Magazine

We Say Car Park - They Say Parking Lot'


Editor's Note: The following article is taken from Parking News, the UK's parking bible and house organ of the British Parking Association.


Playwright George Bernard Shaw said that Britain and the US were two countries divided by a common language. But the differences go deeper than that, as Bob Barnes points out. -- Editor, Parking News

Over here ...
In Europe, pay-and-display (P&D) parking is a mature business. Virtually all major cities on this side of the Atlantic have well-established installations, and the industry is now largely in a replacement phase. Machines installed up to 15 years ago are reaching the end of their natural lives. In replacing them, many operators are keen to adopt the technological innovations that have been introduced in recent years. Centralization, solar power, credit card and mobile phone payment schemes, alphanumeric keypads, etc., are all examples of the sophisticated solutions now available.

... over there
In the US, pay-and-display is in its infancy. The single-space parking meter (SSPM) was invented in the States and has been familiar to American drivers since the 1930s. Both the clockwork and the battery-powered versions introduced subsequently are still in widespread use. While the initial costs of such machines may be relatively low, their inherent unreliability and vulnerability increase the cost-of-ownership and lead to revenue losses. On this side of the Atlantic, they are regarded as an outmoded concept.
Americans can be very conservative and do not welcome change. They have always depended more heavily on their cars than have Europeans. Whilst over here the most dedicated "couch potato" might walk to the nearest newsagent, tobacconist, pub or bar, our American cousins will get into their cars just to cross the highway.
Consequently, P&D parking has been viewed as hard work Stateside - drivers not only have to walk farther to a parking terminal than a SSPM, but they also have to return to stick a ticket on their windshields. However, a number of factors are winning hearts and minds in favor of P&D.

Change is under way
Surprisingly, one of the main reasons that US municipal authorities are keen to do away with SSPM's is to tidy up the urban landscape. There are estimated to be between 2 million and 3 million of the machines across the continent, lining street after street and littering shopping malls and airports. Replacing them with P&D terminals will reduce the visual impact of street furniture enormously.
The increasing cost of parking is also putting paid to parking meters. In being mainly coin-only machines, they cannot support the range of alternative payment methods -- bank notes, credit/debit cards or mobile phones -- that can be provided in P&D terminals.
Whilst in Europe we have high-denomination coinage, the highest-value coin in common circulation in the US is the 25 cents or "quarter"; low-value banknotes also tend to predominate there. P&D terminals destined for the North American market therefore have to be equipped with either credit card functionality or banknote readers, in addition to coin handlers. Like their European counterparts, US operators are equally keen to implement the latest, sophisticated P&D solutions, e.g., centralized monitoring and control, card payment and mobile phone schemes, solar power, etc.
Revenues up 45%
Theft and vandalism are helping to drive out SSPM's too. The US parking press recently reported that one West Coast city authority has lost the use of half of its 1,050 meters following attacks on the machines.
Well-designed P&D terminals are far more robust and provide sophisticated locking devices and multi-level protection for cash, whilst their ability to produce audit trails is a powerful weapon in combating fraud. Alternative payment methods also reduce the quantities of cash that have to be collected and accounted for, reducing still further the opportunities for theft.
In the US towns and cities that have replaced meters with P&D, the authorities have seen parking revenues increase by up to 45%, without increasing their rates! It is a similar situation with regard to pay-on-foot (POF) parking systems.
Revenues in a large number of car parks (or garages, as they prefer to call them Stateside) are still collected by attendants, making operators vulnerable to theft and fraud. Switching to a combination of barrier-controlled entry/exit lanes and automatic pay stations could help increase revenues for many garages.

Good for business
The size of the North American market is very attractive to manufacturers of parking systems. However, winning contracts can be a long, drawn-out process in such a conservative marketplace. The municipal authorities generally want to run extensive customer trials before changing from SSPM's to P&D.
The US democratic process demands that everyone's views, including those of individual citizens, are taken into account before a final decision is made. And that is before the contract lawyers get started!
A recently won order to provide a P&D system for a major US city took two years from the initial invitations to tender to the order being issued - and that is proving to be the rule, rather than the exception.
On the plus side, we have found that the satellite towns that surround major US cities are more likely to opt for the same equipment and systems as their larger neighbors than is the case on this side of the Atlantic.

Show business
Whilst there is just one parking association in the UK, the interests of the US industry are represented by three national organizations, together with a number of regional associations in individual states or groups of states.
It is interesting to note that two of the national parking exhibitions have very limited opening hours. Held in resorts such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, the surrounding golf courses seem to play a large part in the way business is conducted!
However the parking systems business differs on either side of the Atlantic, "Vive la difference!"

Bob Barnes is Operations Director, Northern Europe and Vice President, North America for Parkeon.

Article Abstract from April, 2005




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