Technology, MaaS and Skiing in a Smart City


Technology, MaaS and Skiing in a Smart City

This issue of Parking Today is our Technology Issue. I have asked a number of tech providers, consultants, and others to write about the topic and have received some interesting input. But what about the actual end users, the operators, cities, hospitals, airports, and shopping centers that actually park cars? Sure, they are buying the stuff. But are they even capable of using it?

What difference does it make if you can launch a Tesla into orbit if you can’t keep track of your monthly parkers? The tech exists, do you use it? When was the last time you walked into the garage and ran a list of active permits? Do you know how? It doesn’t count if you ask your manager to do it. 

OK, you have the capability of selling and reserving spaces from your vacation spot in the Seychelles. But are you sure you are getting all the money for each transaction? How do you know? Sure, you trust them, but really…

Your new techy system is so flexible that you can adjust your rates hourly from your hot tub. Super. But can anyone with an internet connection do it, too? How do you know they haven’t? Remember what the Gipper said: “Trust by Verify.”

If you head is spinning and you are ready to hire your mother to sit in an exit booth and revert to the cigar box, check this month’s issue of PT. It’s full of tech and will answer some of the questions above. At the very least it will make you dangerous enough that when tech salespeople knock on your door, you can ask some really hard questions.

There’s an article from the data giant Cisco linked over at It is titled: Technology, Services Can Sustain Parking Companies. It’s written from tech companies’ point of view. Car population will be a quarter of what it is now in 12 years. The parking industry is hanging on by a thread. Etc., etc., etc. 

The article shares some good ideas that you should be doing already. Nothing really out of the ordinary. But it got me to thinking. Since we are part of the transportation business, shouldn’t we be thinking about how we can relate to other transportation types?

More people travel by car than any other transportation activity (train, bus, plane, bicycle, foot, rapid transit) and most of these bump up against a parking facility at one point or another. Ride sharing and autonomous vehicles aside, that’s not going to change much. 

Our betters are trying to pack us into downtown areas, but only to a point. People will still live in one area and work in another. And with the exception of a very few compact downtowns, people will still have to get to the train, bus, airport at the beginning of their trip, and have to get from the station to their final destination at the other. That first/last mile problem isn’t going away.

You will be seeing more of the term MaaS or Mobility as a Service. Transportation officials sometimes forget the word “Service” is a part of this. And as we parking folks know, “Service” is important if you want to make a system work well and be used by the public.

Billion-dollar trains go unused in LA because they don’t go where people need them to go. There are no parking facilities at the stations so people can drive a short distance, leave their cars, and then ride the train for longer distances. Then at the other end, they need to deal with that last mile. Consider:

• Maybe off airport lots could be 40 miles from the airport (near a train station).

• Rideshare, Uber and Lyft and shuttle pick ups could be in your garage near a downtown station.

• Should multi-use facilities including parking be developed near existing metro stations?

• What is the real desire, get cars off the freeway or out of downtown altogether?

Wouldn’t you like to be involved in those discussions? You ignore this issue at your peril.


Looking for a Smart City? Grab Your Skis

Fair enough. Caught your attention. Betcha thought it was about a “Smart City” in Vail or Park City. Well, you are flat out wrong.

This comes from an article about how ski resorts use data collected about their customers to adjust everything from lift ticket prices to which ski runs to plow. They use that data to help their skiers get to the resort, find places to stay, purchase high end equipment, know how long the lines are, and virtually (get it…) everything else about their experience on the mountain.

The resorts put together the ability to collect the data and then hired analysts to slice and dice it so they could gain more information about their businesses, make them run more efficiently, and increase the bottom line. You will find similar operations in successful shopping centers, department stores, doctor’s offices, airlines, and just about any other major business you can name.

What do they all have in common? They want to make a profit and run more efficiently.

Profit and efficiency aren’t really watch words of governments at any level. Oh, they talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Here is a paragraph from the article:

No one yet knows quite what to make of the “smart city” concept, and whether it’s worth what big companies like Alphabet, Siemens, Ford, IBM, and Amazon would like to charge places to use their tech—in money and in knowledge. But if officials want to get to know the concept a bit better, the wins and the tradeoffs, perhaps they should head to the mountains.

I have been saying for years that the Smart City tsunami is being driven by the tech companies, not by the cities who are hungering for data.

See the difference? The ski resorts, like the one interviewed in the article I read, wanted to fix a problem and increase their profits, so they set about to design programs to do so. Then they reached out to tech companies to automate them.

Cities are standing around smiling about being smart, all the while feeding the coffers of Google, Siemens, et al. There are some smart city managers who are hiring folks who understand how to analyze the data and are using it to manage their processes, but my guess is that they are few and far between.

The departments within the city such as police, fire, water, and others that actually deliver services, have been collecting and using data for years.

I expect that by the time I get home my electricity and water will be “accidentally” cut off and no one will know why, except the guy at city hall who read this.


Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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