Lots of interesting things are happening with big data today. One interesting application has gotten some coverage in the Toronto Star today. ParkInToronto.com is a new site that uses Toronto’s freely available parking ticket database to give users a way to search for past ticket details on a specific location. As they say: “This information can be used to determine the probability of getting a parking ticket at a given time and place.”. The idea certainly isn’t new, but it is one that is becoming more prevalent as users continually look for ways to make sense of data.
Does the knowledge of heavy ticketing in a location help you determine the probability of getting a ticket? Not really. This may be more of a subjective probability since a number of other factors have to be included to make a pure determination . What seems to be more powerful is the knowledge of interest Green Hornets  may have in a particular area. Currently, you can only search for a specific address, but if expanded to a general area or heat map, this information may help you find a more strategic place to park.
The harsh reality in Toronto is finding a spot and parking at the right times. This was more likely in years past, but as Toronto has built up, finding places to park – sometimes illegally – is still possible . With the rise of big data, we have now had a way of being one step ahead of the City of Toronto, while understanding patterns. This data will need to be understood better to generate solutions past “this location is popular”.
The challenges with this approach to working with data seem to be numerous:
1. The data needs to be continually updated, what if the City of Toronto changes its update policy? They will probably change their policies if this data provides an unfair advantage to drivers.
2. Visualizing the information is likely a constant process. Extracting value from basic data is a huge challenge.
3. Making money with the project. How will it be self-sustaining?
I like the idea. This is the promise of using big data for knowledge that only well-worn drivers might have. That has the potential to benefit all of us. You might still get that ticket, but it will probably be a rarer occurrence.
1. I’m not a mathematician, so give me a pass on that one.
2. That’s what we call tickets in the city. They used to wear green uniforms.
3. In the 90’s, I found a place to park my car on Queen St. for three years. Free.
4. Presumably named after Rob Ford’s famous painting curbsides red to denote no parking.