keeping drivers off the road that are in a hurry can significantly improve traffic and safety. And you can't put a price on that.

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