January 13, 2016

The Continued Convergence of Parking Lot Technology: RFID's Role

By Alexander Chirita
As technology plays a bigger role in our daily lives, it will be used and leveraged by businesses that are looking to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. This phenomenon extends to the fundamental business of parking lot management. Parking has been relevant to daily life for over 80 years but the history in architecture shows how self-serve parking garages started to gain prominence in the 1950s when the United States experienced a boom in parking garage construction. In this posting, the parking industry’s past, present, and future relationship with technology will be looked at.

Early Beginnings of Parking Lots and Modern Day Parking Facilities

Did you know that prior to the parking garage construction boom, garages had professional valet style parking attendants that would park your car and some even provided babysitting services while drivers were shopping? Interestingly, the United States government provided funding to construction companies whose underground garages could also be used as a bomb shelter. According to consulting firm Frost and Sullivan‘s report, the worldwide parking industry is worth $100 billion and it estimates over $200 million will be invested into smarter parking and innovation over the next three to five years. Due to the ease of installation and current hardware costs, RFID systems are typically used to keep track of who is entering, exiting, and currently in the parking lot. On-street and off-street parking are the two primary types of parking and although event parking falls under off-street parking, it’s worth mentioning separately as it involves a slightly different set of circumstances. RFID is mainly applied to off-street environments but it can be used for event parking. The difference between off-street and event parking is that events are pre-planned with a clear beginning and end time whereas off-street parking involves people on a variety of schedules.

Parking Lot Control: Overall and Billing Trends

According to the 2015 Emerging Trends in Parking report from the International Parking Institute (IPI), half of the top ten emerging trends in parking are technology related. Some of the top emerging technological trends are:
  • Improving payment automation and access control
  • Demand for digital cashless payments
  • Wireless sensing devices for traffic management
As RFID technology has become more cost effective, RFID parking control systems have been implemented to address the above demands. Currently, RFID parking systems can record all of the information necessary for billing, such as customer identification number, entry time, and exit time, but billing automatically has proven difficult. The demand for automatic billing is increasing and while there are challenges due to the need for agreements with various other companies, such as credit card or wireless service companies that can vary from area to area, this may be simplified in the future. Automatic billing directly to a credit or debit card would help RFID parking management systems become the most comprehensive and fastest parking solution possible. Mobile apps have been developed to provide electronic billing, but customers still need to download the app and navigate through various screens to select and pay for parking. Paying online or via a mobile app will likely gain traction for short term parking only as it would be too inconvenient and unnecessary for other forms of parking. The features that may gain traction for longer term parking would be the ability to reserve parking, register visitors, and update records online.

Parking Lot Control: Revenue and Customer Service Trends

The demand for greater parking revenue and the need for improved customer service were also included in the top 10. To help improve both customer service and revenue simultaneously, the IPI’s report also identified the abuse of accessible parking permits by those who aren’t legally impaired or handicapped as a continued concern of the parking industry. In the United States these parking spots are sometimes called ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) parking spots. This unlawful usage of accessible parking makes it more difficult for those that are actually impaired or disabled to find a suitable parking spot and it can potentially lead to lost revenue as well as frustrated customers. Being able to detect who is eligible to park in handicapped spaces and who isn’t can prevent unauthorized parking and can lead to customers paying for parking that might otherwise park for free. Therefore, better monitoring over who parks in handicapped spaces could potentially lead to increased revenue if the lot owner is willing to install a RFID reader near the specific spaces that need to be monitored. In the future, being able to monitor individual parking spaces will become more feasible as installation and hardware costs decrease. With respect to customer service, a change that is already taking place is the adoption of gateless parking lots for tenants. RFID parking control systems are the key driver behind gateless parking lots that help to quicken the flow of traffic. Ultra-high frequency (UHF) fixed readers and windshield tags are the primary RFID technologies that enable gateless parking lots. The possibility of having a gateless parking area is part of what separates RFID from other technologies. On-street parking is normally owned by municipalities and different municipalities have begun exploring the option of having a smartphone application that can help drivers locate available parking spaces. Tackling on-street parking becomes even more challenging when companies also have to contend with budget uncertainty or shortfalls from municipalities and political changes.

How Will You Use RFID Technology in Your Parking Operation?

It is safe to say that RFID and parking related technologies will continue to improve and become increasingly viable as time goes on. As solutions are enhanced and implemented, parking lot owners will have the tools needed to adjust prices based on demand and adopt gateless systems. Customers will have more ways to pay for and reserve parking. While technology can and possibly will be applied to the majority of parking lots, it’s important to remember that the technology applied will need to vary in order to best suit the individual parking lot. In the case of longer term or tenant parking, certain technologies might be unnecessary, may overcomplicate things, and may take away resources from other aspects of parking that may need improvement. In the end, incorporating technology should simplify the parking lot owner or operator’s life, as well as the customers’. alex-bio]]>

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