PARCS and the Parking Experience
At their most basic, PARCS — parking and revenue control systems — are about creating convenience for their customers: the parking operators. But what about the parkers themselves? How are the products offered by PARCS vendors improving the parking experience for the average consumer?
Who is Parking?
When looking at the parking experience, the first question that needs to be asked is who the average parker is in a particular facility. “The breadth of products available today for the parking industry (and some even work) is extraordinary,” said Tom Wunk, vice-president of sales engineering for T2 Systems. “Yet the variance of parking patrons and their individual needs and capabilities continues to stymie much of our industry, especially those that wish to ‘generalize’ or ‘commoditize’ what we do.”
Gaining that feedback from parkers might then mean adapting the technology.
To that end, Wunk said that the goal is to become “operationally empathetic” to existing and potential clients and then adjust to their particular needs. “Providing a leading-edge payment app at a large university would probably make sense,” said Wunk. “Installing that same app in a small town’s general hospital would not.”
He also points out that there can be significant generational differences in consumer behavior and expectations. “Are you a Baby Boomer and say good morning to your family at breakfast? Or are you a Millennial who insists on having a cell phone conversation while using the restroom?” said Wunk. “Your perspective on the consumer experience would be varied.”
That said, “as with many consumer-oriented activities, the trend is to reduce or eliminate the human interaction,” said Wunk. “The parking and mobility space is following suit.”
What is Relevant?
When it comes to implementing new technology, Juan Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of FlashParking, feels that learning how people actually interact with and benefit from the technology is what provides the value. “We can put the latest and greatest technologies in garages and lots all day long, but until we focus on what is really relevant to the user experience, the solution won’t have a significant impact,” said Rodriguez.
To that end, Rodriguez said that FlashParking started looking at the little hassles that can make the parking experience frustrating for the consumer: ticket misreads, paper jams, credit card insertion errors, etc. They then worked to design a system that helped eliminate those problems while adding features like Bluetooth access and eParking reservation integrations. These were all done to help make the parking experience, in his words, “entirely frictionless.”
For Levi Rinkoff, executive vice-president of partnerships and alliances for TIBA Parking Systems, the key to creating a frictionless parking experience lies in the word “engagement.” He said they invest time and energy in engaging all the relevant parties — the customers (the parking facility operators) and their customers (the parkers), plus the partners and employees using or supporting the products — and then work to provide flexible products with multiple patterns of consumer engagement. “We want to provide our customers or users the most positive, frictionless and easy experience possible from the first moment we engage with a potential end-user,” said Rinkoff.
Rinkoff said the questions TIBA asks themselves during product design include: How do we want drivers to engage with the system? How fast will the systems work? How quickly will the drivers drive in and out of the parking facility? What information is presented on the screen? “Our attention is focused on how we build products that are simple to operate, but also how to engage with them in a better way,” said Rinkoff.
Where Does the Journey Begin?
Part of engaging with the parking consumer might begin before they actually reach the lot, according to Karen Blasing Pradhan, sales channel professional/vehicle access for SKIDATA, Inc. “We understand that the customer’s journey begins and ends at home, not just in a parking lot,” said Pradhan.
She said solutions they offer that cover that journey include things like registrations, easy access, extra services, easy payment and loyalty rewards. “Communication with the customer is as important as the act of parking itself,” said Pradhan.
The goal, as she sees it, is to provide a stress-free parking experience. “A stress-free environment really elevates the experience,” said Pradhan. “Stress-free wayfinding, registration, entrance, payment and exit.”
Wayfinding is one of the biggest complaints Rodriguez says that they hear from parkers. “From requesting better lighting to asking about space locating systems — the all-too-familiar process of circling block after block, floor after floor, searching for a parking space is by far one of the most dreaded parts of the parking experience,” said Rodriguez, who said the latest influx of wayfinding technologies that can be applied to garages has helped transform those hassles into a more convenient and efficient experience.
Gaining that feedback from parkers — and learning what hassles they are experiencing — might then mean adapting the technology. Rodriguez said one problem they discovered was that customers were having issues reading touchscreens if they were wearing polarized sunglasses. “We immediately recognized this as a touch point,” said Rodriguez, “and have since upgraded our touchscreens to be easy to read with or without polarized sunglasses.”
Improving the Experience
Rodriguez points out that there is still room for value to be added to the parking experience and feels the industry is beginning to recognize that there is progress to be made to make the parking experience more efficient.
Part of that progress may lie in teaching parking managers to actually use the available technology. “I recently audited a facility that was using a third-party parking app and the manager was happy — until I asked him for the details of all the transactions conducted on the app,” said Wunk. “He replied that he does not get any details, only a check at the end of the month. I asked him if he was comfortable with that and he said ‘why not?’ If ignorance is bliss, he is in heaven.”
Wunk said that what he hears most from parking patrons as to what they want from a parking operation is that it is simple, reliable, safe and clean. “There are many products available today that lend themselves to a great theoretical proposition, but from a practical perspective, less so,” said Wunk. “And it’s not just the technology side. Simple things like clear and effective signage showing where the exits are, well-lit walkways and stairwells, and simple directions as to how to use the equipment.”
In other words, to improve the parking experience, Wunk said, “we should all use the ‘Grandma principle’: ‘What would I need to do to enable my grandma to come here, be safe, enjoy her outing and then leave the facility in an efficient manner?’”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org