Identifying trends in the parking sector… how Covid-inspired innovations have forced their way into permanent thinking
With Europe seemingly hurtling back into various stages of lockdown amid the second wave of Covid-19, will we see another slew of local and national authorities using this period of increased uncertainty to introduce novel and innovative transport schemes as we did in the spring? The parking sector was particularly proactive in reducing fees and speeding the transition to touch-free transactions, but has this meant that there are new and unexpected trends to follow? Are cities more open to innovation than they were this time last year? And, ultimately, how will drivers benefit from this new way of thinking?
Many of us are in the fortunate position of driving an intelligent car. We drive that intelligent car on an intelligent road into a smart city. And then we leave it on a piece of open land divided into spaces with white lines. Or we might leave it on the street or in a multi-level parking structure. And the chances are we are going to have to pay for that privilege, and if you are parking in a major city it could easily cost you €20-30 for a few hours. Smart car, smart road, smart city…
This is, perhaps, the perception of the drivers who spend countless hours each year trawling around towns and cities looking for somewhere to park but it isn’t the reality. One only has to look at the number of OEMs and vendors that fill the Parking hall at Intertraffic Amsterdam to know that smart parking has been in existence for as long as smart cars (as opposed to the SmartCar) and the level of innovation in the sector is on a par with any other in the intelligent transport and smart city sphere. So what are we seeing in terms of trends? And what are we likely to see by way of a response to the ever-changing landscape of Coronavirus World? How many of the temporary measures and schemes that were brought in earlier in the year are likely to remain in place? And what role does parking have to play in our new reality?
Active not reactive
According to Julian O’Kelly, Head of Technology Innovation and Research at the British Parking Association (BPA) and participating in one of our previous webinars, the call for cleaner air, net zero living and a fully digital mobility landscape was gaining momentum pre-pandemic, pushed along by behavioural, political and technological forces.
“Concerns regarding public transport, reduced traffic and attempts to improve wellbeing during the pandemic have accelerated the need for sustainable action in transport and mobility. It’s clear that the release of social distancing measures over an extended period of time can help nations capture emerging benefits, such as carbon reduction and health outcomes. However, these benefits are unlikely to remain without clear strategic connections, as well as investment across different sectors, technologies, and policies.”
The BPA has been at the forefront of ensuring the parking sector takes a proactive and strategic role as the situation evolves and it’s also actively lobbying government and bringing together its membership community in a diverse range of areas in an effort to support lasting positive change.
“Active travel offers a socially distanced and healthy way to get around, and the UK government has signalled its desire to boost development through its ‘Gear Change’ initiative, with a £2 billion (€2.2 billion) active travel fund and emergency funding for cycle lanes and pedestrianisation measures during the pandemic,” explains O’Kelly. “However, many of us will continue to rely on our cars for safe travel over long distances, so effective parking management has a vital role to play in enabling active travel, particularly for last mile journeys. The BPA has acknowledged this with ‘Park Active’, an initiative developed in partnership with government and other active travel stakeholders. Park Active provides parking operators with a branded, practical framework to enable car parks to offer onward cycling and walking options to city centres, tourist attractions, or large employers such as hospitals.”
Parking for healthcare staff and frontline key workers was recognised as a priority so during lockdown the BPA partnered with app provider members to create an online map of all free parking offers for these groups.
“We’re continuing to work with government to establish how free or prioritised parking can work for them going forward, particularly with the strategic needs of these groups during the ‘second’ wave of the virus,” says O’Kelly.
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One emerging trend that has gained traction over the last few months has been the move towards touchless or “Corona-proof” parking. Until the pandemic struck in the spring it didn’t seem a particularly dangerous thing to press buttons on a parking ticket machine, open a shop door by the handle, fish around in your purse or pocket for 20-year old pieces of metal that have been touched by thousands of complete strangers, open the door again and plunge those same fingers into a bag of crisps, transferring the food and a significant number of germs into your mouth. After seven months of hand-sanitising and touching buttons with your sleeve our previous habits now seem alarmingly reckless. Almost by chance the touch-free parking market has come into focus with a ready-made solution.
