It’s Time to Take the Next Step in Your Asset Light Journey


It’s Time to Take the Next Step in Your Asset Light Journey

In the age of Covid-19, parking operators are reviewing procedures and expenses to gain efficiencies and eliminate unnecessary expenses. As people look to avoid the risk of viral exposure, physical equipment presents a challenge. Municipal operators are examining and adjusting equipment cleaning procedures, but are realizing it’s simply not feasible to regularly clean and sanitize equipment like parking meters.

All of this has led many operators to actively promote mobile payment options as a form of “contactless” parking. Even before Covid-19, mobile payment platforms were seeing increasing adoption rates in many cities, as municipal operations embraced the platforms for added flexibility. (Data indicates approximately 80 percent of people use smartphones.)

New mobile payment platforms have spread to markets big and small across the United States. Many cities have built custom-branded mobile payment platforms, like Portland, Oregon’s Parking Kitty app. Miami, Florida has promoted mobile payment for several years and removed a lot of expensive on-street meter hardware in the process. Columbus, Ohio recently moved to virtual residential permits enforced with license plate recognition in a mobile-pay-only zone in Short North, an area north of Downtown Columbus. 

These cities have taken the first steps on the journey to being asset light.

Asset light is a philosophy and an approach to on-street parking management that embraces technology and data analytics. It works to phase out the physical equipment and cash-based transactions of the past, while still prioritizing customer service and options. It is the journey away from single-space parking meters to multi-space pay station kiosks and mobile payment options. Asset light certainly can be extended to the off-street environment, but on-street is our focus here.

If you haven’t begun your asset light journey, now is the time.

Stages of the Journey

Like any journey, asset light doesn’t happen all at once. Your operation might be at a single point on the path, or perhaps different parts of your city are at different stages. Let’s explore points along the asset light journey in the context of on-street paid parking operations:

Level 1: Asset Heavy

□ Single-space meters without credit card payment

□ Possible integration of mobile payment

• Level 2: Asset Medium

□ Multi-space meters every 1-2 blocks (either pay-and-display, pay-by-space, or pay-by-plate meters)

□ Possible integration of mobile payment

□ Some or no single-space meters, some single-space meters may be credit card only

• Level 3: Asset Light

□ Multi-space meters every 2-4 blocks 

□ Integration of mobile payment option

□ No single-space meters

Level 4: Asset Free

□ Mobile payment only

Asset Light Benefits

There are numerous benefits to asset light on-street operations, including cost and administrative burden reductions, operational enhancements, and improved customer service. 

Trimming Cost and Administrative Burden

With adoption rates for smart phones in the U.S. increasing nationally and customers growing familiar with multi-space pay stations, the transition to asset light may be easier than you think. There are important equity and access concerns to moving away from cash/coin payments and toward credit and mobile payment options. Some users are unbanked or do not have smart phones. Payment options for these individuals include pre-paid cards and numbers that can be called to submit payment. 

Moving away from the use of cash and coins in municipal operations is a central theme of the asset light approach. 

With various options and the price of installation, multi-space meters typically can run around $10,000 each in upfront capital costs. Ongoing costs include about $50 or more per month for access to the cloud-based management software to monitor and manage each multi-space meter. Other ongoing costs include extended warranties, the cost of paper receipts, replacement batteries, cleaning, spare parts, and others. Multi-space meters can be configured to accept coins and cash based on specific needs.

Mobile payment platforms, in contrast, typically don’t have an upfront cost, but do charge a fee for each transaction. Transaction fees are negotiated and are different in each city. This fee is either paid for by the parking operator (i.e. the city), it’s passed on to the customer, or a combination of the two. A few years ago, Seattle, for example, decided to absorb the $0.35 per transaction fee to promote the use of mobile payment.

Improved Customer Experience

From a customer standpoint, multi-space meters and mobile payment platforms offer several benefits that enhance the user experience. Moving away from single-space meters to more modern technology alleviates issues of machines that are out of order. Mobile payment platforms allow for payment in smaller windows of time and the refilling of time remotely. Additionally, mobile payment solutions can be integrated with real-time parking space availability capabilities and applications to provide a more comprehensive user experience. 

Operational Improvements

Beyond the cost and administrative considerations, multi-space meters and mobile payment platforms offer several operational improvements and functionalities relative to single-space meters. In many cities, curb space is seeing increasing demand from several different pressures: bicycles and scooters, outdoor dining, parklets, regulatory signage, parked vehicles, commercial loading and unloading activity, and others. Removing single-space meters reduces clutter in busy curb areas.

As you make the transition from asset heavy to asset light, use transactional and enforcement data to monitor the performance of your operation and adjust as necessary. Examining transactions and revenues by location and time of day in conjunction with areas that are seeing low turnover and compliance issues, for example, may warrant meter rate or time limit adjustments. 

An important benefit of using exclusively mobile pay is the ability to expand the footprint of paid parking within the city in locations that might not justify new hardware from a parking demand standpoint.

Key Considerations for Implementation

A variety of considerations should be made when moving toward asset light on-street paid parking. It is important to consider the customer profile before removing single-space meters. Areas that are dominated by visitors, for example, may not be as appropriate for multi-space meters and mobile payment options as an established commercial district. 

Multi-space meter and mobile payment using the license plate as the credential (as opposed to a pay-and-display or pay-by-space model) is recommended for integration with license plate-driven enforcement using mobile license plate recognition technology. This is particularly relevant in paid parking areas where you’re using permit credentials (i.e. commercial districts with adjacent residential areas that have existing neighborhood/residential parking permit programs). In this scenario, virtual permits can be implemented and enforced with mobile license plate recognition technology in conjunction with the multi-space pay-by-plate meters and mobile payment platform.

Additionally, mobile payment platforms offer a variety of customizations in pricing and time limits and can thus be used to implement policies like progressive or dynamic pricing. Progressive pricing allows for improved enforcement in paid parking areas with long time limits or no time limits. 

Moving Forward in Your Journey

There are a variety of considerations when choosing to move forward in the journey to asset light. It’s important to realize that not all aspects of your operation or your customers may be ready or even appropriate for transition to a full asset light approach. The approach you choose must be customized for your needs, integrated into your process, and be appropriate for your unique customers. Be sure that there are convenient options for payment for those without a smart phone and those that are unbanked. Ensure that mobile payment platforms abide by data regulations. Paid parking changes (i.e. new hardware, new mobile applications, etc.) should be communicated clearly with adequate lead time via a comprehensive marketing and public outreach campaign, and customers should be provided adequate resources and options to address their needs.  

Remember that asset light is a journey, and the time is now to take your next step.

Kevin White, AICP is a Parking and Mobility Consultant with Walker Consultants, based in Walker Consultants’ Minneapolis office. Kevin can be reached at

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