The Digital Transformation of Parking Operations
Parking operations used to be relatively simple, and low tech. Until relatively recently, parking operators didn’t have many technological tools at their disposal. Those technologies that did exist largely revolved around automated gates and payment machines that could take credit cards. In a high-tech world, the parking industry was decidedly old fashioned.
In the age of parking automation, operators are enthusiastic users
But over the past 15 years, the industry has really caught up. Over that time, the parking industry has seen the introduction of numerous exciting technologies—from advanced PARCS to parking guidance, to frictionless parking systems—and parking operators have benefitted. In fact, today, some operators are even developing their own technologies to improve the parking experience and enhance their operations.
“The most important trend in parking operations is the digital transformation of our industry,” said Jeff Eckerling, Chief Growth Officer of SP+. “This trend started pre-Covid, but it accelerated because of Covid. Now, it’s starting to reach an inflection point.”
The benefits provided by parking technology are easy to see. The influx of new technology allows operators to provide a better parking experience, thus making their facilities more attractive to transient and repeat parkers. These same technologies provide valuable utilization data that can help them operate lots and garages more efficiently. In the age of parking automation, operators are enthusiastic users of technology.
Like ACE Parking, SP+ relies heavily on technology to provide the best parking experience. But they’ve taken a different approach.
“We are focusing on providing an end-to-end solution,” said Eckerling. “If a parker needs a digital product, we want to provide it.”
To that end, SP+ offers Sphere Commerce On Demand, a digital platform that allows parkers to pay with their smartphone, bypassing pay stations, parking equipment, and cashiers. Parkers using Sphere Commerce On Demand have multiple payment choices via mobile apps, including Apple or Android or simply paying by text, scan, QR code or through SP+’s Parking.com website option. Parkers also have the option to create an account to expedite subsequent transactions by capturing and storing payment and LPR technology.
SP+’s approach is different in that they also supply the hardware that’s required to automate a parking facility.
“We started to realize that third party technologies weren’t meeting our client’s needs,” said Eckerling, “so we began transforming SP+ to be much more technology focused and driven than ever before. Late in 2022 we acquired DIVRT, Inc., a developer of innovative software and technology solutions that enables frictionless parking capabilities. Rather than wait for others to develop technology, we can now create technology designed to meet our customers’ unique needs.”
SP+’s focus on developing their own technology has also led to the creation of the company’s own terminal that can create digital sessions and take credit cards. They’ve also developed their own mobile point-of-sale product for use in special events. The handhelds can also be used at airports to provide curbside luggage check.
While ACE Parking and SP+ have taken different approaches to obtaining and applying technology to parking operation, they are focused on the same end goal: to provide the best, most convenient parking experience possible. Both companies are intently focused on finding the technologies that best meet their customers’ needs while providing resource to better manage their parking facilities.
Capturing Customers Online
“The overarching trend is that customers are online and like to conduct business online,” said Bill Kepp, Senior Vice President of ACE Parking. “It’s a mobile connected world and we are making sure that our platforms are easy to use for today’s online customer.”
To that end, ACE Parking has developed a platform called SPACE, which allows parkers to pay with the ACE Parking app. In addition to taking payments, the app also allows drivers to find nearby parking and check space availability, view hours and pricing, reserve parking, manage permits, validate parking, and keep track of where they parked.
“SPACE was originally created to provide online reservations for ComiCon,” said Kepp. “It soon was expanded to handle monthly parking, and it has since grown to be our primary technology for providing a better, more convenient online parking experience.
According to Kepp, ACE still utilizes traditional Parking Revenue Control Systems (PARCS) in many of the lots and garages they manage, but they think traditional PARCS will become less important as more customers choose to pay with their mobile devices.
Although ACE still relies on traditional gated operation technologies, Kepp indicates that ungated lot management is becoming more common because it can improve the parker experience.
“Over the years we’ve pivoted from pay-by-space and display,” said Kepp. “Now it’s all pay-by-license plate, which is managed by mobile LPR enforcement. In many parking lots our mobile LPR enforcement is supplemented by static LPR cameras in entry and exit lanes. The system lets us know in real time whether everyone in the garage or lot has paid.”
Typically, parkers create an account in advance to fully enjoy a frictionless experience. However, ACE’s system can accommodate people who don’t have accounts by permitting them to scan a bar code or text to pay.
ACE Parking’s SPACE platform also offers parkers the opportunity to purchase multi-day passes. Drivers load their account with a predetermined amount of parking and pay for that parking in advance. When they’ve used all the days they’ve purchased they can reload their accounts with a new multi-day pass.
“Since the pandemic, people aren’t going to the office every day,” said Kepp. “Why pay for 30 days-worth of parking when you might only need 10 days in a given month? Parkers can pay a lower rate with multiple day passes and pay for only those days that they are actually using a facility. It’s better for parkers but it also keeps regular parkers from leaving the garage to find lower cost parking someplace else.”
Another important benefit of the SPACE platform is that it provides a better experience for people attending events. The platform allows people attending sporting events, the theater, or other events to purchase parking at the same time they buy their ticket. ACE also offers their own point of sale devices for events that allows their attendants to scan tickets and credit cards. This approach makes it easier and more convenient for fans to get in and out of event parking—and the venues themselves.
The Future of Parking Operations
According to both Eckerling and Kepp, parking operations will continue to revolve around technology for the foreseeable future.
“Because the industry was lagging behind so many others when it came to digital adaption, the future will revolve around digitizing the marketplace and reducing friction,” said Eckerling.
Both also point to mobility as an issue that will dramatically impact parking operations in the future.
“Most central business districts haven’t fully recovered from Covid,” said Kepp. “Pre-Covid, we were focusing more on accommodating bikes and scooters and curb pick-ups. While street congestion is less of an issue today than it was in 2019, in two or three years, downtown traffic will come roaring back and parking operators will need to be ready to respond.”
According to Kepp, one area that operators will need to focus on is coordinating with ride share and delivery services. He says that by reevaluating where ride share pins are located, operators and ride share companies can assure that pick-ups and drop-offs don’t cause on-street congestions and interfere with parking operations and valet services.
Similarly, operators need to work with micromobility providers to make sure that scooter and bike rental services don’t interfere with parking operations. According to Kepp, this requires working closely with building owners to make sure that micromobility offerings are located where the owners want them to be.
Eckerling agrees that the role of the parking operator includes helping mitigate congestion, and that will continue to grow in importance as cities return to normal post-Covid.
“How do these assets that we are responsible for managing evolve in the future?” said Eckerling. “For instance, how will we accommodate EV parkers? How will we manage deliveries and drop-offs. These can all impact the operations of what is a very valuable asset. Handling these challenges is—and will continue to be—an important part of the parking operator’s role.”
Bill Smith is a publicist and business writer specializing in the parking industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org