Bringing the Metered Parking System Into the 21st Century
By David Cummins
One of the best movies of all time just might be “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 Paul Newman classic, perhaps best known for one of the ultimate movie lines: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
But what you might not remember about that movie is that it opens with Newman’s character cutting the heads off parking meters.
While people might like to complain about parking meters, they serve a vital purpose and can create economic development when used effectively. Innovative parking services improve traffic flow by making it easier to find a spot and optimize space turnover, benefitting local businesses. A modernized parking system also reduces pollution and traffic congestion by enabling people to find a spot faster.
The average motorist’s parking experience can be frustrating: A driver comes in to a city, finds it difficult to locate an available meter, and becomes aggravated if he or she doesn’t have the correct coins to put into the meter. Many cities see the potential that exists by upgrading the parking experience, but in these difficult economic times, cities can be too overburdened and underfunded to make a change on their own.
Long used in other government functions, the public-private partnership (3P) model, is an emerging strategy that offers a modernized and more convenient parking operation for motorists and businesses.
At its most basic level, the 3P model is a contract between a public-sector authority and a private party, in which the latter assumes significant – and, in most cases, all – financial, technical and operational risks in a specific project. The public-sector authority retains programmatic oversight – enshrined in contractual boundaries – as well as core policy functions such as parking rate increases.
The 3P model allows a city to work with a private vendor that provides strategic management and operational expertise, in addition to making a considerable investment in updating technologies and infrastructure – investments and upgrades that it might not otherwise be able to do.
This takes a big burden off the city administration in terms of budgetary and delivery risks, or concerns associated with increasing personnel costs. This also enhances the entire parking experience for drivers: For example, they are able to quickly and easily locate a meter and pay with a simple swipe of a credit or debit card.
Another unique feature of the 3P model is the revenue-sharing structure. Cities can decide what best meets their financial needs – a large lump sum payment up front, sharing the revenue over the life of the agreement, or a combination of the two.
In a revenue-sharing arrangement, the two parties split the revenue from parking meter fees and/or tickets, ensuring a consistent stream of annual revenue for the city. Since the city makes no initial investment in the agreement, any revenue incurred is pure profit and will exceed what it could have generated on its own.
These increased dollars can then be used for the city’s other operational needs, including infrastructure improvement such as street and sidewalk repairs. This also means government officials become more productive and efficient, because they have more freedom to focus on other city priorities.
The updated technologies and methods associated with employing the 3P model also are advantageous for a city’s local economy and its citizens. By making parking more convenient for residents and visitors, local businesses will see an increase in foot traffic and sales.
Additionally, by employing the latest technologies, the city helps to create a sustainable parking environment.
For example, many new parking meters are solar-powered, reducing the need to recycle the thousands of batteries that power the machines each year. Further, by making parking more available and convenient, drivers are able to park faster, ultimately reducing traffic congestion and emissions created by the circling that usually entails finding an available parking spot.
As we move into the future of the parking industry, more advanced technologies will take hold.
For example, web-based and phone applications will provide information on meter use and availability. A driver could schedule his or her trip based on that data, which reduces traffic congestion (and frustration).
Payment could be made by phone, and drivers would receive a text message reminder when time is running out. If they want to stay longer – they can add an hour with a simple pay-by-phone application, keeping the customer’s patronage in local businesses.
Unfortunately, because of the economy, many cities are more focused on meeting the basic needs of government and can’t focus on improving their parking system. By joining forces with a partner in the private sector with expertise in this area, drivers can benefit from parking improvements and cities can gain additional revenue.
David Cummins is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Transportation Solutions Group of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Xerox company. He can be reached at email@example.com. ACS recently began a public-private partnership with the City of Indianapolis.