Technology is Evolving - Is the Parking Industry Ready? (Spoiler Alert: No.)
I don’t like to admit this but… I’m old...ish
Not pants-hiked-up-to-my-belly-and-Early-Bird-Special old - not yet, anyway - but old enough to remember a time when Pong and CDs were at the forefront of technology. Old enough to remember being the envy of my friends when my family got a VHS machine.
We’d invite everyone over, slide our brick-sized video tapes into the top-loader - careful not to touch the tape itself - and watch all the new movies: Rocky 2, Superman starring Christopher Reeve, The Warriors, and so on.
Time and technology have moved on, but so too has our opinion of what technology is meant to do. When I was little, video games and home movies and music brought people together. Technology brought people together.
Does anyone still believe that’s the case? Technology serves to make our life more streamlined, more safe, more secure, more expedient.
But now we’re all paranoid that it is isolating us from each other. And that pisses a lot of people off. Strangely, even in the parking industry.
I say “strangely” because Parking’s most iconic innovation - the Parking Meter - is the epitome of unattended payments. It was the kind of automated, one-to-none payment experience that helped prove to the business world that self-service payments were realistic, stable, scalable and profitable.
One time build-out and install. Relatively low maintenance. Minimal labor costs. Get rich on quarters and dimes. Brilliant. But oddly, our industry is slower to adapt to the current contactless, unattended payments revolution than some other industries.
Unattended payment means we will have to adapt as an industry. We will require new software that will render old hardware obsolete. We’ll need to educate ourselves and our consumers.
We’ll need fewer parking attendants, and the parking attendants we do need will need to be retrained. And we’ll need to become diligent about ensuring our unattended payments - QR enabled, for example.
As a side note, I completely reject the argument that QR codes are unsafe. Payment technology has been subject to bad actors trying to get their hands on someone else’s money since the beginning of time.
No system is flawless. But like it or not, self-serve unattended payments are here and growing. About 82 percent of Americans are using digital wallets. Some 15 percent of Americans use digital wallets exclusively.
According to the 2021 FIS Global Payments Report, digital wallet volume will grow an additional 38 percent in the next two years. Aside from the convenience factor, digital wallets are more secure, providing wannabe hackers with too little data to be useful.
Walmart, Amazon, Target and others are shifting to self service unattended payment options because they can move more people in and out of their stores more quickly, because they require fewer employees to oversee those transactions, and because, simply, they make more money this way.
Isn’t that at least a big part of why we’re all here?
I’ve been a payments entrepreneur for over two decades now. In that time, I’ve been fortunate to work with some of, if not all of, the largest payments companies in the world. My companies - HONK included - have processed billions of dollars in transactions.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, for sure, but I don’t tell you any of this to pat myself on the back. I tell you this to give you a sense of just how long I’ve been doing this.
I got involved in this business on the day they decoupled ATMs from the big banks. We sold and leased payment devices almost literally door-to-door.
My evolution in the payments industry was organic, but also calculated. I went where technology was going – confident that consumer demand would eventually catch up. And it always does. No matter how much any industry tries to deny it, the people have spoken.
Hardware-free, self service, touchless payment is here – the pandemic made sure of that.
Restaurants, stadiums, and big box stores have all had to adjust. And parking is going to have to adjust, too. But again – this shouldn’t be seen as a sacrifice.
Self-service payment makes it simpler and faster to pay from anywhere. When it’s simpler and faster to pay, people will pay more often. Which means more money!
Is that crass of me to say?
Maybe that’s a little crass, but what can I tell you? I’m old.
Michael Back is CEO of HONK. He can be reached at email@example.com