Technology In Your Favor

Help me think through something.

Think with me about how many different industries have been segmented, impacted, or revolutionized by technology advancements. Music? Records held strong for a while, followed by CD’s, and then iPods and now smaller iPods. Television? We had satellites, then cable, and now streaming services. Even shopping has shifted, with the rise of subscription services over the last year and the continual growth of the online marketplace. Each of these advancements resulted in a more efficient way to experience music, television, or shopping, but has also brought new features and capabilities to the game.

Of course, the entertainment industries are some of the more obvious candidates when you think about how technology changes day-to-day life, but some of the lesser-known industries – like parking – have been changing rapidly as well. Passport is at the forefront of technological change in parking, and solving problems with technology is what gets us excited. The tools available today make parking easier for the consumer as well as more efficient and profitable for operators; a mobile payment system means low upfront costs, few maintenance fees and a dynamic system that can be optimized for changing needs. And just as the rise in digital music added features and benefits to the user by allowing you to hear a sample of a song before you buy or to skip to a specific point in the track, mobile payment for parking has also given users added benefits like extending parking time from their phone or receiving reminders before expiration.

I’m a Project Manager at Passport. My main job is to get launches out the door, and I focus on making sure that these launches go seamlessly in every respect. Recently, a client purchased a few hundred single-space coin meters for a roll-out that we were supporting with our mobile payment platform. They were introducing paid parking in an area that had been previously free and they wanted a few different ways to collect revenue: parkers could either pay at the meter or pay by phone.

About a month after the paid parking system was introduced, there was a bit of an uproar. The community felt that the $1 hourly parking rate was too expensive, and eventually the rate got dropped to $0.50. For the mobile payment side of things, it was a pretty easy switch; we reprogrammed the rate, tested it, and it was ready to go by the end of the afternoon. Unfortunately, the meters weren’t as flexible; they had to be shipped back to the factory for reprogramming, and the roll-out date was pushed back by about seven weeks. And by the way?  A seven-week cancellation of paid parking resulted in approximately $60,000 lost in potential revenue, even at those low hourly rates.

From the client’s perspective, it makes sense that these meters were the limiting factor for the project. They still wanted a payment option that accepted cash, but hardware just isn’t very flexible; those coin meters weren’t equipped with the technological advantages that have come into the parking industry in the last ten years. From our perspective though, being hit with limitations in outdated technology became an opportunity to embrace new technology. If the old-school meters were holding back the program, maybe it was time to change courses, look at what technology was available, and choose the best option for the circumstances. Are there other meters that could be reprogrammed quicker? That could have been a great choice. Was the community up for going mobile-only? We’ve seen a few cities go down that path, and we think it shows a confidence in the future of where parking payment is going.

Mostly, what we didn’t want to see was this city feel bound to the lower technology option just because they had already invested capital in it. Technology is changing, developing, moving, and growing, and it’s impacting people on all sides. When music became digital, it allowed for artists to share their work more easily, for amateur musicians to break into the industry, and for consumers to have more access to music than ever before. Parking is changing in the same way, and we think it’s time to embrace that.  Instead of clinging to the systems that we know, whether that’s our beloved satellite dish or a group of old-school parking meters, let’s allow technology to work for us. It can save time and make our day-to-day lives more efficient, and that sounds like a win to me.