Promoting Public Health During This Pandemic
When Tim Flanagan introduced frictionless parking in the March 2017 issue of Parking Today, he knew that combining multiple parking technologies into suites that could eliminate queuing and make it easier to get in and out of parking garages was an idea whose time had come. He couldn’t have imagined, though, that it would also help to promote public health during this Coronavirus pandemic.
However, during this public health crisis, frictionless parking can play an important role by dramatically reducing the number of common touch-points within a garage or parking lot. These touch-points are particularly common in equipment that handles payments. We don’t give a second thought to pressing the buttons on parking payment equipment or on find-my-car kiosks. We’ve done it so many thousands of times that it has become second nature. But someone using that equipment isn’t the only person pushing those buttons. Chances are, many people have already used that equipment, and there’s no way to know whether it has been contaminated.
Frictionless Parking to the Rescue
That’s where frictionless parking comes in. The technology trend to which many parking owners have already turned to improve the parking experience can also reduce the hazard of common touch-points in parking facilities.
With frictionless parking, drivers can conveniently enter garages without stopping to take a ticket, are directed to available parking by parking guidance systems, and are automatically charged through one of a number of different payment methods. When it’s time to leave, the driver merely returns to his or her vehicle and exits the facility. There are no delays at pay-on-foot kiosks or exit booths. Nor are there screens for parking patrons to touch when paying.
Frictionless parking begins with PARCS technology offering connectivity with any of a wide range of other types of technology, including mobile payment tools, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), License Plate Recognition (LPR) tools, and bar code readers, and RFID technology. As a result, contemporary PARCS equipment can now manage frictionless parking in any parking setting.
Typically, when a driver enters a parking facility offering frictionless parking, that driver’s credentials are recognized by the system and associated with a payment account. This can happen in a number of ways. In some facilities LPR equipment records the driver’s information and associates the vehicle with his or her credential. In others, RFID technology recognizes visitors’ parking lease tags, employee badges, drivers’ licenses or other identification cards, or even hotel room keys, admitting authorized drivers to parking facilities or specially-designated areas within a parking facility. BLE systems, on the other hand, recognize Bluetooth signals from cell phones and other Bluetooth enabled devices to identify parkers. All of these approaches limit the parker’s physical contact with the parking equipment.
When the driver is ready to leave the facility, the system again recognizes the driver and charges his or her card (or recognizes if the driver has already paid). When payment is satisfied, the gate opens and the parker is able to exit the facility. Once again, when the driver leaves, he or she doesn’t have to touch any equipment.
Public Health Benefits
Over the past three years, thousands of parking facilities throughout the United States have added frictionless parking technology. For those garages and lots, the technology is already in place to protect parkers and staff. In those cases, owners should be reaching out to tenants, employees, and transient parkers to explain the public health benefits of frictionless parking and encourage them to utilize the equipment. Typically, this is just a matter of parkers creating an account associated with the frictionless system, associating the account with their license plate or permit tag, and inputting a credit card or permit number. Then, as they drive in and out of parking facilities the system will do all of the work, and they don’t have to stop to pay or touch equipment.
For facilities that don’t have frictionless parking, now may be the time to install it. We are on the cusp of the smart city era, and owners are going to have to upgrade their parking infrastructure to conform to local smart city rules and regulations. Even after this public health crisis is over, the equipment will continue to pay dividends by creating a much better user experience and enhancing parking management. The utilization data that’s collected by the various PARCS, guidance, and pre-booking technology provides a valuable and accurate snapshot of how the equipment is being utilized. This is invaluable information for improving parking management.
The Future of Parking
Hopefully, the Coronavirus crisis will be over soon, but the public health implications of common touch-points in parking facilities will continue to be an important concern. Even if the Coronavirus disappears once this pandemic plays itself out—and that’s certainly far from a certainty with many experts predicting its seasonal return—we are still subjected to the flu and other viruses every year. The new reality of parking is that we need to eliminate as many common touchpoints as possible, and frictionless parking can be an important part of a parking public health strategy.
Chris McKenty is vice president of SKIDATA. He can be reached at Christopher.McKenty@skidata.com.