What's Up With Apps?
When Apple’s App Store was launched in 2008, it offered around 550 apps. Today it is estimated that there are more than 5 million, including those related to parking. The original concept behind parking apps lies in creating the ability for consumers to use their smart phones to find and pay for parking instead of driving around looking for available spaces — and then fumbling for cash or cards at a meter or kiosk. As they have matured, many apps are starting to morph into mobility platforms intended to allow them to play a larger role within the connected-car smart-city transportation world.
At their most basic, parking apps “offer customer convenience and efficiencies,” said Julie Dixon, principal consultant with Dixon Resources Unlimited.
In 2017, ParkMobile launched full integration into all BMW models, enabling cars to pay for on-street and off-street parking automatically.
Their adoption has risen with that of the smart phone. “Parking apps have proliferated because of people’s dependence on their phones,” said Todd Tucker, senior vice-president of market development for Arrive, which offers the ParkingWhiz and BestParking apps. “People are tied to their phones and therefore looking to transact as much as possible on them.
Jon Ziglar, CEO of ParkMobile, agrees: “Consumers are gravitating toward mobile solutions.”
“Apps offer drivers the seamless experience they are accustomed to with other forms of travel and transportation,” said Mark Lawrence, co-founder and CEO of SpotHero.
And now: “Everyone has an app,” said Dixon. “That’s part of the problem — there is no unified approach and a lot of agencies want their own branded approach.
“A few years ago, when apps were just coming on the scene, everybody was racing to get their own,” said Tucker. “The problem with a lot of these apps is that for the driver/consumer, it’s about utility, and the only reason they are going to download a particular app is if it has value. They don’t just want to see certain parking garages, they want to see all of them.”
“We’re all seeing commerce shift from ‘huge selection’ to ‘best options served up on demand,’” said Lawrence.
Extending Traditional Offerings
So, what are those best options? “Our studies have shown that people are loyal to their particular apps,” said Tucker. “As long as they are providing convenience, they will continue to use them.”
These days, that convenience means moving behind the traditional offerings. For instance, at PayByPhone, they pride themselves on offering live support (in multiple languages) 24/7/365 and the ability for the consumer to pay in numerous ways — through the app, via a web page or by actually talking on their smart phone, according to Roamy Valera, CEO North America for PayByPhone. “Now, drivers can also park using the app without even registering for an account,” said Valera.
At ParkMobile, they are working to cover every possible parking scenario. “Every place a car can come to rest, whether on-street, in garages, at a stadium or an airport, we want to service that,” said Ziglar, who said that even includes things like enabling charging stations for electric cars.
The Inugo app was designed to service both the end user and the parking operators. “The Intelligent Gate Controller allows operators to turn any gate, security door or rolling door into a bluetooth-enabled smart gate for frictionless parking,” said Corotis. In areas without gates (like surface lots), Inugo uses “geofencing technology via a smartphone to detect when a user is in a designated area for paid parking.”
And at Arrive, it means partnering with tech-industry behemoth Amazon, which bought into the company late last year.
The partnerships apps companies are making also include the imbedding of platforms into certain fleets of vehicles, which alleviates one of the issues inherent in using an app to find parking: how to look for parking on a smartphone while also driving the car.
“Unless you have a companion in the car to monitor the webpage, this does not seem to be a practical guidance system,” said Peer Ghent, project manager for LA Express Park at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “Ultimately, we would like to see parking availability data fed into the car’s navigation system or available through apps like Mapquest, Google, etc. This kind of integration is already starting to happen, with apps being built into new cars and into bigger platforms at companies such as Google and Apple, as well as Amazon.
“We want to be in the bigger platforms because that’s where the consumers are,” said Arrive’s Tucker. “By partnering with Amazon, we have many more people making transactions using our platforms.” Or even, he pointed out, by saying “Alexa, find me parking.”
Spot Hero has launched an integration with Google. “The integration with Google Assistant enables drivers to book parking using voice commands,” said Lawrence. “With Google Assistant’s integration with Android Auto, users can now reserve parking completely hands-free, making parking more seamless and convenient than ever.”
And PayByPhone was one of only 44 apps to launch with the Apple Watch in September 2018. “Drivers can now extend their parking using the app with the Apple Watch,” said Valera.
Parking apps are also already being used in certain car systems. In 2017, ParkMobile launched full integration into all BMW models, enabling cars to pay for on-street and off-street parking automatically. And it just completed a joint venture with Daimler.
All this integration also moves apps further into the greater mobility picture. “Apps provide a digital infrastructure to unify the parking industry and the broader transportation landscape,” said Lawrence, who called apps the “connective tissue” that can bring the various entities together. “This is increasingly more important as consumers choose from a growing mobility mix of driving, rideshare, carshare, scooters and more.”
“Parking apps are a stepping stone into a one-touch onboard ‘find-pay-solution’ embedded into vehicles worldwide where function works seamlessly with the connected car in smart cities,” said Corotis, who also envisions a world where vehicles can communicate with city grids to provide valuable actionable data to the operators.
“Part of our strategy is to deliver smart mobility,” said Ziglar. “One of the things we are already working on is the ability to integrate light rail and ticketing around city transit solutions. Our new joint venture with Moovel/ReachNow has vastly accelerated our ability to deliver this all-in-one solution to both drivers and cities.”
Tucker agrees: “Mobility is the name of the game because consumers have choices and you want to be present in that choice.”
“There are many interests trying to define the marketplace and what ‘mobility’ is,” said Valera. “But the true definition of mobility will be provided by the cities adopting technologies and policies focusing on a frictionless consumer model. We want consumers to be able to decide how they will start and end their trips.”
Dixon said she hopes this trend toward consolidation and integration among the various entities continues. “I’m hoping for a unified approach — vendors working together — and, most important, the need for mapping applications like Google and Waze to be openly receiving data,” said Dixon. “We need this level of integration to be successful and effective.”
Parking Apps: The City View
In his position as project manager for LA Express Park with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Peer Ghent has a unique insight on how parking apps have been accepted within a city’s larger transportation picture.
At the moment, Ghent reports, “parking data is not nearly as interesting as traffic data for the typical consumer.” Thus, he feels parking data will be most useful when integrated into a complete mobility app within a car’s vehicle navigation system. “Once the data is digitized and integrated it can also be incorporated into the guidance system for autonomous vehicles.”
Ghent finds the proliferation of apps to be an important step in getting consumers used to using them but personally feels that there will continue to be more consolidation, with larger omnibus apps like Google and Amazon the likely survivors.
“Apps are relatively inexpensive to develop, but difficult to maintain with relevant data,” said Ghent. “Apps will continue to proliferate until they are chewed up and spit out by the major players. Only the most useful will survive.”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org