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RFID hits the beach to provide real time parking data

Beachgoers at Duxbury Beach on the Massachusetts coast are taking RFID tags on vacation with them.

The Duxbury Beach Reservation, which manages the six-mile stretch of beach 20 miles north of Cape Cod, plans to embed RFID tags into beach stickers during a pilot program beginning next month.

RFID-enabled beach permits will track parking on Duxbury Beach in real time.

About 1,000 beach stickers will be included in the pilot this summer. Next year the program will likely be expanded to all 7,000 beach passes sold annually.

Permit owners are allowed to drive four-wheel vehicles onto the beach. The RFID system will verify that their sticker is valid, and also keep track of when they leave the beach, allowing other vehicles to gain access.

Currently, beach management is unable to track when cars leave the beach, leading to under-usage issues and resulting in frustrated permit holders who are not allowed onto the beach even though spaces might exist.

The Duxbury Beach Reservation sells up to 7,000 beach permits each year. However, only 500 spots exist for on-beach parking. The expected cost of the program is about $2 per car.

“The system is being installed basically to keep an inventory of the cars on the beach,” says Bruce Schulman, the operator of Secure-a-Lot, one of the companies overseeing the system installation.

“There are a whole bunch of customer service issues with the current system. This solution should solve those.”

Eventually, the RFID solution will also solve the problem of permit counterfeiting. Stickers for non-Duxbury residents cost $360 annually, meaning there is a potential for significant revenue loss from counterfeiting.

The system will rely on RFID readers placed along two access roads to the beach. The readers will be installed inside a cabinet on a pole mounted in the sand. The readers will be powered by solar energy, and data from the tags will be harvested to allow for real-time parking updates.

The RFID solution will enable beach staff to tweet and email permit holders about parking availability on the beach. Eventually, an app may be developed to allow permit holders to access parking data on their mobile devices.

“With additional sensors we will be able to tell if people come in without a permit,” said Schulman. “That will help with enforcement but that is further in the future. The immediate goal is visibility into the parking inventory.”

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