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Municipal Parking for the 21st Century

James OíConnell

Over the past 70 years, technology has played a vital role in the evolution of municipal parking. Since the first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935, parking technologies and equipment have helped shape the ways that cities manage parking resources and revenues.a
Today, we take many of these technologies for granted. Of course, the parking meter is now an ubiquitous presence in most cities. And cities and towns are constantly on the lookout for new tools to make parking more convenient for residents and visitors, parking revenues easier to manage, and parking enforcement more effective. Since the 1980s, weíve seen numerous new tools, including pay-on-foot equipment for municipal parking decks; pay-and-display machinery for on-street parking areas; and portable parking enforcement tools for use in managing municipal parking usage.
Yet as important as these parking technologies are, they arenít perfect. For instance, while parking meters allow cities to earn vital revenues through their parking resources, they can be expensive to maintain and they are often a source of parker discontent. And while pay-on-foot can help parking managers cut revenue collection costs, they can be inconvenient and intimidating to parkers. And though pay-and-display approaches can help cities streamline the management of on-street parking spaces, they can be very inconvenient for parkers.
Clearly, no one parking technology is perfect or able to satisfy every parking constituency. But these shortcomings are the engines that drive innovation. The parking needs of cities and towns are constantly evolving, and parking technologies are evolving with them.
In fact, the latest innovation in parking technology is now being rolled out across the United States: mobile parking payment. It is a breakthrough technological tool that combines and improves upon traditional mobile payment and pay-and-display approaches.
With this new technology, drivers can pay for parking from any location simply by dialing a toll-free number. They donít have to fumble with coins to feed meters or leave their vehicles to find a pay-and-display machine.
While cellphone payment technologies certainly arenít new, mobile parking payment adds an important twist: an on-dash display unit that shows enforcement officers that parking has been paid for, and for how long. The display unit, which is unique to mobile parking payment, is the key to the system. It immediately reflects the transaction upon payment, and there are no pay-and-display receipts to place on windshields or dashboards. It is simplicity exemplified: Parkers just punch in a toll-free number, buy however much parking they need, and head off to their final destination.
This technology offers an additional advantage over meters and pay-and-display: mobility. If a parker discovers that he or she needs more time, the solution is just a phone call away. The parker merely redials the same toll-free number to buy more parking, and the display unit instantly indicates the remaining amount of parking.
The display units are pre-loaded with parking time, and are purchased by drivers from the city in which they are going to be primarily used. Cities typically offer discounts or install free parking credits into the displays to encourage drivers to purchase units. For instance, Chicago sells its units for $15, but supplies $15 worth of parking in all new units.
Drivers arenít limited to using their units in the city in which they buy them. They can be used in any city that is on the network. For instance, in recent months Portsmouth, Concord, and Manchester, NH, have begun offering mobile parking payment services, and New Hampshire drivers are able to use their units in any of those cities. Each city has its own toll-free number to ensure that parking revenues are transferred to the appropriate municipality.
The benefits of mobile parking payment to drivers are easy to recognize. Parkers no longer have to carry coins for meters or worry about where they are going to be when their meter runs out. There are numerous benefits to the city, as well.
Perhaps the most important is the ease with which revenues can be collected. As soon as a parker transfers parking credit to his or her display, the appropriate funds are automatically distributed to the city in which the transaction takes place. The transaction is immediate, and doesnít require any manual revenue collection. Because the process is completely automated, it is also hassle-free and eliminates the risk of fraud and theft.
City managers also can view all parking activity in real-time online. As a result, parking trends and preferences can be reviewed in an instant to help municipal parking managers make the most informed and up-to-date planning decisions possible.
Mobile parking payment doesnít require cities to purchase any equipment or provide specialized training to parking enforcement personnel. The technology is entirely self-contained and can be instantly implemented as a cost-free turnkey solution. This is an important benefit at a time when municipal budgets are stretched to the breaking point.
Many cities are faced with tough spending choices, and parking is often at the bottom of the list when it comes to investment. As a result, hundreds of cities across the United States and Canada are forced to continue using obsolete equipment, or even equipment that doesnít function properly. When parking meters donít work properly, valuable revenues can be lost. This is a particularly troubling issue for large cities, where it can be more challenging to properly maintain equipment and where lost revenues can really add up.
Perhaps the ultimate benefit of mobile parking payment is that it helps make both parking and managing that parking more convenient.
Of course, this is just the latest new technology to reach the municipal parking arena. No doubt the next great technological tool is already on the drawing board of some creative technology wizard or parking expert. But for now, mobile parking payment represents an important step forward in municipal parking management and parker convenience.

James OíConnell is President of ParkMagic USA, based in Bedford, NH. The company can be found online at www.parkmagicusa.com.

Article Abstract from February, 2008




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