Gateless, Not Toothless
Let’s face it, parking has a contentious element to it. In fact, from 2008 to 2012, there was a show, likely, one you’ve seen and that is still in re-runs, entitled “Parking Wars.” “Wars,” mind you. Perhaps a cultural reference to other somewhat successful “Wars” stories, but apt, nonetheless, and what is more contentious than a war?
It seems that this contentious element in parking has been around for a long time. Perhaps even from before there were cars. Restrictions, designations, violations, all concerning where one may temporarily store one’s conveyance likely date back eons. But with the advent of the car and the modern dependence upon it, battling the Parking Wars has come to enlist everyone that owns or drives a vehicle, and the battlefield has gotten quite complex.
Parking spaces, lots, and structures abound, all designed to accommodate vehicles. Parking meters, gates, pay on foot stations, mobile apps, etc., all designed to commercialize and control access to parking and to derive revenue for its value. Rightly so. Boots, Barnacles, citations, impoundment, and the like are tools to put teeth into the parking rules and ensuring consequences for those that wish to skirt or ignore the rules.
Designed to keep vehicles in to ensure payment, PARCS can also contribute to slow egress rates during peak hours (think special events or even just quitting time) that lead to extended wait times, increased emissions from idling vehicles, and poor customer satisfaction. For years it was the most effective way to manage parking revenue and reduce poaching and non-pay parkers, but then the City of Calgary had a different idea.
Through a partnership unique at the time, the City of Calgary worked with multiple parking equipment vendors to develop a system to track, pay, and enforce parking without the previously requisite gates. By harnessing the burgeoning technologies of LPR (license plate recognition) and multiple new mobile payment methods, Calgary was able to launch a ‘gateless’ parking system in 2007. By 2012 the City of Pittsburg had one as well. These systems were a revelation, for certain kinds of scenarios.
They worked well, but still required manual enforcement and citation issuance, they worked best with a minimum of 500 spaces – a volume benchmark needed to offset the cost enforcement personnel – and they had difficulty accommodating a high need for validations as the validation was required to occur prior to the event. Still, they were an impressive bit of engineering and they worked. The solution began to catch on.
Companies like Vision from Clancy have learning algorithms driving analytics that capture what they call the vehicle DNA. That “DNA” is the plate, but also the make, model, and color of the vehicle that they then cross referenced to determine the vehicle owner. And while early systems require controlled points of entry and well defined “focus zones” that ensure the LPR got an accurate read, latest systems can gather the vehicle DNA from a distance, allowing equipment to be mounted up and out of likely “accident zones,” as well as allow drivers unhindered ingress and egress to lots.
But What About Non-Payers?
This is where companies are looking to take the “contentious” out of parking. Enforcement of payment is essential for any systems, from the most basic form of an individual standing at an entrance and collecting money to high-tech PARCS to full-automated gateless systems, ensuring payment (or at least the opportunity for it) is what differentiates all of these efforts from the simple honor system pay box. But the different tack companies such as Vision are taking is to NOT issue a citation for unpaid parking at all, but rather an invoice. Semantics? Perhaps, but possibly a more important difference when considered in comparison to another industry that leverages technology similarly:
Toll booths adopted the LPR and frictionless model not long after parking and have used it to great effect. In fact, most toll roads even have signage supporting “after use” payment with signage along the lines of “Forgot to Pay? Pay Online” and providing online payment information. A citation is not issued if the payment is resolved within the grace period, and escalation happens incrementally after that.
Invoicing can be used in the same manner with parking. Communication that informs customers that forgetting to pay is no problem and can easily be resolved (for an added administrative fee) is less contentious and more likely to yield a good outcome. If it does not, continued escalation is still an option and punitive/penalty rates can be added to the base parking+admin rate. Additionally, vehicles can be flagged in the system if they are multiple offenders and traditional impoundment methods can still be deployed, but this can be done in a tiered fashion and owners/operators can decide how aggressive they wish to be in pursuing payment. This is another subtle but key difference.
Too often, gateless systems are sold on a pricing model that hinges on collection of citations rather than simply on the issuance of an invoice. Such models put providers in a scenario where they benefit greatly from citation collection but share very little risk of the fallout of a dissatisfied customer, as this usually lands on the facility owner or operator. By changing the model, owners retain control over the level of collection that they wish to pursue, and the monitoring company can simply help them facilitate this as needed. Such models have been shown to provide owners with an approximate 70/30 split with technology and monitoring providers (as opposed to older pricing models where those numbers are reversed) and ensures that the monitoring provider is always working in the best interest of the facility owner.
What About Validations?
Next generation gateless systems have this sorted out as well. The simple fact of having the opportunity to pay for, or otherwise reconcile, parking after the event means that validations are easy to accommodate. Proactive parkers can enter a code via the payment portal as soon as they like, or, validations can be applied after the invoice has been issued. Either way, parking remains simple, efficient, functional, and profitable.
What to Consider
Gateless parking is still not the solution for every single parking scenario, but it is advancing and becoming more effective and flexible all of the time. Video analytics and machine learning are producing systems that are accurate and almost entirely automated, allowing you to have 24/7 monitoring and revenue collection, without the expense. Plus, these systems require very little hardware compared to single-space occupancy systems and some providers offer subscription-based programs and turnkey invoice issuance and collections so all owners and operators have to do is sit back and collect the revenue.
Jay O’Brien is the vice president of Fisher Parking & Security, Inc. For more information on Vision by Clancy visit www.gatelessparking.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.