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In this paper, from the viewpoint of scene under standing, a three-layer Bayesian hierarchical framework (BHF) is proposed for robust vacant parking space detection. In practice, the challenges of vacant parking space inference come from dramatic luminance variations, shadow effect, perspective distortion, and the inter-occlusion among vehicles. By using a hidden labeling layer between an observation layer and a scene layer, the BHF provides a systematic generative structure to model these variations. In the proposed BHF, the problem of luminance variations is treated as a color classification problem and is tack led via a classification process from the observation layer to the labeling layer, while the occlusion pattern, perspective distortion, and shadow effect are well modeled by the relationships between the scene layer and the labeling layer. With the BHF scheme, the detection of vacant parking spaces and the labeling of scene status are regarded as a unified Bayesian optimization problem subject to a shadow generation model, an occlusion generation model, and an object classification model. The system accuracy was evaluated by using outdoor parking lot videos captured from morning to evening. Experimental results showed that the proposed framework can systematically determine the vacant space number, efficiently label ground and car regions, precisely locate the shadowed regions, and effectively tackle the problem of luminance variations.