The New ‘Parking Ecosystem’
By Kyle Dunst
The world of parking is changing. Our traditional “parking ecosystem” is expanding beyond traditional stakeholders. Advances in cellular infrastructure have lowered the cost of machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies across markets, and are paving the way for “big-data” solutions and interconnected services.
Parking operators, equipment companies and parking customers now see value in a broader system of mobility solutions, and as middleware providers join these parking stakeholders, the parking ecosystem evolves. Developing new revenue streams and business models in this competitive environment requires a systems approach to planning technology products. Parking operators, equipment companies, and middleware providers are building their advantage by means of data and software.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
In the past two decades, private and public parking operators went from cashbox operations to automated hardware solutions aimed at improving efficiencies and protecting operational margins at scale.
Parking access and revenue control systems (PARCS), for example, require a large capital investment to deploy and maintain. While this hardware improves operational efficiency, it does not address all scenarios, such as oversell and permit utilization, leaving off-street operators to blend automated and manual processes.
Municipal operators have a different set of challenges with on-street operations. They have been implementing various multispace and smartmeter technologies for years, but only now are they more readily being used as a gateway to a connected transportation network.
Parking technology is starting to blend the virtual and physical platforms to enhance the overall parking experience. Two of the most prevalent new service offerings – enterprise transactions and data aggregation – utilize the smartphone or tablet computer as the bridge device.
Data transmissions for new functionality come from inductance loops, sensors and paystations, and they must provide live and accurate information. Their communication networks connect to the Internet and send parking information to the operator’s solution. The server, or “cloud,” can record the entry/exit transaction and calculate the parking occupancy from its online database. Software as a service (SaaS) companies then provide operators and parkers with real-time statistics.
Latency issues when transmitting SaaS data can significantly impact a parking enforcement operation and the customer looking for an available stall. For example, delayed transactional data greatly affects parking citations being issued. Scofflaws can contest parking tickets without the enforcement team’s being able to track whether payment was made within the grace period.
Parking customers will widely embrace this technology when the occupancy timestamp from the street matches the timestamp in the office; inaccurate information will discourage
The parking industry has applied a fragmented approach to new technologies.
Drafting technical requirements and managing the software development lifecycle is not an operator’s core competency; thus, parking operators and equipment companies often adopt a piecemeal strategy based on trial and error when deploying software. Middleware providers recognized the opportunity for modernization and have ingrained themselves into the value chain by enhancing antiquated systems. More SaaS products will continue to saturate the market as stakeholders grasp the value of occupancy, duration and traffic data.
Parking customers have mobile applications to help them locate parking and make reservations and payments, but how the data will be parsed on the backend, across multiple vendors, has yet to be determined.
Parking operators resist placing their technology vision and data in the hands of another party, because the decision is one that will likely have a lasting impact. For instance, e-booking services such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz were able to commoditize the airline and travel industries by aggregating data from multiple service providers. Parking institutions that choose to hoard their data assume that customers trying to find the closest and most affordable parking space will utilize their proprietary spot-finding app out of many others.
Interoperability can be a competitive advantage; although there is no integration standard in place, more parking stakeholders are taking steps into this area. Equipment and software companies are stepping out of their silos to design terminals that interface third parties. These stakeholders release application programming interfaces (APIs) to third party developers to enhance their web-based solutions.
Successful deployment of software solutions requires a technology roadmap and a plan for change management across the organization. The planning stage should incorporate cross-functional teams that span the entire system to develop technical requirements based on the needs of the business.
Historical and real-time data around rates, occupancy and scofflaws – no matter how timely or accurate – are compelling only in the hands of an experienced operator that understands business objectives and key performance indicators.
New functionality introduces new implementation, service and update costs to prolong obsolescence. All parking stakeholders must set specific service level requirements to properly manage their system resources.
If performance standards on the part of the human or machine are not met after deployment, then this can negatively affect stakeholder resources and brand equity. Moreover, to mitigate project risk, the technology-based change must be embraced from the top down for the solution to be effective.
Parking operators benefit by being able to make business decisions based on these data, while customers experience parking enlightenment through the use of a smartphone or computer application. SaaS companies enable context-specific advertising based on a parking customer’s current location, interests and demographic information, because mobile devices are platforms for social networking sites.
In this case, “cloud-based” services enable customer relationship management (CRM) systems to data mine and quantifiably track customer behavior for future promotions. Results of marketing initiatives become tangible, and finding, paying for and leaving a parking stall becomes a much richer experience to the customer.
By now, most in the industry acknowledge that technologies can reduce traffic congestion and, therefore, reduce the industry’s carbon-emissions footprint. Less time spent looking for a parking stall equates to more time spent with retail merchants. However, improving the parking experience provides more than just these soft benefits: cloud-based solutions empower parking stakeholders.
Most parkers in the North America believe parking should be free, or at least inexpensive, and they view the transaction as a “grudge purchase.” As a result, operators have never given much thought toward improving customer experience, as there was not much incentive to do so.
Their goal is to maximize revenue through volume and operational efficiencies, not necessarily through customer satisfaction; however, convenient cloud-based services are forcing a paradigm change across stakeholders.
According to a 2012 International Parking Institute survey of parking professionals, the first-, second-, and fourth-ranked trends with the greatest effect on the parking industry, were (a) demand for cashless or electronic payment, (b) moving toward innovative technologies to improve access control and payment automation, and (c) real-time communication of pricing and availability via mobile devices.
If done correctly, SaaS solutions provide operators with readily available data to make informed business decisions that improve the customer experience.
The once-stable cycles of parking are eroding through a combination of technology innovation and growing consumer expectations. To meet this need, parking stakeholders are investing in solution strategies that align with their organizational strategy. As a result, partnerships between operators, equipment companies and software companies emerge.
Parking operators and equipment companies must be willing to venture outside their wheelhouses, if they are to develop viable roadmaps that prepare them for the future. When the goal is to improve revenue through value-add SaaS offerings, then parking stakeholders should ask themselves, “How are we going to use data?”
Contact Kyle Dunst, a Senior Consultant with Concannon Business Consulting of Irvine, CA, at email@example.com. His background includes five years in the industry, helping Central Parking drive efficiency and profitability in Northern and Southern California.
CASE STUDY: SFpark
In 2008 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) installed parking sensors throughout the city via its SFpark project. The pilot program aimed at using data to improve the parking experience. Demand-responsive pricing, dynamic wayfinding signage and parking locator apps empower customers with easily accessible parking.
San Francisco has about 470,333 registered vehicles and an additional 35,400 vehicles that commute into the city. The city has 320,000 street parking spaces (including meters).
As the SFpark program developed, the SFMTA acquired definition around its parking challenges. Under some circumstances, data were impacted by direct currents from electric buses and the city’s famous cable cars interfering with the magnetometer sensors.
Then-SFMTA CEO Nathaniel Ford told CNN, in May 2011, that SFpark produced 90% accuracy months after deployment. This level of data quality critically impacts an operation. For instance, even if results improved to 99% accuracy, one percent of errors would still account for over 200 customer complaints per day when cities like San Francisco park more than 10 million vehicles annually.
SFpark deployment followed a traditional product manufacturing lifecycle that takes multiple years of development and testing. Software development must be short-term, fast-paced and frequently updated to correct defects in the system.
Article Abstract from May, 2013