The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Mack Marsh, Project Director of Austin-based nonprofit Parking Mobility. The organization, founded in 2009, aims to help empower disabled city residents with an app that can document accessible parking locations and report abuse to the authorities. Marsh discussed plans for future rollouts and how the Parking Mobility team has worked to create a product that integrates easily into government officials’ workflows.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Travis Korte: Could you briefly introduce Parking Mobility, its goals, and its current deployment status?
Mack Marsh: Parking Mobility is a nonprofit effort founded and run by people with disabilities. Our mission is to create a safer, more inclusive community through innovative use of new and emerging technology. Parking Mobility uses smartphone technology to allow those with disabilities to engage and address the #1 threat to their health and safety in the community. Using the Parking Mobility app, users can help build an inventory of the locations and details of accessible parking spaces, find appropriate accessible parking when needed, help city planners by suggesting where accessible parking is needed, report locations where maintenance or repairs are needed, and report accessible parking abuse when they see it.
In communities that have adopted the Parking Mobility program, reports of accessible parking abuse result in citations being issued to vehicle owners. A portion of the revenue raised from these high fines are leveraged into broad community education on the importance of accessible parking and the contributions of people with disabilities to the community. History has proven that enforcement alone is not enough to change behavior; education and awareness are important components of any social behavior change initiative. Since accessible parking abuse is not a priority for local law enforcement, Parking Mobility provides volunteer recruitment, training, certification and management to provide a turnkey, cost-positive solution for local governments to address accessible parking abuse effectively.
In communities that have not yet adopted Parking Mobility, the data generated by our users is a key component of proving the extent of the problem of accessible parking abuse to local decision makers and getting them to adopt the program.
Accessible parking abuse is a global issue, we receive reports of abuse daily from across the country and around the world. The solution to abuse is local. It takes the effort of those in the community who are directly affected by the issue to address it. Parking Mobility’s goal is to put a safe, discreet, easy to use tool into the hands of those directly impacted by the problem and to leverage their efforts into broad community education.
Parking Mobility is currently deployed in central Texas. We are working to deploy quickly in other areas of Texas in the coming months. We have significant interest in almost every state in the country as well as several countries across the globe. We have 100,000+ app users domestically and almost 500,000 users worldwide. We expect to deploy in four other states in 2014.
TK: At present, the app is primarily being used for accessible parking, but it seems like it could be applied to a spate of crowdsourced data collection initiatives. Have you considered any other future applications of the underlying technology?
MM: We recognize the potential for Parking Mobility’s technology to be used for other crowd sourced data collection and do have plans to expand the technology to other community access efforts. As a nonprofit organization, our mission must be weighed against the cost of future development. As such, our board of directors has decided to focus our efforts on accessible parking and build on the broad engagement and successes we demonstrate as we move forward.
TK: Talk to me about working with local governments. How did you ensure that Parking Mobility data could be integrated seamlessly into government officials’ workflows?
MM: We built a flexible, efficient and responsive system to interface with our government partners. The Parking Mobility program has a small administrative footprint and can be administered in most communities in just a few minutes per day. We interface easily with the top data management systems and can be “plug and play” from a data integration perspective in a matter of days. Our toughest hurdle has been getting governments to engage. Most local decision makers do not realize the significant problem of accessible parking abuse because they are not directly affected by it. Add to that the fact that there have been no significant studies regarding accessible parking abuse and it is tough to get [local officials] to engage a program without proof of its need. Parking Mobility has been collecting data, engaging stakeholders at all levels and designing a holistic approach for the better part of five years. Our hope is that the data we are generating in our current deployments will lead to a groundswell of adoption across the country.
TK: Have you looked into conducting analysis on the user-generated data to look for broader insights into city parking? In the future, do you think the data could be re-used for purposes other than enforcement? How?
MM: We have actively analyzed our user data from the inception of the program. Every time a violation report is made, the space being violated is either added to our inventory or confirmed in our inventory. Add this to the ability of users to “Add a Spot” or “Suggest a Spot” and we very quickly begin to get a picture of the accessible parking map of a community. Users are able to see these spots on their Parking Mobility map when they are looking for accessible parking.
TK: What is your longer-term vision for Parking Mobility? A real-time database of improperly parked cars? Alerts for parking enforcement? Or just a better-informed community?
MM: The long term goal of Parking Mobility is to not be needed as an enforcement tool. We hope to have raised community awareness and created a community that’s well-educated to the importance of accessible parking, and where abuse is almost non-existent. We want the inventory of accessible parking spaces we provide to be ever-evolving and be seen as a valuable community access tool for those that need it. We also have some short term goals to make Parking Mobility more interactive between volunteers, users and local officials.