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French Device Could Solve Parking Woes

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Eleanor Beardsley has our story.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The southern French city of Toulouse is a festive place any time of year. In January, a dusting of snow covers its red tiled rooftops and an outdoor market buzzes with shoppers and vendors selling everything from jewelry to mulled wine.

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BEARDSLEY: But just a block from this pedestrian paradise, the city drivers face the daily reality of Toulouse gridlock.

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BEARDSLEY: Sandrine Boulot is trying to inch out of a tiny parking space to join a long line of cars slowly making its way up one of the city's narrow, medieval streets. Her two-year-old sleeps in the back seat. A 35 euro ticket for parking in a delivery zone lies on the dashboard.

SANDRINE BOULOT: (Foreign language spoken) (Through translator) If I'm lucky, I find a place. If not, I just go around and around and around until I do. It is so difficult to park in Toulouse.

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BEARDSLEY: That's exactly what deputy mayor Alexandre Marciel wants to put an end to with his new parking aide.

ALEXANDRE MARCIEL: The system is very simply: You have just to have a look on your smartphone and, you know, in real time, if parking spot is free or no.

BEARDSLEY: Marciel says the invention will cut down on gridlock and help the city to manage its parking spaces more effectively. And it will help the environment. Studies show that 60 percent of urban pollution in France is due to idling cars - many searching for a place to park. That also translates into millions of wasted hours for the drivers, says Marciel.

MARCIEL: I can reduce the waste of time; I can reduce the spending gasoline, yes? It's very important I think for the planet.

BEARDSLEY: Tony Marchand, Lyberta's technical director, points to a section of road where tiny receptors have been implanted just under the pavement.

TONY MARCHAND: (Foreign language spoken) (Through translator) These receptors send the information to that little box over there which then transmits it to a central server which sends it out to your telephone in real time.

BEARDSLEY: Marchand says that while several such parking schemes are being developed in the world, Lyberta is the only one that doesn't need a satellite connection. So it doesn't have the same problem as GPS systems, which are often blocked by narrow streets or tall buildings.

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BEARDSLEY: At the Toulouse headquarters of the French Space Research Agency, Antonio Guell says he's in charge of bringing space research down to earth. He says Lyberta took advantage of space technologies developed and patented in France over the last few years.

ANTONIO GUELL: (Through translator) They were researched and patented to help stratospheric balloons carrying scientific instruments land on Venus and communicate with each other without using heavy-duty transmission equipment. And that's really the advantage of Lyberta - that it works without a satellite.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Toulouse, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.