For SKIDATA’s Vice President of Marketing, Florian Schneeberger, Covid-19 has driven his company to think outside was already quite a substantial box. “The touching of buttons when entering a parking structure or queuing at payment machines is inconvenient for customers. For operators increased disinfection measures are both indispensable and time-consuming, thus, we have developed our Touchless Solutions that can be instantly integrated into existing systems. Booking online at home, presenting only the hand at the entrance column instead of pushing a button, the license plate recognition or the payment solution by credit card on a pay-later-base are only some examples for our thought-out and integrated system from a single source.”
"Perfect parking management begins at the customer’s home.”
For Schneeberger it’s all about thinking ahead and the customer experience, which, in these uncertain times, is more important than ever. “All these developments ensure the best possible experience for parking customers which makes them come again – as I see it, perfect parking management begins at the customer’s home.”
The trend identified by SKIDATA is to include parking as an integral part of Mobility as Service (MaaS) solutions.“Smart mobility like public transport and the offer of MaaS is the name of the game in cities,” insists Schneeberger. A partnership between providers of different services will create a comprehensive and convenient customer journey. Another very important point is the possibility to book an EV-charge slot online and to ensure the customer’s electric vehicle is charged and ready to go at the end of the stay. I can sum this up very simply,” he concludes. “Operators who upgrade their premises now will be the ones who succeed in future.”
It’s clear how Covid-19 has affected the current state of the parking sector, but how is it likely to impact on its future? Companies such as Miami-based licence-plate recognition (LPR) specialists Survision have invested heavily (in both time and finance) in future-proofing their technology and, as VP of Sales Alexandra Maillot explains, they’ve had to re-think and re-shape their vision of what the parking sector will look like over the next decade.
“The only way to do right by parking operators was to adapt. Luckily the parking revenue control system suppliers known as PARCS were reactive enough to propose the solutions that were already developed but didn’t previously have the chance to shine. Users of parking spaces are often resistant to change but this time we've all been happy to use any alternatives to avoid touchpoints such as ticket machines."
"The industry has probably skipped ahead 10 years in terms of latest technology adoption in the last few months."
“The parking industry started to use modern, easy, touchless, frictionless, pre-paid, free-flow technologies to park. We see more ‘wave your hand’, Bluetooth, licence plate recognition, pay-by-phone, and many other technologies to easily park. The industry has probably skipped ahead 10 years in terms of latest technology adoption in the last few months.”
LPR is by no means a new technology but as Alexandra points out it is the only solution that allows drivers to enter and exit a car park without estopping. “Like every technology, LPR is not 100% accurate and our licence plate is not always visible. I’m thinking about potential obstructions such as bike racks that will obscure the licence plate for example. So there is a backup solution that is needed for around 10% of parking users, but there are still 90% who will have the best parking experience without touching anything and not even opening the window of their car.”
There are, of course, far more benefits to using LPR than just safe, touchless access to a parking structure. It’s an excellent solution to bring a better experience to parking users through frictionless access too.
“LPR helps parking operations better understand and adapt to parking users’ habits. And it also brings security to any parking facility, and brings the feature ‘find my car’ into the equation and many other benefits we all will be happy to have once we are back to normal,” she says. “Let’s make it a new modern normal.”
Another company that is at the forefront of touch-free solutions is South London’s Hozah, founded by serial entrepreneur David Fowle in 2016. Hozah’s innovative ‘touch-free, hassle-free’ parking system could not be simpler to use. It’s not even an app, so drivers who don’t own a smartphone aren’t excluded. All that is needed is access to the Internet and a payment card. Visit the website, enter your name, the car registration details and a payment card number and drivers don't have to do anything else until they change their car or the card expires. Drive into a Hozah-enabled car park, go shopping or visit a relative in hospital, return to the car, drive away and be automatically charged for the length of stay thanks to the ANPR system.
A solution such as Hozah’s is particularly relevant for the hospital scenario as typically the last half-hour of visiting time is spent checking your phone or watch to ensure you don’t go over your allotted parking time. Says Fowle: “The transference of a visitor’s stress can have unhealthy and negative impacts on the patient they have come to see. With our solution the entire visit can be enjoyed fully and the patient isn’t picking up on their visitor’s anxiety to be back at their car in time.”
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