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Parking Gates, a Relic of the Past?

September 9, 2022

Kevin Uhlenhaker

We humans don’t always look at situations rationally. We tend to jump to conclusions, share incorrect information, spin a story, and assume that something that works in one case will work in every situation. 


The reasons for this behavior are hardwired into the way our brains process information. While it might seem that the speed at which information is shared today is to blame, this has been an issue for as long as humans have communicated.


This idea applies to something as non-fast moving as the parking industry and seems to be at the root of our question today.


The often misquoted (ironically enough) line by Mark Twain, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” seems to apply. 


 


Dear Kevin, 


Another one of my property managers has been bit by the “gateless” bug and wants to rip out all of the gates in their garages (despite our recommendation). Is this the way of the future or just a fad? 


Doubtful in Detroit  


Thanks for the question from the Motor City! Your question because many companies (both new and old) are rolling out or advertising their gateless systems. 


Ironically, the technology underlying these “cutting edge” systems is almost 30 years old, and complete gateless systems have been installed and working in the United States for nearly ten years. 


But as seems to be the norm in the U.S. parking industry, it takes 5-10 years before a technology feels safe enough to become mainstream. Despite the hype, the parking gate is still going strong today, and I believe it will continue for the foreseeable future. 


There are several situations where parking gates work much better than non-gated solutions. The first is for keeping vehicles in or out of a facility. 


While there are other methods to keep cars out, few match a parking gate’s simplicity and universal understanding. This concept is especially true for areas where parking spaces need to be held open for permit holders or reservations. 


Unless you plan to tow vehicles out of spaces (which has many issues), gates do a great job solving this issue. 


In most cases, people will not break a gate arm to get into a facility. Additionally, while the gate arm is the barrier typically used in “gated” systems, several other options provide even higher levels of security. These include high-speed rolling doors, large entry gates, security bollards, and tempered glass doors. 


Another potential impact of a gateless system is on validations. 


All validations must be based on your license plate in a gateless system. This limitation is because a gateless system uses license plate recognition (LPR) to identify the vehicles and start a session. Any validations need to be tied to that vehicle’s identity. This requirement is typically acceptable in many situations, but in others where drivers either cannot or will not remember or go back and get their license plates, this can become an issue. 


This situation can occur in large shopping centers that offer validations in one central location, hospitality situations, health care, or locations with large numbers of rental cars. In these situations, it is not a technical problem, but more that the effect on the drivers is more significant than the locations are willing to deal with on an ongoing basis. 


As many start-ups have learned, a gateless system only works if there is an enforcement aspect to the system. This fact will be obvious to many parking professionals, but parkers who don’t want to pay for parking will do what they can to avoid it. 


So, gateless systems have to be built around automated enforcement. This design is the only way to help ensure that people follow the rules. The downside to this is you now have to pursue the overall enforcement process, which includes notice letters, escalations, collections, and in some situations booting and towing. 


If you or your vendors are not performing these collection activities correctly, it can lead to an individual or even a class action lawsuit. That is not to say people never sue over issues with gated systems. 


But as far as I know, there has not been a class action lawsuit filed over the operation of a gated system, while a few related to enforcement and collection practices have been. 


Another consideration when using a gateless system is customer feedback delay. In a manual enforcement system, a notice or ticket is placed on a vehicle when that vehicle is in violation. While in a gated system, if something is wrong, there has to be some interaction to open the gate. 


This interaction is an opportunity to correct issues, educate customers, and provide a good customer service experience. In a gateless system, when a vehicle is in violation, a letter is sent to that person notifying them of their violation. 


Depending on the system and the postal service, it can take between 3-10 days for the customer to receive notice of their violation in the mail. If they are a repeat customer, this could mean that they receive multiple violations before they even find out that something is wrong. 


While these violations can be dismissed, it’s a bad experience for a customer to receive a string of letters after the fact for something that could have been fixed quickly. 


I think there will be a time when gates are no longer needed. This situation will occur when a majority of vehicles on the road are autonomous, and those autonomous vehicles are programmed to respect access restrictions into parking facilities and have automatic payment systems built into those vehicles. 


According to an article in Car and Driver, the current average vehicle lifespan is 12 years. Assuming that mainstream autonomous vehicles are 3-5 years away (which many would say is optimistic), we are at least 15-20 years from having most self-driving cars on the road. Until that point, we will still need gated parking systems. 


At present, thousands of lanes of gated equipment are being installed every year. The cost of gated systems has never been lower, with many companies offering hardware as a subscription option. 


The financial threshold to purchase a gated system is even lower. Additionally, these systems have continued to mature, adding more features, improving the customer experience, reducing maintenance, and incorporating many of the features touted by gateless systems such as LPR cameras and digital payments. Some are now even offering automatic payments. 


Today’s parking customers have more tools than ever to solve operational parking challenges. The addition of gateless solutions adds one more tool to that preverbal toolbox. But like any tool, selecting the right tool for the right situation is critical. 


While a hammer can remove a screw, a screwdriver is likely a better choice. It is easy to get excited by the latest technology, but the best technology is the one best suited to solve the problem in that situation. There is no such thing as a universal solution to parking problems. 


Thanks for your question. Good luck with your property manager! 


If you have a question that you would like answered in a future column or would like to drop me a comment, please reach out to me at kevin.uhlenhaker@flashparking.com. 



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