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Implementing Smarter Parking

November 19, 2020

Omaha and Las Vegas

Ann Shepphird

To use a mobility metaphor, the road to smarter parking can sometimes be a little bumpy. While intelligent digital solutions to ongoing parking issues are designed to make life easier for all concerned, implementing them can prove challenging. Change (as we have all learned this year) is hard and getting people to alter long-entrenched parking habits is no different. 


Change is hard and getting people to alter long-entrenched parking habits is no different.


Recently, two cities — Las Vegas and Omaha — managed to install smart solutions to long-standing challenges by taking incremental steps with trusted technology partners, offering lessons for other cities looking to do the same.


 


Implementing Tap to Pay in Las Vegas


For years, Brandy Stanley, parking services manager for the City of Las Vegas, had been looking for a solution that would help drive digital transactions for both on-street and off-street parking. Part of the hold-up had been the fact that while frequent parkers were willing to download the city’s app, it was hard to get others to take that step. 


“As anybody in the industry will tell you, getting people to download an app is difficult,” said Stanley. Even with all the functionality provided — including contactless payments and the ability to extend parking time remotely — most people won’t download an app unless they know they are going to use it multiple times. 


Matt Perille, vice-president of product for Arrive, which offers the ParkWhiz and BestParking apps in addition to its API platforms, agrees. “We love our apps and think they are fantastic but for a lot of people traveling to a new city or a new garage, it’s a lot of overhead,” said Perille.


Because of this, Arrive started working on a new tap-to-pay solution using QR codes and NFC tags. The goal was to catch people in behaviors where they were already comfortable. 


“When people are parking, they are used to seeing the sign, going to a meter or kiosk and using a credit card,” said Perille. “We wanted to use those behaviors to capture their attention and help change their behavior as easily as possible.”


Arrive’s tap-to-pay service adds the QR codes and NFC tags to new signs and existing meters or kiosks. Parkers use their phone camera to scan the QR code or, if their phone is equipped, just place the phone near the NFC tag. That opens a browser with a parking payment page, where they can transact with one click. This complements the process for those customers who have downloaded a parking app — like the new Flowbird app Las Vegas was in the process of transitioning to when Arrive called Stanley to ask if she would be interested in seeing their new technology. 


“We were getting ready to change to a new mobile vendor when Arrive gave me a call and told me they had some new stuff and asked if they could show it to me,” said Stanley. “I said okay because I like new stuff.” 


Stanley said what she liked about Arrive’s new product was that it was touchless — a particularly attractive feature these days — and it allowed anybody to walk up and easily scan or tap to pay digitally. “It was a product we hadn’t seen before and really easy to install, so we said yes,” said Stanley. 


With installation just a matter of adding stickers with the codes to new signs and existing meters, the city was able to roll out the new technology in conjunction with the release of the new mobile app. By the end of July (just three months after that initial meeting) it was up and running.


Stanley reports that so far 75 percent of the digital customers have been using the codes over the app. At this point, they represent just 6 percent of the total parkers, but for Stanley it’s a step in the right direction and a creative away to accomplish a long-held goal.


“We like doing business with people who come up with creative products that add value and this definitely did that,” said Stanley. “It’s the first of its kind in the industry, so we are excited.”


 


Piloting Curbside Smart Zones in Omaha


In another first-of-its-kind, Omaha recently partnered with Coord on a pilot program for curbside smart zones designed to provide delivery and service vehicle drivers with information and incentives to load in locations where it is safe and permitted.


“The Coord Driver app provides drivers with advance intelligence about where there is going to be a spot and allows them to book it,” said Dawn Miller, head of policy and partnerships for Coord, which offers a suite of products focused on curb management. “Our hope is this will give them the motivation to park safely and legally instead of double parking.”


According to Ken Smith, parking and mobility manager for the City of Omaha, participating in the pilot program is a way for them to address the traffic and safety concerns around their downtown loading zones. “We had inventoried 92 miles of curb space in the downtown area and were contemplating what to do with the loading zones when we heard about the pilot program,” said Smith.


Three other cities are also participating — Aspen, Nashville and West Palm Beach — but Omaha is the first to launch, as of September 14. The others are expected to follow in the next few months. 


For Coord, partnering with the cities will help them revise their technology based on real world experience. Miller said they were looking for cities willing to work hand-in-hand with them and nimble enough to do it quickly. And it was quick — the company put the call out in January and by June contracts were in place. “We were looking for cities eager to get the tools on the street and in people’s hands so we can get the data and feedback to refine the product,” said Miller. 


One of the things Coord is already learning is that demand for the zones can come in unusual places. “In Aspen, they are putting a smart zone in an alley,” said Miller. They have also learned that the pandemic has not only increased demand in goods being delivered to downtown merchants, but brick-and-mortar stores are shipping more themselves. 


Miller said the business communities have been very welcoming, with some even providing lists of regular deliveries so they can do outreach. They have also received interest from city parking enforcement divisions, which like the idea of receiving electronic alerts for illegal parkers. 


For Smith, that’s what makes helping Coord test out the technology a smart solution. “They help us learn where the demand is,” said Smith. “And we help them get the bugs out.”


Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at ashepphird@gmail.com



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