The Future Nexus of University Parking
By Charlie Youakim
Recently, we at Passport conducted a market research survey to take a closer look at smartphone and mobile payments usage in North America. An early snapshot of the results revealed something unsurprising: The first 12 respondents in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket all owned smartphones.
I know this isn’t statistically significant, but it reinforced an assumption most of us already hold − younger generations are embracing smartphone technology faster than the rest of us.
With this in mind, it may be surprising to note that the university market has not been heavily addressed by the players in the mobile payment space, including Passport. Yes, we have had recent wins with big universities such as Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan, NC State and Oregon State among them. But surprisingly, it still seems as if smartphone solutions are not a driver in this market.
This will change soon because of new technology partnerships that have the potential to disrupt our industry. The technology partnerships include license plate recognition (LPR), space sensors and mobile payments.
These technology partnerships will lead to two trends: The first is a transition from gated to ungated systems, and the second is a trend toward flexible, mobile-first virtual permits. I’ll go through each to explain how they would work and why they work better.
The Move to Ungated
Getting rid of the gates is a dream for many operators. I know that’s the case because I talk with many of you. Gates break, or fail to operate at odd times of the day. They create management issues during events, and they are potential hazards to vehicles and pedestrians. They also are expensive to purchase, manage and operate.
The answer is to remove them and to add mobile payment, paystations and signage educating and directing users to the payment options available.
Many operators have wanted to get rid of gates for years, but are afraid to because of the potential of lost revenues and the requirement to enforce.
Let me kill that fear right away. You won’t lose revenue − you’ll gain revenue, and you’ll really kill it on the bottom line when you consider the reductions in costs of maintaining and replacing the hardware. You’ll also increase utilization and customer satisfaction in your system by making entry and exit frictionless while introducing a new revenue stream via enforcement.
Going ungated also creates new possibilities, such as charging a different rate on every level of your garage. Everyone wants to park on the first level, so charge a premium for it. Make your prime spots more expensive and create inexpensive parking at the top of the garage.
You can change the price on every level of the garage if you like. This is not possible with gated systems, because everyone has the same ticket and is guaranteed the same rate, regardless of where they park. You could do the same with permits − creating different permit types by level.
This isn’t a new strategy. It’s been employed for years at sporting events and concerts. Seating is priced differently in order to capture value properly in pricing. This technique alone, if employed, would significantly increase revenue in your garages.
Taking the gates away creates the need for enforcement, but that can be handled in one of two ways. Either patrol with LPR or use overhead space sensors to identify non-payment. LPR has an added benefit in that it can be used for LPN-based permitting systems. Overhead sensors have the added benefit as guidance systems for your users.
We are on the early adopter curve of this gateless trend, but expect to see more operators moving to this system. Universities are in a nice position to be leaders on this front, because their users are high on the adoption curve for smartphone technology, which makes this type of solution easier to employ.
Mobile-first Permit Systems
Permit-based systems are currently a nightmare for many colleges and universities. You don’t have to work in the parking operations department to know this. You can see the lines going out the door at the start of every semester.
This painful process is another situation that can be helped significantly through the use of technology. Dump the traditional provisioning processes around permits and go digital with LPN-based parking centered on mobile and LPR enforcement.
The move to mobile has the potential to create more flexible systems that can adapt easily to the needs of your staff, faculty and students.
Take Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) as an example. We at Passport believe that NOVA will be on the forefront of the future of permitting. Officials there are transitioning out of their traditional permitting system and onto a mobile-first system.
They are doing this in a smart, risk-free way. They are going to continue to offer their traditional permit, and supplement it with a flexible mobile-first system.
The mobile system allows students to buy $120 worth of semester parking for $60 via “a wallet.” Students can then use the wallet funds to park on the days they see fit. If the student has a M-W-F class schedule, they pay for parking on those days and stretch their dollar. They also get out of the permit line and ease the burden on the parking operations department.
Pairing this type of flex-permit with LPR enforcement makes operating and enforcing this type of system easy.
This type of permit system is clearly the future. The flexibility and adaptability of mobile make it too hard to ignore − and it lessens the burden of the painful permit provisioning process.
NOVA is on the forefront of this technology, but it should not be alone.
The Future is Now
These two concepts are trends that you will see more and more of in the university and college market. We’re excited to be partnering with our university clients, and we’ll do our best to share the results with the industry.
Fortunately, universities tend to work a pretty young population that embraces new technologies. We can all see the trend toward mobile with the youth in North America, even without Passport’s smartphone survey.
Let’s not ignore this trend. Let’s embrace it. Let’s “ungate” the possibilities with mobile.
Contact Charlie Youakim, Co-CEO of Passport, at email@example.com.