The “wow” factor

I commented last week on a conversation I had with David Cummin at ACS.  The topic was collecting data and using high tech smart phone apps to do so. I have thought about it over the weekend and I need to expand a tad.

Why do people use smart phones to do things that they did very well without them? Do we need an ‘app’ to tell us where to park when for 100 years we have been easily and quickly finding parking spaces (off street) and frankly if you can’t find one on street, its because there aren’t any.

Do we need to pay for our parking with our phones?  We have gotten along for years with quarters, dollar bills, and now credit cards. Why pay for them with our phones? Do we really REALLY need to key in an address and have our phones tells us how to get someplace, particularly when its some place we have been a dozen times before?

The answer, of course, is no. We don’t REALLY REALLY need this convenience. However, it is ‘neat’ to be able to do so. If you are 60 years old, you probably will poo poo the ‘neat’ concept, but if you are 15 or 20 or 30 or even 40, maybe having a phone app to do all these things is roughly like  owning tuck and rolled 56 chevy with flames and a souped up carb. Is there any real NEED for it, nope — but it sure was neat.

Why did pay by cell phone take off in Washington DC?  There are a lot of factors, of course, but one is the ‘neat’ factor.  I lean over the back fence and tell my neighbor: “Hey, look at this new app, I can pay for my parking with my phone, no need to have cards or money, just a quick tap and presto its done. Wow — this app is really neat. Take a look.”

I’ll be that conversation was held thousands of times in Chevy Chase, Arlington, Annapolis, Columbia, and in other ‘burbs surrounding DC.

15 years ago my mobile phone was the size of my shoe, and all it did was make calls, sometimes. Now, my phone could launch the space shuttle, assuming there was one still around to launch. It takes hi resolution photos, it records video, it checks my email, it allows me to browse the internet, it helps me find my way when I’m lost and if I’m so inclined, it can text my son and my wife my every move throughout the day. ‘WOW”

I’m over 60, and I have done every one of those things, today, and more, on my Blackberry. If I had a ‘droid or iPhone, I could do it upside down and backwards. Is there any real need to do any of those things on my smart phone?  Nope. But I do them anyway. Its “neat.”  The ‘wow’ factor has kicked in.

So why not with parking. My buddy at ACS thinks it will take years for parking to get to the point of airlines or the local weather station, but I’m not so sure.

Little high tech companies with new ideas are driving stogy old parking in a lot of directions. The Pay by Cell companies, tiny in comparison to many, are catching the eyes of cities world wide. Park by text and valet by text companies were mobbed at the IPI and NPA shows. Streetline and Street Smart with their apps to find on street space are growing and attracting venture capital. The most active booth at the NPA was a company that would actually allow people with smart phones to pay their off street parking, open gates, and provide almost infinite data all using a smart phone. There are companies that are collecting data from parking operators and putting in apps that will allow you to compare off street pricing, availability, and if you like, reserve a space before you leave home. This all happened in the last couple of years, or less.

We adapt to technology at light speed. An ‘iPad’ comes out and half a year later two million people find them indispensable. The technology is already there, parking is simply adding uses for it. We already have the phones, the products are in the field. A quick download and bingo, you are in the parking technology business. Its a hell of a lot easier and faster than coming up with a new gate or pay on foot machine.  Ask me in a year about all the apps used in parking. I’ll bet by then even I will be using them.,

And it will be because of the “wow!”


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