Please, Find My Car

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Please, Find My Car

 The first camera-based parking guidance system (PGS) in a North American airport is slated for installation at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) by the end of 2015. 
A second-generation PGS, manufactured by business intelligence solutions provider Park Assist, will control two parking facilities totaling 7,500 spaces and eventually will be integrated with the airport’s parking and revenue control system (PARCS). Airport management hopes the cutting-edge wayfinding system will help reverse years of declining parking revenues, add new incentives for customers to park on-airport, and provide “Big Data” customer analytics. 
 
Customer Perceptions are the Reality
According to the airport’s 2014 annual report, revenues for that year were 12% below their peak in 2008. FLL decided to perform a top-to-bottom review of its parking business, said Doug Wolfe, Chief Financial Officer. “We wanted to know about people who are parking here who have issues and, for the people who aren’t parking here, why they aren’t utilizing our parking?
“We wanted to get a picture of our leisure travelers, the business travelers, pricing, convenience and our off-airport competitors,” he said. 
One concern voiced repeatedly by customers, Wolfe said, was the difficulty in finding an available parking space. Even though the garages were not full, they were perceived as such. Filling the last 10% or 15% of the empty spaces resulted in unnecessary cruising, congestion and pollution. Airport officials believed that helping parkers find spaces faster would reduce that congestion, lower the carbon footprint and contribute to FLL’s sustainability objectives. 
 
Finding a Solution
“We created a plan that covers every conceivable facet of our parking business,” Wolfe said. A cornerstone of that plan was implementation of a parking guidance system.
On researching PGS options, FLL discovered it was possible to roll a number of customer concerns into the solution. A camera-based solution was seen as a path to enhancing service, improving security, and gathering customer data to create new “frequent user” incentive plans.
Cost, of course, was a consideration. But because FLL wanted the system to do more than just help patrons park, value was paramount. 
“Given the price, functions and benefits,” Wolfe said, “there was just no question in the direction we were going to go. You can do a microwave PGS for a good bit less. But you don’t get anywhere near the benefits we felt we needed for the long run that you derive from a camera-based system.”
What a Full-Featured PGS Can Do
Michele Krakowski of Lumin Advisors, an Indianapolis-based parking and transportation consultancy, believes that many airports are in the same situation.. “They are looking for ways to offer different parking products and improve the overall customer experience. 
“All parking guidance systems offer two basic products,” Krakowski said. “Providing better service by finding a space faster, and allowing spaces to be dedicated for special use. These might be indicated by different colored lights, for example, for certain events or groups to park. 
“But systems that are camera-based have license plate recognition (LPR) functionality, so they can also offer even more products and services,” she said 
The capability of linking a license plate to a particular user will automate the process of helping patrons find a lost car and enable the establishment of an airport-wide loyalty club. 
A security benefit important to FLL is better situational awareness in the garage. 
“An example of this is stolen cars,” Wolfe said. “These are often abandoned at airports like ours. We can download this information from the authorities into our [parking guidance] system and be on the lookout for problem vehicles.”
The airport also plans to “interface the PGS with its PARCS,” Wolfe said. “The Park Assist PGS is a very sophisticated system that gives a lot of analytics [we] wouldn’t be able to gather otherwise, such as the location of preferred parking, the intensity of usage and the turnover rate. 
“This can, in turn, provide insight into how to price certain spaces or areas. With this interface to our PARCS, we will eventually be able to match tickets to license plates,” he said.
 
How Accurate?
Experts agree that both sensor-based and camera-based systems are generally accurate in fulfilling their core task of determining whether a space is occupied. However, a camera-based PGS has loftier aspirations in gathering and analyzing data. These second-generation systems must determine space occupancy, but also record security video and capture vehicle license plates as well.
“One challenge for the camera-based solutions is accuracy performance,” said Steven Grant, Owner of Aberdeen Management Group, a parking and payments consultancy for several major airports. 
“Ensuring 99% accuracy levels is key,” Grant says, “but the jury is still out on whether the camera-based solutions that monitor multiple parking spaces using LPR to detect and read vehicle license plates can meet the required accuracy requirements.”
Grant is working with several airports that are procuring a guidance solution. He’s also writing a specification for a PGS that will be rolled out across many retail parking facilities in the U.S. 
“A successful parking guidance system,” he said, “all comes back to meeting the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) standards, Ingress Protection (IP) ratings and, for LPR, the ability and experience of the plate-reading, optical character recognition (OCR) engine.”
 
Ease of Installation and Reliability a Key
Grant noted that another big issue from existing deployments is the customer support and maintenance offered by PGS vendors. Checking references and asking questions about the installation process are crucial to minimizing disruptions before, during and after installation. 
“From speaking to other consultants, as well as visiting locations with guidance systems, the biggest complaint consistently appears to be the support provided once the solution has gone in,” Grant said. “This highlights not only the need to ensure that proper warranty, maintenance and service level agreements are agreed to upfront, but also that standards are being strictly adhered to.” 
 
Managing the Transition
FLL is excited about the PGS rollout, even as it anticipates future opportunities. “We’ve got a comprehensive advertising campaign in support of our initiatives,” CFO Wolfe said. “Also, we’ll be installing informational kiosks around the terminal that will run instructional videos on the system. Our new customer loyalty program will also be part of this educational process. This PGS will enable us to control our parking spaces so much better.”
And to find that customer’s car.
Contact Vince Balsamo, a Regional Manager for Park Assist, at vince.balsamo@parkassist.com.
 
‘Big Data’ Analytics a Key to Parking Pricing
“Parking is a funny business,” said Park Assist’s CEO Gary Neff. “Most property managers understand how to optimize an asset’s value and set prices based on the most convenient or best space, such as in an office building or apartment complex. Similarly, airlines sell better seats for a higher price. 
“However, in a parking garage, the worst and best parking spaces are sold for the same price,” he said. “Our research has shown that about 20% of parkers are willing to pay more if there is a better space or more convenient service. 
“A parking guidance system can help match those patrons with the desired spaces. We believe the best way to optimize a parking asset with our systems is to use our Select-Rate software to charge different rates for different spaces or levels with our PARCS interfaces.”
Article contributed by:
Vince Balsamo
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