In the Beginning … There Were Horses


In the Beginning … There Were Horses

In the beginning, there were horses and buggies, rut-filled paths, hitching posts with piles of equine emissions to be avoided – and the people were not happy. Then came cars, traffic signals, paved roads and downtown shopping, and the people were pleased – until they couldn’t find a parking spot to do their shopping.
Traffic jams and congestion resulted. People could not get to the stores to shop and spend money, and the people & shop owners became frustrated.
So parking lot owners got together with their parking operators and said, “We shall build them places to park and collect fees to make money and pay for more parking facilities.”
So they did. And the people saw what the owners & operators had created, and they came from all around to be amazed by all the shops and events they were able to conveniently frequent – and the people were pleased. So more and more came. The owners & operators saw their parking facilities fill to capacity with much revenue flowing in – and they were pleased.
Until one day, there came clouds of greed and impatience. Patrons became unruly, saying, “We cannot find stalls for our metal steeds, and we are tired of sitting in long lines to pay our way out.”
So the people found ways to cheat the system and corrupt the revenue collectors so as to avoid paying what they owed. The system fell into disarray, and those who profited from this saw that this was good.
The system became unmanageable, revenue dropped, cars were double-parked, towed and booted, planes were missed, and traffic backed up into the street, creating more congestion. Parking decks became dark and scary places to be, and the people, owners & operators saw that this was not good.
Then someone said, “Why can’t we work together: Clean these places, add lighting and systems that flow freely allowing patrons to again enjoy the experience of traveling with their metal steeds?”
And the owners & operators reached out to those who knew of these things and found that this was possible. They invested in systems that provided patrons a pleasant and safe experience during their travels, and revenue started increasing, people spent more time shopping and less time looking for parking, and the world saw that it was good.

So the ending to this story is still being written today. The industry has yet to find the perfect parking system that pleases everyone.
Times have certainly changed from the beginning days of “cigar box” parking – smart systems, automated parking, mobile payments. The principles that made parking successful 60 years ago still hold true today.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the differences and similarities of parking access and revenue control, then and now.
1) Counting Vehicles
A piece of paper and pencil formed what is likely the first ever vehicle counting system in a parking application. Car pulls up, pays attendant and gets marked on that piece of paper. Boss counts the marks on the paper, counts the money and makes sure he’s got everything. Seems simple, right?
So simple, in fact, that some operations still employ this method today, despite the sophisticated back-end counting system and auditing processes available. The truth is that the need for auditing numbers and revenue is precisely what drove the industry to what it is today.
When people are involved in the process, there is always more room for error, theft, oversights, etc. The more errors happen, the more bosses get in trouble. The more bosses get in trouble, the more controls they want in place.
2) Staffing
The early days of parking employed people to actually sit in a booth and collect money from those patrons who parked their cars in that lot. Sound familiar? It should. We have transformed cigar boxes into fancy, fee-calculating data machines, but the principles are still the same.
Someone is there to take the money, provide a friendly smile and answer any questions that patrons may have. The industry has simply been focused on finding a better, more efficient way of doing the same thing.
In recent years, we have seen more of an automated process, allowing patrons to provide their payments to a machine, minus the friendly smiles. This helps to reduce the costly attendants and, ultimately, the parking fee to the patron.
3) Revenue Control
Do the marks on the sheet match the money in your hand? Seems so simple – 20 cars came in, 20 cars left, and I have $60. In the early days, much of the paid parking existed in a “flat rate” form, where you didn’t need to worry about when they came in, when they left, etc.
As the owners of these lots realized that the patrons staying longer were getting a huge benefit, they started to implement a “punch in, punch out” methodology, similar to that of a factory worker – the longer you park, the more you pay.
This drove the need for parking patrons to pay upon exit, pushing the need for systems that better tracked cars’ entry and exit times. Ticket dispensers became the “punch clock” and provided owners with better controls of how to sell “time” as well as “space.”
As the efficiencies of these systems grew, so did the complexities. Transient parkers could now get parking “discounts” from local retailers; monthly parkers could “purchase” spots for months at a time; and owners could now start charging different rates depending on the time of the day and demand for their spaces.
The cigar box and tracking sheet could not handle this new way of parking – and the systems we see today are a result of this evolution.
4) Reporting
The “accounting” of parking is much more complex today than
50 years ago. It’s easy to count and mark cars as they enter and
exit a facility, and relatively easy to associate revenue to those marks. Parking systems of the past did not focus much on using that data to improve revenues. Variable rates, early-bird discounts, dynamic pricing, validations – these things were very rare in the “cigar box” days.
In today’s world, systems collect so much data that an estimated 90% of it does not get used. Just using the 10%, we can easily find peak times and adjust rates to meet demand. Deeper dives into this data will start to show hidden trends on parking patterns – how some patrons are escaping payment or how some attendants may be finding ways to line their pockets. Data analytics have been a key part in driving the parking industry forward and the reasons for many of the controls we see today.
The parking industry has come a long way from its roots – we have seen tremendous growth and sophistication since the early days of paid parking. While the adoption of technology in recent years has been lagging behind other industries, parking no doubt has grown and will continue to grow to meet the needs of the market.
What started with an idea of paying for time and space has evolved into automated parking lots, mobile guidance and payment applications and overall improved patron convenience. The recent thrust of technology upon the parking industry leads us to believe that we’ll soon be talking about the “old” days of parking, back in 2013.

3M application engineer John Rambow, can be reached at Marketing manager Aaron Mills can be reached at


Article contributed by:
Aaron Mills and John Rambow
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