Magazine

Outside Forces Make Parking Systems Better

John Van Horn

The parking revenue control industry has reacted to outside pressures, helping it begin to “clean up its act.”
Parking Today reached out to manufacturers and asked what had changed the face of the industry of the past couple of years. A number focused on data transfers, differing requirements for transients, VoIP, consolidated credentials and License Plate Recognition.
“The most critical effect that we have seen over the past few years,” said John Lovell, President of Zeag Canada, Ltd., “has been the challenge put to us by the major credit card companies to meet their security requirements. It has forced us to re-think how we transfer data, how we store data, and just how we can meet these more stringent security standards.”
“This is critical to our continuity as a leader in this field. If we don’t meet the new requirements, we won’t sell any major systems. The large operators and owners simply won’t talk to you unless you are certified.
“This has forced us, and I believe other manufacturers, to look at the way we do things in depth. You have to be certain that a credit card processed in the lane, or at a POF terminal, is secure, that the transaction data is secure as it is being transmitted to the parking system server, and from there onto the card processing entity. It challenges you to rethink everything about how your system manages information.
“This has forced us as an industry to document and update our firmware and software. When you break it all down, I think most of this was always in the minds of software engineers in Europe, here in North America, or Asia. The certification requirements force us to ensure that our systems are solid, work accurately, and are fully documented. At the end of the day, this improves the breed to the benefit of the industry at large.
Sorbanes-Oxley, (the reporting laws required of public companies), has made a big difference too. One of the major operators sat down with us and told us that their audits required that the numbers in our statistical and revenue reports had to foot with the amount of cash and electronic payments being collected from the system. If things didn’t jibe it would cause them considerable pain with their auditors and ultimately; the Feds. We had to be sure we met our customer’s requirements, and we are.
“Operators have realized that they must hire top of the line people to run their automated locations. These people check reports, review printouts, and make sure the numbers balance. This has reinforced our understanding of the seriousness of what we do and ensure that our systems are accurate.
“Frankly these two outside forces have unknowingly conspired to make the revenue control industry better. If you aren’t CISP (VISA) compliant and if your reports aren’t correct, you will lose market share. Public companies like Standard, AMPCO and IMPARK can’t risk recommending systems to their clients that aren’t letter perfect.”
Tom Wunk, VP of Operations for Scheidt & Bachmann, took a different tact but said much the same things. He commented that the Information Technology component was most important. “These systems have a high level of backend sophistication with data sharing commonplace, both frontward and backward.”
“This complexity has meant that traditional specifiers have had to go back to school or hire technical staff who can deal with database and IT issues,” Wunk said. “It’s interesting to review new specifications and see the difficulty the current consultative forces are having dealing with this issue.
“Non-traditional transient control is making an impact on parking control systems,” he continued. “Whether it is a toll authority-issued AVI transponder, credit card in/out, ChipCoin or mobile phone, more entities are exploring no-ticket processing of transient clients.
“Then there’s the Internet – IP-based ancillary systems and sub-systems. Communications that formerly were on a twisted pair are now running on fiber that carries not only data but both voice and video over IP (Internet Protocol). Most airport projects now include some component using consolidated data transmission. We have started to see this in municipal and campus environments as well.
“Some companies are seeing a desire of transportation authorities to explore common-use payment/access credentials. We are exploring this with a number of transit authorities to come up with a light-rail / bus-parking combination credential thing that allows debit-access on the three platforms with backend revenue distribution. This is pervasive, with Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta, San Francisco, Phoenix and Chicago all researching a consolidated credential. Reality is still a number of years away, but initial discussions are being held now.”
“License Plate Recognition costs have decreased so much that many specifications formerly didn’t include the feature,” said Mark McNicholas, VP of Sales for Federal APD, “and they are now putting it in as a matter of course. This leads to interfacing with monthly systems, law enforcement, and Homeland Security.
“Of course, it also means that the revenue control portion of the system is even more secure since vehicles can easily be linked to individual tickets and in and out times computed to the second. No more ‘lost ticket’ and ticket swapping.
“Inoperability with disparate systems is where we are going,” McNicholas said. “That is the sharing of data across the network to databases, related functions like traffic control, emergency operations and various financial departments. Garages now feed information to systems that control directional signs, and this means we are becoming much more related to the Intelligent Transportation Systems in a community.
“It should be pointed out that this means that parking, both public and private, is becoming a part of the transportation infrastructure. More and more the parking system is on a shared network and the data being generated are transmitted to alternative data systems, and vice versa.
“We also have to consider the variety of parker and how that affects how the control systems are designed. Vendors can no longer task software engineers with basic ‘card in, card out’ requirements. We are no longer dealing with just ‘Monthly’ and ‘Transient.’
“We have car pooling, VIP grouping, account management, validations (multiple), etc. etc. – all of which often needs to be differentially counted and reserved. Add to that valet and hotel parking, multiple validation uses in hospitals, and the requirements of Internet-based reservation systems, and the systems become more and more complex.”
These vendors agreed that all these requirements are beginning to affect the business model of the traditional system manufacturer. Although they will continue to sell hardware and software modules, many of the companies are rethinking how they bill for software and support. They are taking more of a long view along the lines of Microsoft and large database companies like Oracle.
The future will bring the cost of hardware down, but the cost of software will rise to replace it.

Article Abstract from January, 2008




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