Wireless: The Next Frontier of Revenue Control
Over the past 15 years, the parking industry has experienced many technological advances. From the development of pay-on-foot technologies to the creation of advanced revenue control software tools, parking structures can be managed more efficiently and effectively than ever.
Today, we are in the midst of another exciting breakthrough: the wireless revolution. Wireless tools have become so entrenched in our day-to-day lives that we often take them for granted.
The parking industry is starting to benefit from breakthroughs in wireless technologies, particularly in the area of revenue control. Of course, technology has played an important role in revenue control for many years.
In the 1990s, a number of software products were introduced to streamline operations, minimize employee theft, provide scalability for expanding structures, and improve customer service. When they were introduced, these tools permitted parking owners and operators, for the first time, to constantly monitor how their facilities were being utilized.
They allowed parking owners to measure how many parkers were using their facilities each day, when peak and low usage hours occurred, and how long the average parking stay was. In addition to collecting this vital information, revenue control technologies could send it to a central location for tabulation and review. These tools have played such a vital role in parking management that they have become standard features of parking facilities.
Today, however, wireless technologies are being introduced that make revenue control and parking management even more efficient and cost-effective. When used properly, they promise to provide enormous advantages to parking owners and operators.
Wireless Vs. Wired Revenue Control
For many of us, life without wireless communication tools would be unthinkable. Few of us could get through our work days without a cellphone; we would accomplish far less if we were tethered to a desk. Similarly, many of us have switched from desktop computers to laptops because of the flexibility they provide.
Parking management can benefit from wireless technologies in many of the same ways. These tools can provide a level of flexibility and cost-effectiveness that is unattainable with traditional tools.
Cost savings can be particularly pronounced when wireless revenue control tools are used in the development of new parking facilities. Traditional revenue control technologies require fiber-optic or copper-wired cables to communicate with one another, with central computers and with credit card companies. These systems can be expensive to install, particularly in existing structures if you have to dig through existing foundations to lay the wire, and then pour concrete over the wiring. Repairing buried lines can be a nightmare for the same reasons.
While copper wiring can be installed anywhere, it presents limitations because of the slow rate at which it transfers information. This can represent a significant operational liability.
Fiber-optic cable is much faster. However, it canít be used over large areas without being linked to repeaters. This limitation significantly increases the cost of fiber-optic technology, which is much more expensive than copper.
Because of these limitations, parking owners are faced with making a choice between cost and efficiency when installing wired revenue control tools. Unfortunately, in most cases, neither can be considered a perfect choice.
Wireless technologies, on the other hand, have the potential to eliminate many of these challenges. The primary advantage is that wireless has far fewer physical constraints. Since you donít have to bury wires or cables, wireless tools can be installed in new and existing structures. And while there are limits to how far information can travel wirelessly, it is relatively simple to install additional antennas if data must be transferred more than a couple of miles.
Wireless tools also can provide a much more cost-effective link between collection booths and parking management equipment that monitors gated entries and exits. Wireless technologies also permit constant communication within the structure between revenue control operations and parking staff carrying handheld parking control equipment.
Of course, no tool is perfect, and wireless revenue control is no different. The greatest disadvantage is that wireless technologies require open sightlines to operate properly. While this isnít generally a problem within a structure, if information needs to be shared between structures or between a facility and an off-site central computer, additional antennas may be required to ensure that transmissions arenít impeded by other buildings or by hilly terrain.
Security also can be a challenge. At a time when identity theft is practically an epidemic, it is essential to make sure that any wireless equipment includes the most up-to-date encryption tools. Fortunately, the wireless tools being offered by reputable parking technology providers include security features designed to prevent the information thatís being transmitted from being stolen.
We are really just at the beginning of the wireless revolution in parking. In the coming years, many new wireless tools will be developed to make parking management even more efficient and cost-effective. Nonetheless, the tools that are available now can provide enormous benefits when properly utilized.
Richard A. Rich is Director of Parking Planning Services for Rich and Associates. The firm can be found on the Web at www.richassoc.com.