The Parking Revolution – the Future Looks Bright
A Major shift is underway as advanced technologies transform parking
By Leonard Carder
When you think of parking, the words “technology” and “innovation” don’t necessarily come to mind. But the industry is undergoing a major shift, with advanced technologies and sustainable solutions leading the way to help transform parking management and improve the overall customer experience.
A recent survey identified the single most important trend in parking as the technological revolution that is driving the industry. Three of the top five trends in the study revolve around technology – including the increase in demand for cashless or electronic payment; innovative technologies to improve access control and payment automation; and real-time communication of pricing and availability via mobile phone or PDA components.
For facilities managers, this can translate into improved parking efficiencies, maximized revenue, and the ability to attract and retain more customers with better conveniences.
Improving Traffic Management
Parking standards and strategies play important roles in determining the quality of the environment in cities of all sizes around the globe. One big challenges facing “smart growth” is identifying new ways to address the need for parking while minimizing negative impacts.
In a study conducted by UCLA Urban Planning Professor and parking expert Donald Shoup, drivers traveling within urban cores spend a significant amount of their time looking for on-street parking. The study found, for example, that up to 45% of traffic in Brooklyn is generated by motorists circling blocks looking for parking spaces. This search intensifies the overall amount of traffic congestion and worsens environmental quality within an urban center.2
The same study estimated that in Westwood Village, a Los Angeles neighborhood, motorists drove 950,000 excess miles in search of parking, a distance equivalent to 38 trips around the earth. To cover this distance, 47,000 gallons of gasoline were used, and 730 tons of CO2 were emitted.
Better management of parking facilities will get vehicles off the street and into parking spaces mo0re quickly, reducing gridlock in highly congested urban areas. As in the world of economics, the key is to find the right balance between supply and demand.
This is where technologies such as parking guidance and information (PGI) systems are gaining ground. Designed to aid in the search for vacant parking spaces, these systems use message signs to direct drivers to areas where occupancy levels are low. The availability of parking spaces in each facility is obtained from sensors that count the number of cars entering and exiting – or by comparing the tickets issued at machines or cash registers to the capacity of the facility. This information is then sent to a central computer that processes it, determining the locations with available parking.
Where’s My Car?
The days of wandering around parking garages looking for your car also might be over. While this type of frustration might make good TV – as in the famous “Parking Garage” episode of Seinfeld, where the entire cast is stuck in a parking garage for the entire show – this real-life scenario is far from humorous.
An innovative solution can reduce driver confusion and help them easily find their way back to their parking spot through “QR code wayfinding.” By scanning a displayed QR (quick response) code using their mobile phone, drivers can be quickly guided back with turn-by-turn instructions to the building and floor where their vehicle is located.
Faster and Easier Payments
Due to inflation and rising parking costs, cash payment has become more inconvenient for the customer, and cash collection has become more costly for the parking provider. Credit card swipe systems have been implemented in some areas to combat this issue; however, these systems are still prone to vandalism and technological malfunctions.
With this issue and the surge in smartphone usage in mind, pay-by-phone parking has evolved to increase customer convenience and stabilize costs for the parking provider.
For example, the QP QuickPay mobile payment platform brings together “cloud,” “geo-location” and mobile technologies to enable pay-by-phone capabilities. Drivers can receive text-message alerts when meter time is running out, providing them the option to add time remotely, without having to return to their vehicle. The customer also is able to view parking history and receipts online.
For facility operators, applying these types of services to the right location can translate to an increase in income and a reduction in costs.
Another valuable effect of running a highly successful cashless parking service is the “eco-benefit” of a reduction in paper consumption, along with the incremental benefit as a result of having fewer maintenance and cash collection vans on the roads.
There’s an App for That
There has been a recent explosion of new parking applications for smartphones and mobile devices that allow drivers to find, reserve and pay for parking. Companies are creating real-time parking data easily accessible through applications, or “apps,” on smartphones and mobile devices. Public and private garage and lot owners in many cities worldwide are enabling drivers to use their devices to find the locations of parking areas, get rates, and pinpoint where to find available spaces.
One such mobile application for smartphones and tablets is ParkMe. The free mobile app taps clients into a comprehensive parking database to provide real-time parking availability based on the user’s location, price, vehicle type and garage occupancy. The app uses “heat maps” to let users see the most likely availability for parking on a block-by-block basis. Additional features include a rate calculator, “in-app” route guidance and a timer.
ParkMe also offers a widget for businesses to add to their own website. It allows a business to show consumers real-time parking availability information near its location. The app’s “operator dashboard” allows facility operators to manage their data quickly and easily to update rates, hours of operation and accepted payment types.
These types of technologies can also streamline the ability to use actual parking demand to establish rates that effectively encourage turnover and maintain availability throughout the day. ABM Parking Service’s customized app, for example, is accessible via the iTunes store.
A ‘Green’ Garage
Garage lighting technology has improved considerably in the past decade, giving garage owners and operators an array of options when illuminating their facilities. Parking facilities are going green with, for example, energy-efficient fluorescent lighting that remains brighter longer and provides enhanced security.
Since lighting is often one of the most significant operational expenses for parking facilities, operators can achieve a significant reduction in carbon emissions by upgrading their lighting systems to high-efficiency technology.
In general, the most efficient and, by extension, cleanest lighting technologies today are LED, fluorescent and Induction. The CO2 impact of energy reduction through lighting is significant. More than 1.3 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions are reduced for every kWh in energy that is saved.
Oakland, CA, has one of the most ambitious energy efficiency efforts of any city in the country. To help accomplish its vision, the city transformed a rather antiquated parking garage into an ultramodern, energy efficient facility. With 20-year-old lighting equipment, the parking garage at 1250 Martin Luther King Way was identified by the city as the prime candidate for an energy retrofit.
The city also wanted to install EV charging stations to support sustainability efforts, but the parking garage didn’t have the power capacity. And they needed to accomplish all this without increasing the city’s operating budget.
State-of-the-art LED and high-efficiency fluorescent lighting was installed, along with ZigBee standards-based wireless lighting controls that reduced energy use by 45%. The energy saving enhancements also allowed for the implementation of ChargePoint EV charging stations, without the need to upgrade the facility’s existing electrical system.
By leveraging federal and local incentives, and low-interest financing, the city was able to pay for the entire project with its utility cost savings, and to contribute a positive cash flow to the existing budget. Other key benefits included:
$54,965 reduction in annual energy costs.
342,654 kWh saved per year (equivalent to eliminating 246,046 lbs. of CO2 or planting 23.8 acres of pine forest).
2.9 year payback.
Improved lighting quality and safety, as well as reduced maintenance.
Many new facilities are also moving toward the demanding standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. These include implementing recycling systems, using local and recycled materials in construction, and installing renewable energy technology such as photovoltaic, wind power, bio-fuels and hydrogen fuel cells.
So what other parking technologies are coming? It’s not too far-reaching to think that we’re just seeing the beginning of the tech revolution for parking apps.
At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, for example, Audi introduced its Pilot Parking and Pilot Driving vehicles using autonomous technology. It demonstrated a self-driving A7 successfully negotiating a multistory garage and parking itself, all without a human touching the wheel.
The system relies on a laser grid map of the garage relayed to it over Wi-Fi from sensors placed around the parking structure. While still in the concept stage, Audi said the system will hit the road within the decade.
No doubt, advances in technology will continue to shape the parking industry. Enjoy the ride.
Leonard Carder, a Vice President with ABM Industries,
can be reached at Leonard.Carder@abm.com.
Article Abstract from August, 2013