Michael Bigbee, CEO Americas
To quote Dickens: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. While most organizations in search of parking solutions have the luxury of focusing on a narrower subset of parking market operations, municipalities have the greater challenge of addressing the technology requirements of both on-street AND off-street parking. The rate of change in technology advances in both segments is accelerating and driving changes to both historical business and operating models.
On-street technology has evolved from coin meters at each parking spot to credit card capable pay-and-display machines that are solar powered and offer advertising, to mobile payments. Off-street parking has changed from cash and cashiers in every lane, to remote command centers where just a few people can provide customer service at many widely dispersed locations. Our little parking operations have morphed into profit centers with yield management business practices that are beginning to rival the airlines.
For many years, the parking market evolved very, very gradually, both in terms of functionality and design. Recently we have seen a plethora of activity in the market driven by an influx of internet and mobile related companies, many venture capital backed: mobile payments, whether using an ‘app’ or via NFC (Near Field Communications), e.g. Apple Pay or Google Wallet; online reservation systems and new ways of entering and exiting garages, e.g. LPR (License Plate Recognition). In the midst of this explosion of technology, we are also having to plan and implement the imminent EMV payment standards.
We can expect to see many more startups coming into our industry, because the cost of entry is dramatically lower for building an app than it is to bend metal and create digital and analog parts. The influx of venture capital funding can feel like a huge gust of fresh air that invigorates everyone. We can start to think that if someone is willing to invest tens of millions of dollars on a technology, then it must be important and we should pay attention – we also need to remember that seasoned venture capitalists are happy if one-to-three out of every ten investments succeeds. The seven to nine failures are ‘just the cost of doing business.’ Since our industry has a ten year lifecycle expectancy for installed systems, we need to move forward, but judiciously and with our eyes wide open, as we investigate, bridge over to and embrace new technologies and business processes.
Your best bet right now is to read all of the industry magazines and attend the national trade shows – become educated, look over the products, look over the companies and only then make an investment. Remember that the true cost of a product or service is not limited to the initial acquisition price but includes all of the personnel, training and maintenance of that capability for years to come.
Municipalities are getting both barrels of emerging technologies – on-street and off-street. The options (for either!) can seem intimidating but there is some really good ‘stuff’ going on and our industry will be the better for it.