Technology is the taking the parking industry by storm. The NPA show in Chicago last week was no exception. It seemed like every other booth had some kind of app or pay by cell offering. Someone made a comment that these Pay by Cell companies were everywhere. So I decided to count them.
There were seven, and a couple of those used pay by cell as an adjunct to other technology they brought to the party. I know a few Pay by Cell companies who were not represented, so let’s say there are 10. Is the market large enough to handle them all?
When I go to pay my parking fee with a credit card, I see three or four logos on the meter or POF. These are the four companies that issue credit cards, Amex, Visa, MC, and Discover. Everyone who has credit cards has one or more of these. I simply pick the card, shove it in the slot and I’m off to the races. This is true virtually everywhere on the planet.
The ten or so companies that provide pay by cell each operate independently. They pitch a community, then set up their program, and exclude all others from participating in that area. I live in Southern California. There are 50 or cities within a two hour drive that require you to pay for parking and could use Pay by Cell. If all the companies I mentioned above divvied up the cities, there would be about five that had the same company and where I could use the app I downloaded to pay for parking. If I wanted to use pay by cell in all the cities I would visit over a couple of months, I would have to sign up and download 10 apps on my smart phone. Not too elegant.
Its rather like all the different phone companies not allowing you to call someone if they are in the other phone company. You ATT folks couldn’t call or text to the TMobile or Verizon lads. That doesn’t work.
Don’t get me wrong. In general the concept of paying bills with my phone is a good one and coming fast. I think for it to be pervasive, a clearing house like the banks use with credit cards will have to be set up and the companies that set that up and use it will take off like gangbusters, those who hold out, do so at their peril.