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I'm Not an Evil Person ... I Just Don't Have the Change'

By Thomas Janacek

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, but the air was cold and crisp. Brent Loucks got out of his car on Second Avenue in downtown Saskatoon, Canada, and stuck his hand in his pockets to find change for the parking meter. His hand came up empty. The morning was a frigid minus-25 degrees Celsius, common for winter in Saskatchewan, and Loucks sat in his car wondering what he should do. He was already late, so running out to buy coffee to get some change was not an option. Was he going to get a ticket? Then, rechecking the meter, he noticed something interesting - an information sticker: "Use Your Cell Phone Instead of Coins." A quick call from back within the comfort of his car, and a minute later he thought to himself, "That was so simple," as he walked away, happy that he avoided getting a ticket.

Brian Boyes was a manager of parking operations for the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He had a problem he wanted to solve.
Looking at parking as an opportunity to provide service to the citizens and visitors of Saskatoon, Boyes had always believed that more options to pay meant better service, increased compliance and, most important, good PR for the city. After all, no one really likes to pay for parking, so all a city can do is make it easier to facilitate payment.
How did Boyes plan to resolve his issue? How did he ensure that, while charging for parking, the process itself - parking one's vehicle and rendering payment - was as pleasant as possible and that downtown merchants' issues regarding free vs. paid parking were adequately addressed?
Boyes was aware of an emerging technology called cellphone parking. Although popular in Europe, where in some places as many as 35 percent of parking transactions are paid for by cellphone, the service has yet to catch on in North America. Regardless, many people believe that cellphone parking's time is now.
When Boyes went looking for a cellphone parking system to implement in Saskatoon, he found most had the following features:
* Requires no capital expenditures.
* Virtually immediate operations - can be deployed in a few weeks.
* Co-exists with the existing parking meter systems.
* Simple for the parker to use.
The keys to successful implementation of the cellphone parking service were ease of use, support from the parking operator, and buy-in from the downtown business community. That's easy to say, more difficult to do.
How did the city and its business associations, On Broadway (a trendy shopping area) and The Partnership Downtown Business Association, buy in?
Tanya Ringdal, Executive Director of the On Broadway business association, arranged for a meeting of merchants that were informed about the incoming cellphone parking deployment in their area, ran a story in the group's newsletter and was very supportive through the process. Cellphone parking, she said, was "a tool that may help merchants to alleviate the parking issue."
Terry Scaddan, Executive Director of The Partnership, was sold as soon as he found out that the merchants could reimburse their customers - should they choose to do so - using a prepaid parking coupon that gets applied against the driver's (or shopper's) cellphone parking account.
Brent Loucks returned to his parked car 90 minutes later. The weather was finally warming up, and the sun had started to melt the frost on his windshield. He pulled out his cellphone as he was walking up to his car and dialed the parking system to terminate his transaction. He drove away 30 seconds later muttering to himself, "Now, why didn't I think of that idea?" A month later, Loucks received an e-mail message with a detailed statement of his monthly parking charges, so he could get reimbursed from his employer, a local radio station.

Thomas Janacek is the founder and president of New Parking Inc.
He can be reached at tjanacek@new-parking.com.

Article Abstract from August, 2006




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