Overview of Touchless Technology Options
There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way the parking industry operates. It’s been a challenging few months. And the road to recovery is uncertain. As such, the industry is exploring various touchless solutions and partnerships. There have been numerous articles by solution providers about how their specific technology can help parking lots to adapt to the new normal. But we need to take a broader view of the overall touchless technology space. This will help us understand the options that are available and their comparable benefits. We will limit our scope to the domain of off-street parking lots only.
The world requires a secure parking experience for the well-being of everyone associated with your parking facility.
What is Touchless Parking?
A contactless parking experience means that consumers can enter and exit a facility without physically touching tickets or having a close interaction with a staff member. They don’t have to handle cash or plastic cards for payment and the receipt or invoice is sent to them digitally. In such a complete touchless experience, the consumers, as well as parking staff, remain safe and protected.
This also benefits parking operators in the long run as the technologies which make this possible also make digital relationships between operators and consumers stronger. It lays the tech foundation for launching new digital initiatives and value-added services to diversify and hedge the business against future disruptions. We will now take a deep dive into the multiple touchless technologies available.
Let’s start by breaking down the various ‘touch points’ any consumer goes through for a typical parking experience.
We will now explore what are the latest technology options to make each of the above steps a digital and contactless experience.
Mobile apps can help a consumer find parking as per their filter criteria. These apps can either be aggregator apps (like SpotHero, Parkwhiz, Parkopedia) or proprietary apps launched by parking operators. There are also SAAS platforms (like Get My Parking and Passport) that help operators and landlords launch their own custom mobile apps within weeks.
The consumer must take a ticket physically either from an automated ticket dispenser or a human attendant. Either way ‘touch’ is involved. To eliminate that, the consumer can use any of the parking apps to open the gate and receive a ticket. Some of the barrier PARCS systems provide an easy method to integrate with any parking app, while some don’t. There is an alternative way to integrate any of the existing barriers with mobile apps - by installing a gate kit device into the barrier system that can retrofit it to talk to any mobile apps. Such gate kits can allow interoperability of the barrier system with multiple touchless identification technologies like QR/Bluetooth/RFID/LPR:
QR Code: The parking entry has a QR code poster which the consumer can scan using her mobile parking app. The app then sends data to the gate kit which leads to successful identification and opening of the barrier.
Reverse QR Code: The parking entry has a QR code scanner connected to the gate kit. The consumer opens her mobile parking app and shows the QR code on the app to the scanner. The scanner then sends data to the gate kit which leads to successful identification and opening of the barrier.
Bluetooth: The parking entry has a Bluetooth scanner which detects the unique Bluetooth signals sent by the consumer’s mobile parking app. The scanner then sends data to the gate kit which identifies and opens the barrier.
RFID: The parking entry has an RFID scanner which identifies the RFID chip installed on the consumer’s car. The RFID scanner then sends data to the gate kit which leads identifies and opens the barrier. This method is mostly used by season parkers as they are issued an RFID chip- based season pass. This is also used for loyalty programs where members of the program are issued an RFID chip-based loyalty pass.
LPR Camera: The parking entry has an LPR camera scanner which identifies the car’s license plate. The LPR camera then sends that data to the gate kit which leads to successful identification and opening of the barrier. Though there is no mobile app used by consumers in every LPR camera identification, there is a need for one-time registration on either an app or a web portal so that the consumer’s license plate gets on-boarded onto the system. This method is widely used for barrier-less parking lots.
As is clear from the above points, all touchless entry options need some sort of consumer interface, either through an app or a one-time registration on a web portal. The current parking infrastructure has a limitation of not being connected to such digital interfaces. Only a few PARCS providers allow for interoperable integrations. Most of the existing installed PARCS do not. But that limitation can now be crossed easily by installing ‘gate kits’ which act as a bridge between the old barrier systems and new touchless technologies.
Consumers pay for parking today using cash or credit. Both methods involve touch. There are multiple contactless payment options readily available in the market, such as mobile wallets (Apple pay, Google pay) or virtual cards (Mastercard). The problem with those payment methods is that they are not integrated with most PARCS systems. There are two options to solve that. One solution involves doing a tech integration of your existing PARCS system to accept digital payments. The other option is to skip the PARCS system and accept digital payments using third-party tools.
Currently, there are two ways to exit. Either pay at the payment station or pay at exit. Both methods require physical interaction. The touchless technology options for the exit system are the same as the ones for the entry system.
In case upgrading the PARCS is too costly or not possible, the scanners needed for identifying the consumer (LPR cameras/Bluetooth/RFID/QR code) can be independently installed and connected to the barrier system using the aforementioned gate kits to open the barrier.
The world requires a secure parking experience for the well-being of everyone associated with your parking facility. By minimizing interaction, customers and employees are now operating in a safe environment.
The pandemic will not be here forever, and will hopefully, disappear soon, but the behavioral and sociological impact it leaves behind will be permanent. In the new normal, as consumers slowly start making their way back outside, they will expect a touchless experience at all public places to feel safe, including parking lots. Businesses that step up to minimize physical touch will naturally emerge as winners.
Kevin Woznicki is Principal at ParkTrans Solutions. He can be reached at email@example.com