Can smart cities reverse the decline of the UK High Street?

If we want the centre of our UK cities to prosper, our thinking needs to change. Although it’s not just about traffic and parking management, having an improved experience for the driver will certainly have a huge impact on any town centre economic strategy.

Generally speaking, High Streets, including Exeter, in the UK are struggling with declining footfall as consumers increasingly shop online and city centres struggle to balance the requirement for a convenient positive parking experience at an ‘acceptable price’ whilst reducing congestion and carbon emissions. People aren’t ready to leave the car at home yet, and although reliable public transport, park and ride and car sharing schemes are vital, private vehicles still need to be accommodated. Hence adopting smarter alternatives to current thinking is a must to reverse High Street decline.

The technology is here

The technology is already here that improves the experience for motorists visiting towns and cities to find somewhere to park as my experience visiting Ghent in Belgium recently proved. Intelligence such as traffic sensors collecting data from traffic, feed dynamic routing signage that navigate motorists through the local area and car parks in real-time to available spaces indicated by visual indicators.


Add to this mobile phone apps such as allow spaces and/or electric vehicle charging points to be reserved before leaving home.. There is no doubt that 

technology helps to reduce congestion and air pollution as motorists are directed to available parking taking the search out of locating a parking space. It also reduces road-rage and makes finding a space a more relaxed experience.

Demand for Electric Vehicles increasing

Electric vehicles (EV) are becoming more affordable and the range of their batteries are increasing. This will inevitably increase their use which will be an important element to consider in any modern city. Facilities for EV motorists including charging points, favourable parking rates and routes just for zero emission vehicles in areas prone to poor air quality all go towards encouraging their use and improving air quality.

The advent of smart city technologies will reduce frustration, congestion, wasted time looking for spaces, and carbon emissions which all goes towards improving air quality. Add in bright, clean well designed car parks with pay-on-exit cashless ANPR enabled solutions with integrated mobile phone apps to automate pay-as-you-go parking payments and the High Street shopping experience’ is greatly improved. 

As companies invest in ‘big data analytics’ this will contribute towards the improvement of  modern ‘smart’ cities. Traffic management and parking providers will be able to pinpoint exactly what their customers are demanding, and hence create unique product propositions to exceed customer expectations and build brand loyalty.

Parking companies play a key part in improving the High Street experience. Adopting technology and data analytics to offer the motorist a simple to use seamless parking experience backed up by an inclusive, sympathetic and common sense approach to enforcement. The days of parking company BBC Watchdog appearances will then hopefully be a distant memory of a time gone by.

What are your thoughts on how our towns and cities can compete in the 21st Century whilst at the same time reducing their carbon footprint and improving air quality? 

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