Parking Today and Tomorrow

November, 2014

Some Solutions are Dependent on Technology to Make Them Effective.

By Dori Teich

Parking involves depositing a vehicle in a convenient space.


Even when we drive to the gym, we are likely to look for a conveniently close-by parking space, rather than walk the extra distance. Quite illogical, considering that once inside the gym, we may run for miles going nowhere.

It is this “convenience” aspect of parking that has fostered a steady evolution in the technology of parking. After all, the basics of parking are simple and unchanged since the time of the chariots — the need for a physical space to hold the vehicle temporarily. But the “convenience” presents much more of a challenge.

Parking systems require control of the use of parking spaces, methods for collecting usage fees, and user guidance to available spaces close to the desired location.

“Convenience” solutions must be economically viable. While the public debate about the benefits and harm of “free” parking rages on, there is little doubt that parking is — or must be — a for-profit industry. Thus, feasible solutions for “convenience” must also be affordable, economically viable and effective.

The parking challenge has many facets to it — urban, suburban, commercial, residential, special events, handicapped, VIP, or institutional (e.g., colleges, hospitals, offices). This complex matrix is further diffused by local politics and laws. No one solution fits all.

The solution concept list below has one common denominator — these solutions are dependent on technology to make them effective.

1. Increase Space Availability: In addition to the obvious solution of building more parking spaces, availability can be increased by promoting shorter stays; by using on- and off-street parking spaces; by reducing the dead-time between space utilization; and by using spaces that are not dedicated to parking but are available during peak demand time (such as unused private spaces).

2. Pay to Play: We drivers are efficient cost/benefit analyzers. Thus, we balance the level of convenience (how close to destination we want to park) with its cost. If parking three blocks away saves significant cost, we will park there if our stay is long enough to make a material cost impact.

3. Automate Enforcement: The driver’s cost/benefit rationalization will be bypassed if there is a high likelihood that we can beat the system and park without payment (e.g., at parking meters). Technology needs to supplant or replace uneconomical human enforcement of parking rules and collections.

4.Eliminate the Middleman: If the driver could communicate directly with the parking space that he wishes to occupy, he could find the best space for his budget and need, reserve it, pay for it and obtain guidance to it — all without the interference of middlemen. This streamlined process reduces operating cost, the chances of pilferage, favoritism, conflicts and liability by the space providers.

The 2013 IPI survey of U.S. parking professionals points to a trend for simplifying the process of finding and paying for parking, and for improvements in parking management.

Cutting-edge systems allow drivers to locate available parking spaces, via the Internet on their smartphones, and obtain information about the current cost of parking. The technology falls short of guaranteeing that the space will be available by the time the driver arrives.

Cashless payments include credit cards and pay-by-phone for parking meters. Some experimental systems use the car’s license plates to identify the customer and to charge him automatically.

While advanced technology infrastructure makes these new systems possible, they would not be practical if it were not for the now-ubiquitous smartphone. It provides a driver at-large with access; without it, drivers would be limited to reservations made in advance of the trip via a desktop computer.

A smartphone-centric parking world, augmented by car telemetrics, is around the corner. Tell the car where you want to go, and it will list the available parking spaces sorted by distance and cost. Accept your selection, and the car will get you there, lowering any parking barrier that controls access to the space.

Self-Enforcing Parking

The cashless parking meter systems, and the pay-and-display “Big Brother” versions, require human monitoring and enforcement to discourage freeloaders. The cost associated with enforcement is significant and labor intensive. The smaller the grouping of parking spaces, the higher the cost-per-space for enforcement. This is an area that is begging for technology to step in.

One solution widely used in the Far East is “coin parking.” Each parking space has a barrier that controls the exit from the space. The driver enters an available space. Shortly thereafter, the barrier locks the car in place. When payment is received, the barrier releases the car.

Coin parking has not found its way to the Western world due to the high cost of the barriers, their installation, and the power and communications infrastructure required for them. But a new generation of low-cost wireless barriers is about to change the economics of this technology.

Using smartphones as the carriers of communications between “the cloud” and the barriers, individual parking spaces will be added and accessed economically. This will extend the field of commercial parking beyond traditional parking lots and garages. Even individual parking spaces will be rented and controlled economically – wherever they are found.

Dori Teich is President of Designated Parking Corp., which specializes in single-space parking solutions. Contact him at dori.teich@designatedparking.com.