Technology is Transforming the Parking Industry: From Hardware to Mobile Apps and Real-Time Data
Originally published in Parking Today’s October 2017 issue
Over the years, technology has become increasingly important in both parking and transit, and the evolutionary themes are similar across both industries: The original technology experience was dominated by hardware and riddled with manual processes.
When it comes to parking in North America, as recently as 10 years ago, payments were most often collected manually by human beings, if not from a cash box or parking meter. Original meters certainly weren’t electronic, and where enforcement was concerned, officers issued handwritten citations, while parking violators turned to snail mail or in-office queues to pay for tickets.
With the introduction of technology in the early to mid-2000s, hand-held ticket issuance systems devoid of internet connectivity prevailed in the parking industry. Recall the original handheld devices: personal computers, PDAs and generally large pieces of hardware. This system qualified as technology, but without real-time or usable activity data; the process was still relatively manual and required physical docking for data dumps, let alone maintenance and replacement costs of “on-prem” solutions.
Transit shares a similar story. Technology came in the form of ticket vending machines and expensive hardware. The only option for those using public transit was having to buy their fare through a man-powered kiosk or a ticket vending machine. All transactions were anonymous, which made building and achieving customer loyalty programs nearly impossible. From a user experience perspective, both the parking and transit industries were lagging behind other industries in offering an easier, more cost-effective user experience to match the digital world.
Smartphones, the ‘Cloud’ Revolution, and an On-Demand, ‘Connected’ World
Fast forward to 2007-2010 to the timing of the true proliferation of smart devices, a massive influencer of technology across the board. In less than 10 years since the introduction of the iPhone, penetration of smartphones surpassed 80%, according to a survey conducted by comScore in 2016 – an exponentially faster rate of adoption than previous technology disruptions.
Suddenly, the vast majority of people had the power of a smartphone in their hands, giving them access to real-time information and empowering them to make better decisions. The on-demand, cloud-connected status quo we live by today was born. Our expectations for work and life started shifting. Accessing people, places and things was rapidly becoming a real-time process, and the mindset of immediacy took over.
As disconnected hardware and manual processes lagged behind the age of digitalization, it was recognized that better, more efficient solutions were needed for parking and transit: mobile applications for payment and enforcement.
When it came into the market, companies began to see this rising tide of technology solutions. We at Passport, for example, introduced a “hosted platform” that opened up a world of new opportunities for municipalities and agencies by giving them access to real-time data and a smartphone-based system at a fraction of the cost of outdated hardware technology.
Our on-demand society was ramping up at the time, and both the public and private sectors started recognizing the value in making data-driven decisions.
In the beginning, solutions for payments and enforcement were considered novel and unique. People loved the applications, but were unsure how the market would react to the consumer applications or how their teams would react to new handheld enforcement software. Running ticket issuance through Android applications, for example, was a radical simplification of their current processes.
As it turned out, the adoption of mobile applications for parking and transit caught on – quickly. Initially, it was an education process for users, as app providers led the overhaul of an industry perspective based on where the power of payment and enforcement technology lives: software.
Suddenly, the vast majority of people had the power of a smartphone in their hands, giving them access to real-time information and empowering them to make better decisions.
Historically, municipalities and agencies didn’t have much budget for expensive, clunky hardware devices. Then, mobile technology entered the scene and offered a leap from handwritten tickets to a solution with little to no capital expenses.
Suddenly, public parking and transit operators had access to real-time data that reveals insight into the behavior of parkers and riders, and the ability to use them to enhance customer service; to execute 1:1 marketing and loyalty programs; and to make better decisions for the future.
Deepening Integrations to Improve Interactions
Society now operates with a total on-demand mentality. We want what we want right this moment, and we aren’t particularly interested in taking the time to engage in multi-step processes to obtain products and services.
In fact, as I’m writing this article, I’m waiting on a food delivery that was ordered through a few clicks on an app. This way of life is here to stay. So where does that leave providers such as Passport, looking to the future?
The ecosystem is changing quickly, and it’s up to providers to help deepen those integrations between public entities and private businesses.
In consideration of how parking and transit will continue to evolve, it’s likely that APIs (application programming interfaces) will guide the consolidation of the traveler’s journey. One way or another, the deepening of integration between municipal initiatives, both public and private, will become more of a necessity.
Parking and transit technologies should continue to develop to become more cognizant of the customer journey: where they’re headed, the relationship between private entities and cities themselves, engagement with large providers of transportation such as Lyft and Uber, and whether it makes sense to offer information on their whereabouts, such as restaurant and shopping suggestions.
Can we predict availability of parking, and have an Uber ready to pick up travelers when they get off a train? How can we streamline the multi-step process of going from one place to another? What role will autonomous vehicles play? The solutions of tomorrow must accommodate all of these variables.
Technology should facilitate the way people interact with one another and the public agencies that serve them.
Disrupting and transforming industries isn’t solely dependent on answering to the needs of consumers today. Progress and success hinge upon the ongoing practice of anticipating technology’s trajectory, and part of its journey is using data to create solutions that make our lives easier.
Khristian Gutierrez is Chief Revenue Officer at Passport.