Digitizing Your Parking Operations: Dispelling the Myths

Parking operators are upgrading their operations with digital platforms, creating a major shift in the mobility industry. As with any large-scale change, many aspects of this technology shift are misunderstood and it’s increasingly important that decision makers have the right information. Below are some of the most common misconceptions about digitizing parking operations.


Myth 1: Implementing new software is more difficult and time consuming than it’s worth.

In the last twenty years, technology has begun to automate processes that have been historically manual. This has taken hold in the parking industry with no signs of stopping – and for good reason. These manual processes – collection of coins, physical tire chalking, handwriting of parking tickets, and endless waiting and office visits to pick up permits, to name a few – are quickly being replaced with more efficient software solutions that benefit both the user and the organizations that serve them. With these solutions, many cities have reduced costly hardware, opting for mobile pay parking only parking zones, handheld enforcement devices with digital ticketing, license plate reading software, and more.

When it comes to transitioning to these solutions, the right software vendor will have a proven implementation plan in which the operator has minimal responsibilities. Part of a successful implementation process should be vendor-led training of operators and introduction to support resources, including a contact specifically assigned to your project’s success. This contact will be not just support for issues and fixes, but will be a partner and trusted advisor to guide operational efficiency across your organization.

“Hands down, going mobile was worth it. It’s the way of the world and everyone should do it.” – Lisa Miller, Parking Services Internal Operations and Finance, University of Wisconsin Whitewater

Myth 2: Selecting the cheapest vendor is the best choice.

For an innovative and effective software solution, cities and operators need the right talent building it, including a sea of software engineers and product managers. With the right technology partner, you will get smart product managers and engineers with a proven track record of building the best products with constant iterations, so the product is never stale and evolves with your environment. Paying the cheapest price simply cannot guarantee this, and cities are often left with hidden fees for maintenance and updates. 

Selecting your vendor based on quality rather than price will determine the service you receive both during setup and throughout the entirety of contract, directly affecting the success of the solution. For example, with Passport’s implementation specialists dedicated to the launch of ParkBoston, Boston was able to successfully launch its private parking application for its 8,000 meters and nearly $14-million-in-revenue operation in just 57 days. In Spokane, Washington, which sits at a population of about 220,000, Passport experts launched a mobile application in just over two weeks, allowing the city to see an astounding growth of 226% in revenue. 

Throughout the entirety of the contract, a quality vendor will dedicate a member of its team to every client to ensure success and act as an expert consultant and crowdsourcer of hundreds of peers providing thought leadership to the industry. Working with the right partner means gaining the knowledge and experience of hundreds of similar cities and having advice from representatives that are experts in what works and what doesn’t. The successful vendor should also perform regular business reviews that allow for client recommendations on what can be improved.

Myth 3: It would be too expensive to transition to software.

New pay stations can cost up to $10,000 per unit, not including ongoing maintenance fees, manual labor, and upgrade costs. As cities add software options for their citizens, these cities are seeing an immediate decrease in hardware usage and wear-and-tear. Buffalo, New York has gone so far as to remove meters, creating eight mobile-pay only zones within their parking environment and has been fully satisfied with the results.

When it comes to parking enforcement, software can make the process more accurate and more efficient. Many cities have adopted license plate recognition technology (LPR) which enables parking officers to quickly identify whether cars are compliant with curbside rules, allowing them to make their rounds much faster and issue citations more efficiently. Rather than walking regular beats on foot and physically chalking tires, officers can use in-vehicle software with real-time LPR reads. An end-to-end digital enforcement solution also benefits the end-user, allowing them to pay citations online, increasing compliance and payment convenience and speed. 

“We don’t have any plans to purchase anymore pay-and-display machines if we can avoid it. It doesn’t make sense to spend another $10,000 on initial costs alone, especially as app utilization increases” Davis Hough, Senior Specialist Assistant to the Parking Commissioner, Buffalo, NY

“What used to take 2-3 weeks to manage and process now only takes 3-5 days. Our citation issuance is up 25% over the previous form of enforcement because of the timing of driving vs. walking.”Michelle Rasmussen, Director of Campus Services, Eastern Washington University

Companies that provide mobile payment or enforcement software are considered Software as a Service (SaaS) companies, meaning their clients are taking advantage of ever-evolving products rather than stagnant hardware. With software, improvements can be made remotely and inexpensively – often at no cost at all. Ideas for these improvements come from hundreds of clients just like you, allowing you to be a voice that directly impacts the service you receive.

Myth 4: Parkers don’t need or want a new system.

The Digital Age is upon us, and smartphones are becoming the one-size-fits-all tool for everything in our lives. Today’s consumers are conditioned to open an app to order a coffee, buy a shirt, or hail a ride, so it’s no wonder that drivers are quick to use websites and download applications that make moving around cities just as convenient. The continuation of this trend is inevitable. In 2011, just 35% of Americans owned a smartphone but today, that number has risen to 81%. The mobile payment market has been projected to see growth upwards of 33% compound annual growth rate by year 2026.

As modern consumers, our lives are increasingly on-the-go, requiring payment technology that can move with us. Kiosks, meters, physical permits (instead of digital parking permits) and manual citation payment processes (vs. mobile parking payments) can make moving through cities a hassle, while software companies provide solutions through the same devices people are already using. This software is increasingly improved for convenience with methods like progressive profiling, where users are required to enter the bare minimum amount of information to pay for parking, permits, or transportation, and many apps will have historical data to allow users to repeat parking sessions with the single click of a button.

Many cities who offer a mobile solution for parking experience high utilization from their parkers and higher revenue. Boston, MA saw a 10% increase in parking revenue after launching its mobile app, ParkBoston. Today, mobile payments account for 40% of the city’s total parking revenue. Toronto processes $1M in parking transactions through its mobile app on a weekly basis – contributing to half of the city’s parking revenue.

“We now live in an environment where everyone has a computer in their pocket. More and more, we have reason to conduct business with that divide, and if you don’t bring that option to people, they’ll look for it somewhere else.” Scott Fox, Director of Transportation and Parking Services, University of Florida

Myth 5: The only way to begin this transition is through a lengthy and detailed procurement process.

Procurement does not have to be a daunting process. For the most successful procurement, operators will use a Request For Proposal (RFP) to lay out their challenges with full transparency and ask for creative solutions. By creating a more open-ended RFP, vendors are able to more freely propose solutions that the operator may not have otherwise considered. That being said, it is important for the operator to go into the process with certain standards and expectations as to the level of service they wish to receive. As previously stated, simply choosing the cheapest priced solution often causes more problems than solutions.

Under certain circumstances, it is also possible for entities to purchase software products without going through a formal RFP process and there are organizations dedicated to helping cities do just this. For example, the National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance (NCPA), COSTARS, and MAPC enable cities to leverage their procurement resources to obtain purchasing contracts with pre-selected vendors at assured quality and pre-negotiated prices.