Virtual Parking Meters – What’s Next?
By Nick Taylor
It’s not as new as you think. Virtual parking meters have been around in one form or another for 20 years but only today are getting the attention of vehicle owners and lot operators. Believe it or not “virtual” parking meters do not always require a vehicle operator or even a lot operator to have a computer or smart phone. Some systems only require telephone access.
Parking permits-by-phone add real convenience to any parking environment. A vehicle operator can easily initiate a parking session using any phone or on-line device. Whether used to complement conventional physical meters or as a standalone solution these “virtual” parking meters enable everyone to manage and profit from the use of any number of parking spaces on a full or part-time basis, without any equipment or expense.
There are a number of different virtual parking systems accessible by telephone and/or online, and they tend to address specific niche markets. However there are two basic categories of systems, “Account based” and “On demand”. “Account based” parking works well for frequent users, but an account must be set up and vehicles pre-registered before it can be used. “On demand” services are designed to provide greater flexibility and permits do not require the user to set up an account. Some systems allow permits to be issued with or without a credit card, and can be accessed by phone or online. They’re ideal for environments where visitors, tourists or other casual users need a parking permit without delay.
What better way for a property owner or lot operator to enhance services provided and at the same time to create a new revenue stream? Charging a fee for the use of parking space is not a novel concept, in fact, the first parking meter went into service in Oklahoma City over 75 years ago. The barrier which prevented lot operators from profitably providing pay for use parking has now been eliminated. Everyone wins; lot operators profit and patrons experience greater convenience.
On demand services can be deployed instantly, without any cost. With the continued growth of urban centers and increased pressure on parking, revenue opportunities exist everywhere and applications are limited only by one’s imagination. Aside from the obvious use of complementing existing payment systems in medical centers, hospitals, residential buildings, etc. public parking shortages in high traffic neighborhoods can also be alleviated by offering underutilized parking spaces at the back or sides of buildings on a pay for use basis. Consider this:
• Medical Centers - patients and visitors can pay for or top up parking permits without leaving the waiting room or a loved one’s side
• Pay Lots - patrons no longer need to stand in the rain to make the initial purchase or to leave their friends in a restaurant to ‘feed the meter’
• Residential Complexes - can enable visitors to obtain overnight parking permits even when site staff is off duty
• Subsidized Housing Complexes - can charge a notional fee for overnight parking and the profit can be used to fund special projects to benefit the members
Despite the explosive growth of computers and smart phones, many people remain uncomfortable with technology and will not use services that feel unfamiliar. Signing up for a user account is not within their comfort zone. To address this very real concern, on demand parking solutions are designed to feel familiar, it’s much like calling a friend at work and entering their extension number, it’s that easy.
Think of the possibilities!
Nick Taylor is Director-Operations at Smarter Parking Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Abstract from December, 2011