When Choosing Meters ... Do Multi-Space Paystations Give You an Edge?
By Chris Chettle and Michael Hamilton
Multi-space parking paystations have been around for decades. First gaining prominence in Europe with pay-and-display (P&D) solutions, they came to North America about 20 years ago, progressing beyond P&D to include new configurations such as pay-by-space and pay-by-plate.
Many technologies start to show a decline after this period of time, but multi-space paystation deployments continue to grow at even higher rates.
One of the largest drivers of this growth has been license-plate-enabled parking (LEP). This entails using the license plate as a standard credential to tie together paystation data with LPR technology, mobile enforcement solutions and “cloud-based” payment methods, such as pay-by-cell.
Also, what multi-space paystations bring to operational efficiency and adaptability make them a stronger choice over single-space alternatives for parking managers.
Use of LEP as a Standard Credential
Through utilization of LEP, multi-space paystations create benefits and opportunities that provide efficiency for parkers and parking managers. It allows parkers to get on their journey more quickly, not having to return to the vehicle to display a ticket. Also, if you enable the purchase of additional parking time, parkers can remotely extend their session from any paystation or via mobile app, eliminating the need to return to their original parking meter.
From an operational standpoint, LEP provides more information about the parkers using paystations or apps on- and off-street. It does require a heightened level of interaction with the parking public—using a full keypad to record the license plate—that a single-space meter will never be able to provide.
Because parkers must enter more information when paying by plate, it’s important for operations to choose a paystation with a good user experience, including a bright, easily readable display and a keypad with “haptic” button press feedback.
The city of Houston is rolling out 276 new multi-space parking paystations in a five-year plan to replace and add to its existing 1,048 paystations. Once again, city officials—as they did 10 years ago—decided to go with multi-space paystations over alternatives such as single-space “smart” meters. And LEP functionality was a big part of this choice.
“This is really going to improve the customer experience,” said Maria Irshad, Assistant Director of ParkHouston.
Using LEP also creates a source of information that can help parking operators make decisions to effectively manage their resources. Having the license plate as a common data credential allows for easier reporting, as it ties together the tracking for multi-space meters, pay-by-cell and permits.
“Big data” is a key trend in parking today, but without a credential that correlates different parking sessions for the same vehicle, operators are half-blind.
For example, by using LEP, you can determine the number of repeat parkers in a month, which gives insight into whether parking resources are used by shoppers or by employees. You might see that a high percentage of your parking revenue comes from a core group of parkers, prompting you to develop a loyalty program.
“You have to look at your parking data holistically,” Irshad said. “You can’t have one report over here for citations and another report for meter revenue. That’s a lot of time and effort ... we’re parking people, not IT people.
“When you have a unified system,” she said, “you can look at your data and operations in a much more effective and efficient way and allocate resources accordingly.”
Multi-space meters provide the interface necessary to enable LEP for on-street parking. The benefits mentioned that stem from this key difference over single-space smart meters drive many parking operations to choose multi-space paystations.
The costs associated with running and managing multi-space paystations is less than single-space smart meters, for several reasons. With multi-space, you have fewer units for collections and maintenance, reducing staff costs. For collections, paystations offer more payment options and have a larger coin capacity, meaning periodic visits can be scheduled when needed.
Because of the size constraints of a single-space meter, the user interface and screen size are often too small to support anything more complicated than incremental rates. The large screen of a multi-space paystation gives a vibrant sign to show the rate in effect, allowing you to deliver more varied rates, such as an all-day premium rate, in addition to an hourly rate.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit to multi-space paystations over single-space meters is visual. You can reduce the amount of imposing street furniture because paystations handle multiple parking spaces with a single unit. (For example, Houston manages 9,200 parking spaces with its 1,048 multi-space paystations.)
Importantly, they also have broader operational usability. When used for both on-street parking and surface lots, multi-space paystations can standardize technology and increase familiarity among parkers.
Adaptability to Future Technologies
With payment security changes related to EMV, it’s unclear if a single-space smart meter will be able to provide what’s needed to employ the technology that are required to process credit card payments. We anticipate that, once again, the size of a single-space meter will inhibit its ability to make the leap to this new technology.
Because they’re capable of providing real-time, continuous communication, multi-space meters are also better-positioned for integrations with third-party applications such as mobile apps. This is when the relatively short battery life of single-space smart meters is especially prohibitive; it has even resulted in cities discontinuing integrations with pay-by-cell apps.
With mobile convenience and smart technology becoming increasingly important to parkers and parking managers, this is a crucial factor for many organizations as they select meters.
Thinking farther into the future, because of its features and large user interface, the multi-space pay station could be transformed into a kiosk for different types of transactions one might need in a city – getting location information about attractions, adding money to a smart card for transit, and validating coupons.
Bringing It All Together
While single-space smart meters have clearly had strong adoption in many cities, the capabilities of multi-space paystations prove their worth. They have shown growing adoption over the past few years in major cities such as Miami Beach, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.
The key reason for this growing adoption is that multi-space paystations bring together the features and technology that provide a positive experience for parkers and parking managers, while also delivering a platform well-suited to integrate with the growing cloud-based technologies such as pay-by-cell and parking reservations.
If these reasons are important considerations for your parking operation, many find multi-space paystations the best solution in outperforming competing alternatives.
Chris Chettle is Executive Vice President, Product and Manufacturing, at T2 Systems. Michael Hamilton is the company’s Manager of Product Management. They can be reached through www.t2systems.com.