Drexel Students Create Mobile Parking App

Three Drexel University students tired of searching for a parking space and dealing with kiosks that lack pay by phone technology created a mobile application that aims to make parking in Philadelphia easier.

"Sometimes my friends and I just drive around the same one or two blocks," said Vu Bui, a third-year computer science major who helped design the EZ Parking App. "It is something we can relate to."

Vu teamed up with seniors Thach Nguyen and Duc Nguyen (no relation) to create two apps in February during the two-day Philly Codefest competition, which challenged software developers to create data-driven and civic-minded websites or mobile apps.

Vu Bui (L) and Thach Nguyen present the EZ Parking app at Philly Codefest. (Credit: Kristen MacCartney)

One app mimics a parking kiosk and the second is for consumers to locate and pay for their parking space.

"Available parking can be in a list field or a map view," Thach said. "When you choose a location where you want to park, you tap it and it shows you the directions to that place. When you get to the kiosk, you set the time, click ready to pay and tap on the kiosk."

The apps tap into a server the group also built during Codefest. It includes all the publicly available kiosk location data, like time and pay rates, and the kiosk’s capacity, or the number of spaces available on that block.

"The only thing the PPA doesn’t have is the real time information of how many cars are parking there," said Duc, who joined Amazon in Seattle after graduation, as a software developer and engineer.
So the group generated dummy data to test the two apps. 

"If those kiosks could connect to the cloud and send back who had paid for a space and for how many minutes in real time," Duc added, "we could monitor the amount of spaces available on that block."

And it would add another convenient payment option for drivers who don’t want to stand in the rain while using the kiosk or want to add more time without leaving their table in the restaurant.

"We built the data for them and a developer can use the data in the cloud system," Vu said.

But the city’s parking agency is unlikely to take advantage of the trio’s legwork, according to Corinne O’Connor, PPA’s deputy executive director. 

"We wanted to get the kiosks down pat and make sure they were working correctly," O’Connor said.

The PPA began installing the kiosks in Center City and University City in 2009. Soon after, complaints regarding ineffective credit card readers arose, a problem the parking agency addressed publicly in 2011. Since then, few universal issues have come up and the PPA has deemed the kiosks a success.
Regardless O’Connor said there is no timeline in place to add a pay by phone system.

"I would say in at least 2015, we could start looking into something like that," she said.

If the right hardware was installed to each kiosk, Thach – who is heading to a tech startup in Palo Alto, Calif. after graduation – estimates it would take less than six months to roll out and test the system’s effectiveness and the security of users’ information.

For now, drivers in Philadelphia will continue their parking spot search the old-fashioned way and use cash, credit cards, and, until the end of the year, SmartCards to pay the meter. 

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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