Mobile Payment Parking: How does technology enhance infrastructure?

Article by: Ben Winokur, General Counsel at Passport

Parking is important.

It doesn’t always seem important at first glance, but it subtly impacts cities’ most important goals. So it seems strange that municipal parking departments are so rarely empowered to enact policies to address these city-level issues. Evaluating the impact of investments in parking infrastructure and technology strictly on the basis of their ability to generate direct revenue from parking transactions and citations ignores potential positive effects on a city’s transportation infrastructure.

So why haven’t more cities invested in mobile payment parking to help reach their goals related to housing, transportation, and pollution?

The biggest challenge has been that the most ambitious and impactful proposals require parker access to data that shapes their behavior. However, that information is usually only available at a parker’s destination. For example, a real-time demand-based pricing system only works if parking customers know the parking rates at each parking location near their destination before they plan their trip. Unfortunately, parking rates have traditionally only been available at the curbside payment hardware after parking.

This inability to deliver this information to parking customers early in the parking process has forced cities to make significant compromises. A truly efficient system would adjust pricing frequently to account for changing weather conditions, local events, and traffic patterns. However, today’s dynamic pricing systems may only adjust once or twice per month. The thinking goes that if a city can’t actually inform its parking customers of the rates in real-time, then the rates need to be predictable so that customers can accurately predict prices before they park. As a result, cities are forced to sacrifice efficiency in order to create more predictable rate structures.

This dilemma will be solved through smartphones and in-car information systems. Incorporating parking data, including suggested zones and rates for alternative locations, into mobile trip planning allows cities to deliver relevant information to parkers prior to the start of their trips. Parkers will, then, have the opportunity to navigate to parking based on their price and proximity preferences. This enables powerful real-time demand-based pricing systems and increases the potency of other demand-based pricing regimes.

Therefore, mobile is a crucial information delivery channel for the parking systems of tomorrow.  The preferences of each active mobile user will be quantified and cities will develop pricing systems that properly incentivize parking behavior that leads to better, smarter, and more responsive urban mobility systems. That suggests that mobile payment utilization in a parking environment will be an important predictor of a city’s ability to implement more effective parking systems and efficiently manage their parking inventory. Prioritizing and supporting mobile parking tools is, therefore, an investment in cleaner, more affordable, and more efficient cities.