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How Smart Parking Technologies Benefit Airports

October 27, 2020

Benjamin Sands

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, global airport revenues were on the rise. Last year, airport revenues grew 6.2 percent, reaching $172.2 billion, while passenger traffic grew by 7.5 percent. Because of the Covid-19 crisis, however, both passenger traffic and airport revenues have fallen significantly, and air travel is expected to recover more slowly than other parts of the economy. Until airport operations are back to normal, airports will need to find ways to maximize revenues, while operating more efficiently and safely.


As a result of the pandemic, many PARCS manufacturers are converting to “touchless” systems to minimize customer touchpoints and rely on alternative payment methods.


Part of the answer can be found in smart parking technology. Parking has always been an important profit center for airports, and parking revenues are particularly important to small airports where they represent the largest segment of landside revenue.


Smart Parking to the Rescue


A key aspect of increasing airport parking revenues lies in improving the customer parking experience. Traveling is stressful enough, but when you add the expense and anxiety of having to find a parking space while rushing to make a flight, and to find one that’s near the proper terminal, it’s easy to see why many travelers prefer to be dropped off at the front door. Parking technology can be a difference-maker for airports looking to improve both the airport parking experience and the overall travel experience.


PARCS


The most recognizable and ubiquitous smart parking tool is the Parking Access and Revenue Control System, or PARCS. PARCS are nearly universally present in the form of access devices, payment stations, entry-exit gates, and the associated software and components. These systems are necessary to manage parking access, occupancy, and revenues for controlled parking environments. 


Modern PARCS equipment works with credit, cash, toll-tags/RFID devices, license plates, permits, mobile payment, and validation codes to make entering, paying, and exiting easy. All PARCS equipment offer two-way communication (some with video), so drivers can get real-time assistance from a customer service professional if there’s an issue with the payment or the gate. 


As a result of the pandemic, many PARCS manufacturers are converting to “touchless” systems to minimize customer touchpoints and rely on alternative payment methods (i.e. mobile payment, advance reservation, etc.). 


Parking Guidance Systems


Parking guidance is the process of guiding drivers from the roadway to a parking space of their choice as quickly and efficiently as is practical. It is particularly useful for airport parking; especially so for the multitude of megastructures, large lots, and dispersed parking assets typically found at larger airports. 


The most basic type of parking guidance is wayfinding, which informs drivers approaching the airport terminal where available parking is located. This begins with basic signage and can be augmented with variable message signs indicating that a parking facility is open and/or the total number of available spaces in that location. 


Underpinning the more advanced Parking Guidance Systems is an understanding of real-time occupancy. By monitoring how many spaces are available in a given area, or by individual space, parking availability can be transmitted to drivers via variable message signs, websites, or even smart phone apps. Parking occupancy systems use a variety of styles of sensors (e.g. magnetic, ultrasonic, infrared, and camera-based, among others) to identify vehicles occupying an area. 


While parking guidance obviously improves the parking experience, helping travelers find parking quickly and easily, it also reduces carbon emissions by minimizing the time spent searching for parking and idling. It also improves profitability. In fact, in facilities without parking guidance, most parking customers become frustrated and perceive a facility being full at 80-85 percent occupancy. Filling 15-20 percent more spaces can translate to significant revenues for airport parking facilities. 


“Premium” Parking Areas & Pre-Booking/Reservations


Many airports have introduced “Premium” or VIP parking areas closer to the terminal that are charged at a higher rate and/or coordinated with a Pre-booking/reservations service. In some airports, these areas may be physically delineated with gates and barriers. 


Parking pre-booking is particularly popular at airports where it is offered. By allowing travelers to reserve and pay for parking before they even leave home for the airport, pre-booking platforms make the airport parking experience more convenient than ever. The platforms also provide invaluable administrative data because when travelers book their parking, they also input their flight information. Some airports even use the information to upsell additional services, such as vehicle detailing and maintenance services. 


Mobile Payment


If the current public health crisis has taught us anything, it has demonstrated the benefits of contactless parking. There’s no longer any reason to force people to touch payment kiosks that many other people may already have touched. Depending on the systems, mobile payment users can scan their phone on entry and exit, or pay for parking by scanning a ticket with the app. For LPR systems, mobile payment apps can communicate the mobile user’s plate and payment data to the PARCS system, allowing the mobile payment user to use their license plate for payment. 


Geo-Fencing


Geo-fencing is a relatively new approach to parking management that uses technology to establish virtual boundaries around different parking locations within a defined perimeter (typically airport property). When a vehicle accesses a geo-fenced area (e.g. hourly garage, long-term lot, etc.) the system remotely starts the accrual of parking fees defined by that geo-fenced location. Upon departing the geo-fenced location, the accrual of fees ceases automatically. These systems can also support a gate-less parking operation.


This monitoring and tracking can be accomplished using one or multiple of the following systems: license plate recognition (LPR), radio frequency identification (RFID, which includes highway toll-tag devices), wi-fi, Bluetooth, and/or cellular systems. Fees are charged/collected through one or a combination of the following: PARCS systems, toll-tag technologies, and/or bills mailed to registered vehicle owners. The ability to also track and assess fees to taxi, TNC, and shuttle traffic provides additional revenue from these types of systems. 


The Future is Now


Airports across the world are experimenting with and implementing new cutting-edge technologies that may offer local advantages as well. For instance, Stanley Robotics’ outdoor valet parking robot was introduced in 2017 and has been placed in service at several European airports (Paris-2017, Lyon-2018, Gatwick-2019). This robotic parking system accepts, parks, and retrieves vehicles without human intervention, creating efficiencies in space consumption, labor expense, and liability among others. Additionally, in 2018, Daimler and Bosch collaborated to create an automated parking environment intended to take advantage of automated parking features that are gaining prevalence in recently manufactured automobiles. This environment will allow vehicles with these automated parking features to drop-off passengers, park, retrieve, and pick-up passengers from a predetermined point without a driver. With the current push for autonomous vehicles, it may not be long before these technologies are deployed at U.S. airports.  


Flying into the Future


Almost every airport relies on parking revenues. Smart Parking systems are typically a wise investment for airports that generate revenue. To maximize and augment this revenue, especially during the time of the pandemic, airports are making parking more adaptable, marketable, manageable, environmentally and user-friendly. Smart parking technology can provide the resource airports need to assure the continued efficiency of their parking assets, and create a positive first and last impression for airport visitors at the same time. 


Benjamin Sands is a project manager with WGI. He can be reached at Benjamin.Sands@wginc.com



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