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The ROI of License Plate Readers

Can a License Plate Reader (LPR) provide a return on investment? Let’s explore:

  • What is LPR?
  • How well does LPR perform?
  • Why is LPR a direction our agency should go?
  • The costs and overhead of operating the system?
  • What about training and personnel needs?
  • How long does it take to get an LPR system up and going?
  • What about our customer’s concerns about privacy? 
  • How can LPR help my organization better understand our customer’s needs?
  • A virtual parking enforcement model

What is LPR?

Organizations are increasingly deploying license plate recognition (LPR) technology to improve efficiency and generate maximum return on investment in parking, real estate, labor, vehicles, and parking control technologies. This creates greater equity and satisfaction for the customer in obtaining a parking space, managing their purchase of parking services, and the convenience of using parking spaces. 

License-Plate Recognition uses hardware cameras, connectivity, mounting technology, and software in a mobile or fixed configuration. Digital images of the plate are captured, and the plate number is read using optical character recognition (OCR). The software then interfaces to a variety of databases and services to do lookups of plate data and cross-reference to databases of permits and scofflaw lists. The resulting data can be used to issue citations and verify permit status, and the data is then stored or purged according to policy and in compliance with the law.

These components can be easily integrated into existing vehicle fleets and work with existing mobile computers and software. LPR can be used for various applications, including automatic parking, access control, and law enforcement. 

If you are currently not using LPR technology, should you? Let’s look at some of the main questions asked when evaluating LPR.

How well does LPR perform?

Like all technologies, LPR has continued improving and evolving with better cameras, lenses, and smarter software interpretation. Most companies quote accuracy of above 95% in typical conditions. Degradation of accuracy can occur due to the visibility or movement of the vehicle, but today’s systems do very well in even non-optimal situations. 

Why is LPR a direction our agency should go?

Organizations that have deployed LPR have seen significant improvements in efficiency and ROI. LPR automates tasks that would otherwise be manual, such as parking or access control. In addition, LPR can also help organizations enforce laws and regulations better. For example, LPR can be used to track down vehicles that are illegally parked or speeding. Law enforcement also uses LPR to locate vehicles used in any sort of criminal activity. 

For parking enforcement, the return is even more immediately apparent. The benefits include:

  • Ease of use – The system does the entry and look-up for the officer.
  • Improved accuracy – Elimination of errors 
  • Increased Revenue – Better accuracy and efficiency will drive more revenue
  • A Better Customer Experience – Through accurate permit management without needing items such as tags and decals. Overall, it is a simpler customer experience with minimal user intervention required.

Imagine gate-free parking access control points, simplified metering, and better control of the entire process of customer service, parking inventory, and data for managing flow and parking usage patterns. LPR can be the key to these improvements and more.

“ LPR is a force-multiplier for medium and even some smaller-sized universities and towns,” said Mike Nesslerodt of ComSonics, a long-time supplier of public safety LPR technologies  “Customers can more efficiently manage their parking systems with increased officer safety. Returns on the investment in LPR are often very quick.”

How about the costs and overhead of operating the system?

New implementations of technology can be daunting. While LPR is not a new technology, countless organizations have continued to record and look up license plates manually. Considering the up-front costs, operating costs, and other required changes to implement the system, this can be challenging. Fortunately, many resources are available to evaluate the savings and gains from LPR. Equipment manufacturers and partner sales expertise are a good starting point. They have ROI calculators and other information to help clients write proposals, pursue grant funding, and conduct RFPs. 

What about training and personnel needs?

LPR can simplify the process of gathering and searching of customer data because it is essentially automatic. Thus, training is simplified, and the amount of manual data entry for verification or issuing a citation decreases dramatically. Manual entry can still be an option, but only as a backup to the process. 

The efficiency gained by using LPR means you have a higher volume of parking patrol and enforcement with fewer officers. The need to leave a vehicle is either limited to placing a citation or, in some models with virtual citations (the issuance of a citation by mail), there is no need to leave the vehicle.  

How long does it take to get an LPR system up and going?

In most cases, LPR installation is done within 90 days with minimal disruption of current parking or law enforcement. The installation period provides an opportunity to educate the public on the changes and benefits of the system and to set up an internal workflow.

Considerations of necessary changes to signage, equipment, parking zones, policy documents, web forms, and applications should be factored into any time and cost estimates of starting LPR. 

What about our customer’s concerns about privacy? 

Privacy concerns are valid in the course of any technology change. The public deserves full transparency and an understanding of how data is collected, exactly how it is used, how it is stored, and how long it is retained. 

With LPR, you have complete control over the process and the data, especially when all LPR data is hosted on internal servers. Privacy, security processes, and technology must protect data, search results, and actions taken. Policies of use and retention must be automated and followed.  

When the data is hosted in cloud services, these partners must provide that same level of security and transparency. Their applications and storage features must be customizable to the agency’s policy and comply fully with the law.

Sharing data to third parties such as consultants, even when it is stripped of personal details and provided in aggregate, must be covered under 3rd-party data-sharing policies, and the public should allow opting out of sharing their data. 

How can LPR help my organization better understand our customer’s needs?

Subject to the above use policies and disclosure, LPR data can be instrumental in understanding traffic and parking usage patterns, demand, demand times, seasonality, use of permits, and other data. This analysis can replace expensive consulting and third-party data gathering and allow for more efficient use of resources. Local businesses can benefit from better parking availability for their customers, and municipalities and schools from the efficient management of parking revenue.

Need to understand the impact and opportunity of free parking after 7 PM or Saturdays? LPR Data can help you quickly arrive at that and test out various scenarios.

Can you tell me more about a virtual parking enforcement model?

“Moving fully to virtual payment zones can really tie all of this together. Customers can get by with a lot less infrastructure,said Nesslerodt.

Here is an example: 

City A, which currently provides paid parking via a city lot with ticket and gate control, permits, a mixture of three-hour free parking zones, and manual pay and pay-by-phone stations/meters, can:

  • Use LPR to eliminate tickets/receipts and the gate at the city lot in favor of permits and pay-by-phone usage.
  • Use LPR to enforce timed parking zones efficiently and issue printed citations to cars overstaying the period. (or completely automated citations by mail)
  • Remove manual meter collection in favor of pay-stations and permits.
  • Eliminate the need to print and mail parking permits and inspect them on parked vehicles
  • Better enforce scofflaw citations and resulting actions 
  • Automatically generate orders to boot or tow as appropriate 

All are driven by a customers license plate number

University B currently provides a combination of free remote lots, pay station meters, and lots and permits for students and staff. Parking enforcement is provided by security officers who examine permits and pay stations to issue warnings and citations. The free lots are patrolled for abandoned vehicles and illegal camping. LPR Based enforcement will allow for the following:

  • Simplified permit enforcement without having to view vehicle stickers closely
  • Sharing or permit fraud elimination
  • Faster reading of pay station compliance and 
  • More efficient use of long-term parking in remote lots
  • Data on lot and space usage to improve customer satisfaction 

We’re standing by to help

The sales and support teams at Cardinal Tracking are ready to help you plan, add or upgrade your LPR Technology. We work with industry-leading suppliers of LPR equipment, software, and services to allow you to make the best choice for your needs. We have experience helping our customers deploy all at once or in measured stages.

With over forty years of supplying parking and public safety solutions, we can customize the available options; we’re always fluent in the latest technologies.