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On a recent Wednesday around mid-day, a person trying to find an open accessible parking spot around Capel Street would have had difficulty.

Several that used to be on Capel Street are gone now, since much of it was mostly given over to pedestrians and cyclists. Others nearby are already full.

If a driver who used a wheelchair, or for other reasons needed an accessible spot, had planned to the street – to, say, get a bowl of phở at Aobaba or buy a hammer at Lenehan’s – this might have meant the end of it.

“What can happen a lot is the spots are taken up and you just have to go home,” says Richard Ryder, of the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI).

That’s why it’s good, Ryder says, that Dublin City Council has launched a pilot project to install sensors in 50 accessible parking spots and connect them to an app.

If the pilot goes well, and the technology is rolled out across Dublin city, it’ll mean that that driver could look at an app and easily find the nearest available accessible spot.

That’s important because sometimes they disappear, or move, like with the changes on Capel Street. And drivers can also see, in real-time, which ones are available.

An Idea

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland says she’s behind the Dublin City Council pilot project – or, rather, a resident who approached her is.

The resident, Gilliland says, wanted to talk to her about the way the council was reducing on-street parking on Capel Street, and moving spaces around a lot.

“I thought it would be handy if there was a way to find out where the [accessible] spaces were,” she says.

She met with Jamie Cudden, Smart City lead for Dublin City Council, and Brendan O’Brien, the council’s activating executive manager for traffic, she says. “And I asked could they make it happen?”

Since Limerick City and County Council was already doing it, there was a model to follow, Gilliland says.

The city needs to encourage more cycling and walking and public-transport use to reduce carbon emissions, “but some people will still need to use the car, and we accept that and want to accommodate that”, she says.

When Gilliland asked council managers about the project’s progress, the chief executive responded earlier this month that the pilot had started on 27 February.

“It is expected to have the service fully operational by March 17th 2023 and more information will be made available as the ‘Go Live’ date approaches,” the response says.

A council spokesperson wouldn’t say whether the pilot is now fully operational and if so how people could get the app: “We have no further information available at this time but we hope to make an announcement in the coming weeks.”

The aim of the pilot is to evaluate “Does it work from the tech perspective and from the user perspective?” Gilliland said. She said she also was not sure how people could get and use the app for the pilot.

Essex Street East. Photo by Sam Tranum.

Gilliland said she’d eventually like to see all accessible parking spaces in the city “tagged” with sensors connected to the app.

There were 501 accessible parking spots in Dublin city as of 1 March 2022, according to a dataset available from Smart Dublin.

It might be possible to also add other types of parking to the app eventually, such as regular parking spots, loading zones, or bike parking spaces, Gilliland said.

One App or Many?

For their project showing the locations and availability of accessible parking spots, Limerick works with a company called Park Magic.

Park Magic operates the tech side, making the information available via the DDAI SpaceFinder app and charging the council an annual fee per spot, he says. It’s also available via the Limerick eParking app.

In County Dublin, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council ran a trial involving 37 accessible parking spaces last year. It also worked with Park Magic.

A council spokesperson offered little detail though in response to queries about how their trial went, what the council learned through it, whether there would be a permanent programme, and, if so, whether the council would put the info on the DDAI SpaceFinder app.

“Work is progressing on this project, and we plan to launch it this Summer. We will have further details then,” she said.

Dublin City Council says the sensors for its pilot project will link to the Parking Tag app from the company Payzone. Neither the council nor Payzone have responded to a query on whether it would make the information available via the DDAI SpaceFinder app

Ryder said it would be good for drivers if all the councils could put the real-time accessible space availability information for their areas on a single app.

“The more cities that are on it, the better,” said Ryder, who said the DDAI has 5,000 members across the country.

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