“Gateless” Systems


“Gateless” Systems

While 2021 continues to fly past at a quick pace, it seems we might be heading out of the COVID-induced fog here in the United States. Parking activity (and revenues) are up for everyone I have talked with, and the ever-increasing availability of the COVID vaccine seems to be improving the spirits of many people. When I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine last month, I expected side effects (a few days, in my case), but I did not expect the change in my overall attitude. Completing my vaccine regimen provided me with an unexpectedly positive shift in my views of being around people again. For the first time, I could see a reasonable path to move past this pandemic and into a new normal. I do still take all the same safety precautions, but now they somehow seem less tedious. There finally appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The impact of a shift in perspective can be a powerful one, indeed. This month’s question is about another perspective shift, the ability to run a parking facility without gates.    

Dear Kevin, 

Over the past few months, I have received a growing number of calls, ads, and emails for “gateless” systems. What are your thoughts on this new technology? I am not sure I am ready to give up my gates yet…

Puzzled in Palm Beach

Hello Puzzled, 

Thanks for the question; it is certainly a timely one. Over the past year, there seems to be a large (and growing) number of companies, both new and experienced, that have rolled out a “gateless” solution. As with most “new” technology in parking, the concept is not all that new, it has just taken years for people to get comfortable enough with the idea to allow for the widespread adoption (and thus, sales) of this approach. Plenty of locations have been using this technology for many years now (one parking operator has even standardized most of their facilities using it), so “gateless” solutions can and do work. Still, the larger question is will it work for your locations? 

The concept of a “gateless” garage is relatively simple. It involves a few essential parts. These include cameras to identify vehicles, payment options, management software, and a method to deal with violators. If this sounds a lot like a current on or off-street enforcement system, you are not wrong. A “gateless” system has much more in common with an old-school electronic enforcement system than it does with a modern PARCS (Parking Access and Revenue Control) system. This is one of the misconceptions many people have with these systems. They incorrectly assume you replace the gates of a PARCS system with cameras, and you are done.

 Most gateless systems use fixed cameras to detect vehicles and their license plates when they enter or exit a facility. While this approach provides the largest amount of data and the highest operational coverage levels, a mobile LPR or even handheld-based camera system can also be used. Once the vehicle is detected and identified, the management system checks for payment or permission to park. 

This permission can take the form of a permit, reservation (which is just a permit by another name), or an exception for that vehicle (a VIP’s car). Parkers can make a payment at a multi-space meter, mobile payment app, or even pay automatically with a credit card on file. If the vehicle does not have permission to park or a payment made for it, the system waits for a payment to be made. 

If the payment is not made within the preset time (typically called a grace period), enforcement action is triggered. This enforcement event can take the form of notification to write a physical citation, a system-generated letter or email citation, placing a boot on the vehicle, or even towing the car (which is overkill in many situations, but still an option).

Utilizing a “gateless” system can have pros and cons and is not designed for every situation. There is no such thing as a “perfect” solution for all environments. One considerable upside to gateless systems is reducing operating risk by removing the 6-8 ft (or longer) moving object in each lane. As those who pay insurance premiums or have dealt with a lawsuit know, gate arms strike both vehicles and people at a surprising rate. While I agree most times, it is the driver or pedestrian’s fault, these days, that same person is likely getting paid off. 

Additionally, there typically is a dramatic decrease in the vehicle ingress and egress time for a busy facility. While newer PARCS systems using LPR are getting much faster, stopping the vehicle for even a moment can multiply into quite a slowdown during times of high vehicle turnover. Because payment is completed before exit, driver assistance is typically performed outside the lane, keeping vehicles moving. The impact of this change can be even higher for garages or lots without enough lanes to handle vehicle volume.

On the flip side, “gateless” systems don’t work as well in situations where vehicles need to be kept out of a facility, for example, a garage with contracted monthly parking spaces in a dense urban area. While the exceptions do occur, most people won’t break a gate arm to get into a facility to park. Of course, you can use towing to remove cars after they arrive, but this takes time, requires overflow spaces, doesn’t work well in all facilities, and has a negative customer service impact that is not insignificant. Until most vehicles are autonomous and will respect digital parking rules, gates will be valuable in many of these environments. 

While “gateless” solutions have existed in the market for many years now, quite a few new companies now pitch the idea. For any new company or technology, trust, but verify. Start slowly, put in a single system to measure actual performance, and hold vendors accountable to the system working as promised. It is easy to talk about how well a system will work using slick images on a presentation, but at the end of the day, creating a system that works day in and day out is much harder than many companies understand. 

Finally, while often typically advertised by gateless systems, the benefits of improved analytical data, automatic payments, improved count accuracy, and a “touchless” experience can also be achieved in gated systems using vehicle detection or LPR cameras. Many operations can upgrade existing PARCS systems to add these features at a much lower price point than switching to an entirely new system. 

“Gateless” systems are viable and could be an excellent solution for your location. But with all new technology purchases, look at the true impact on your operation, the system’s actual total cost, and how it fits into your overall technology portfolio. Technology is just one tool to solve operational needs. There are many tools available, don’t just pick the latest one because it is the shiniest.   

Good luck, 


If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, have any feedback, or want to chat, drop me a line at kevin@omnipark.com.

Article contributed by:
Kevin Uhlenhaker
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