Improving the Parking Experience — aka Making it Not “Suck”
In one of the booths at last year’s IPMI Conference & Expo, attendees were probably surprised to find a sign that read “parking sucks.” The sign was in the All Traffic Solutions booth and, according to the company’s CEO, Andy Souders, it was designed to start a conversation — not just about what some felt was a poor choice of vocabulary (although, that was mentioned), but about what kind of experience parking operators are creating for their customers and how that experience might be improved.
“Obviously, by saying ‘parking sucks’ we were making a bold statement,” said Souders, “but it seemed to us that while there is a lot of innovation going on in the parking world, a lot of it is focused on the monetization of parking with no real focus around the experience of the actual parker.”
The problem for a lot of operators is the sheer amount of available technology — not to mention all the talk about “smart” cities and parking — can be overwhelming.
Souders, who has a background in technical engineering and the Internet of Things, is somewhat new to the parking world but, as he points out, he is not new to parking itself. “I may not have been in the parking space for a long time but I’ve been a parker for more than 35 years,” said Souders, “and one of the things I have noticed is a lot of systems are consistently inaccurate when it comes to giving the information needed to make the experience better for the customer.”
Starting with Signs
It is perhaps ironic that the “parking sucks” message came in the form of a sign as All Traffic Solutions’ (ATS) initial products were signs — intelligent variable message signs based on data received through sensors. When the company was first founded two decades ago, the signs were the electronic message signs you might see on the highway that say “slow down” or “work ahead” or tell you what speed you are driving as you pass by.
As the technology has evolved and the data from the sensors was connected to the cloud and therefore able to be remotely managed, the company has expanded its offerings from the traffic and safety space into parking and mobility. “We are really good at vehicle detection and are able to take the real-time data from our sensors and send it out to signs that can let people know where there are spaces available to park,” said Souders.
Souders said that what makes the technology work especially well for parking is the 99-percent-plus accuracy of their car-counting data and the fact that the data can be distributed wherever the customer needs it — be it onto an electric sign or a parking application or the Internet. They also have the ability to pull in all sorts of other parking sensor data into their software platform, as well. For instance, one of the company’s clients is a large shopping center that wanted to provide as much information as possible on signage placed throughout the center to help guide people into available spaces quickly.
“The technology allowed the client to see if one garage was filling up and then program the sign to direct cars to where there was space,” said Souders. “This keeps people from having to circle around and thus improves the experience for the parker and, ultimately, the operator as well.”
The problem for a lot of operators is the sheer amount of available technology — not to mention all the talk about “smart” cities and parking — can be overwhelming. But Souders points out that, at its most basic, the technology is just a tool that collects and stores information to then be managed and acted upon. The key is creating actionable steps for the provider that can augment whatever PARCS product they are already using by taking large-scale data collection and placing it on one platform (like the company’s ParkingCloud).
“When people talk about smart parking or smart cities, it can be overwhelming,” said Souders. “There are so many different types of technologies to consider, but you need to start with the single goal of measuring the parker experience. Like the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure and the key is the data collection and making that data actionable.”
It all comes back, then, to a focus on the parking experience and by creating a better parking experience the operator also wins because people who have a bad parking experience might think twice about returning.
Upgrading the Parking Experience
For corporate clients, it might not be as much about parkers deciding not to return (few people quit their jobs because of bad parking, although it could be a factor) as much getting employees into an open space and at their desks as quickly as possible without any time wasted circling the lot. Souders said that one of ATS’s larger corporate tech clients actually created an internet site where employees can comment on their parking experience — data the company then uses to make intelligence decisions on how to improve that experience.
But it’s not just corporate environments that value an efficient parking experience.
“It’s all about making the whole parking experience more seamless and efficient,” said Souders. “There are a lot of great apps that help to reserve a space but if I show up and the space isn’t available it’s frustrating. Add in real-time collection of information so the parking operator doesn’t oversell the garage and you immediately improve the parking experience.”
Bringing it All Together
Ultimately, then, the goal to making the parking experience not “suck” is to get people to their destinations as quickly as possible by providing that seamless trip — which is where ATS’s broad understanding of the traffic and safety world, and how it relates to parking and mobility, comes in handy. “Intelligent traffic signs give a heads-up as to what’s ahead,” said Souders, and those same signs that direct traffic can also guide cars into the closest parking facility with availability.
“When you talk about an end-to-end parking experience, it starts at home and it doesn’t end at the garage, but where the garage is taking you — whether it’s shopping or studying or flying or working,” said Souders. “Taking the data that is out there and collecting it into a single seamless experience so that we don’t have to think about it, and can almost be on autopilot, is the goal.”
And this, needless to say, wouldn’t suck.
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org