Updating Parking With Technology
By: Patrick Brooke, director of technical services for Sentry Control Systems Inc.
Modern access and revenue control equipment can control access into and out of parking facilities while collecting utilization data that can help owners to operate the facilities more efficiently.
Technological innovation is transforming parking. In just a few short years, we have seen the development of a wide range of new parking technologies.
These include revenue control tools that automate parking access and payment while providing real-time information about who is using a particular garage and how they are using it; cloud-based software packages that improve security by storing parking utilization and enforcement data off-site; and mobile technologies that permit more accurate enforcement while also providing enormous benefits to parkers. A recent article in this column (“San Francisco’s High-Tech Parking Management System,” spring 2014) explored how that city and other municipalities are using these technologies. Private parking facility owners and operators also are installing and benefitting from them. Furthermore, new innovations in wayfinding tools, mobile apps, and other cutting-edge equipment are permitting parking facility owners to offer a much more customer-friendly parking experience.
However, owners often mistakenly assume that these new parking technologies can only be installed in new facilities. Owners of older structures often miss out on the benefits of new technologies because they don’t realize that existing garages can be retrofitted with the latest equipment.
Automated Access and Revenue Control
While many of these technologies provide advantages to both facility owners and parkers, owners, in particular, benefit from more streamlined parking operations and improved bottom lines. Owners looking to upgrade their parking facilities should start with automated access and revenue control equipment. This equipment controls who enters and leaves the garage with a gate. Drivers take a ticket from a machine upon entering and pay at another one, either at a kiosk before they return to their car or by credit card at the exit. By eliminating the need to staff exits, owners can save thousands of dollars in salaries, benefits and insurance costs. They also can significantly cut down on the risk of theft by employees, a significant concern in any cash business.
Modern access and revenue control equipment also provides significant administrative advantages by amassing utilization data. As a result, owners and operators can measure how full a garage is from one day to another; which times are peak hours and when there are likely to be many empty spaces; and how long the average parker stays. This invaluable information can help owners and operators develop more effective rate structures and marketing programs.
Access and revenue control equipment has been around for years, but technological advancements are making it much more useful. One of the most important innovations is the ability of some systems to be integrated with technologies provided by outside technology vendors, such as tag and mobile app developers.
Tags and Mobile Apps
Tags are small chips that can be attached to the windshields of a facility’s recurring visitors. They are used most often in residential or office garages. The gate recognizes the tag and allows the driver in and out of the structure, while the equipment also records the driver’s parking habits.
An even more cutting-edge technology is mobile payment, through which drivers can pay for parking with their cell phones. When the technology is integrated with an access and revenue control system, drivers can simply open a bar code app on their phones to be scanned when entering and exiting a facility. The technology determines how long the parking session lasted and charges the driver’s cell phone.
Parking permit tags and space sensors can be integrated with access and revenue control equipment to permit frequent visitors to quickly and conveniently enter and exit while monitoring which spaces are occupied. The sensors can be either floor or ceiling mounted; this ground-mounted sensor is solar powered, making it essentially self-operating.
Both tag and mobile payment technologies provide the additional benefit of giving building owners who use them a competitive advantage over other parking facilities. Parkers are more likely to be repeat customers, because the experience is so convenient.
Mobile apps also can benefit parking facility owners with multiple locations. One of the most useful apps sends notifications to drivers letting them know where they can find garages with open spaces. In cities where parking can be difficult to find, this can provide a considerable competitive advantage.
Parking Space Sensors
Finally, parking space sensors are another modern parking technology that can be added as part of a retrofit. The sensors, which are located in each of a facility’s parking spaces, record whether a space is occupied, indicating the status of the space with a green (open), red (occupied), or blue (handicapped parking) light. That information is also forwarded to LED signs that direct drivers to open spaces. The sensors can either be installed on the floor of each parking space or mounted above each space. The advantages to parkers are obvious, but sensors also can provide significant administrative and financial benefits to owners.
When a driver pulls into a space, the sensor transmits that information to a cloud-based management system that tracks parkers’ behavior. That data can be used to operate the facility more efficiently and to market it more effectively. In addition, by guiding parkers to open spaces the sensors eliminate the driver’s need to search for parking. This reduces the chance of vehicle-vehicle and vehicle-pedestrian accidents, which can minimize an owner’s liability and lower insurance costs. It also can significantly reduce wear and tear on the structure, which in turn reduces maintenance and repair costs.
By cutting the amount of time drivers spend looking for a space, single-space sensors also offer significant environmental benefits, reducing the emissions produced by vehicles within the parking structure. This is a particularly important issue for owners who are seeking LEED certification for their parking facilities.
These are just a few examples of technology trends that are transforming parking, and which can be added to parking facilities of any age. By streamlining operations and offering a competitive edge, these technologies can have a major impact on owners’ bottom lines.