By Clare Curley
The traditional parking payment system—equipped with entrance gate and attendant— could someday be a thing of the past. Property managers who oversee tenant parking and mixed-use facilities alike are turning to a host of new devices to make their jobs easier and, in some cases, save money.
"Over the last 10 years people are looking more at automated parking solutions," says David Hill, who specializes in large-scale parking operations as the national practice leader of parking solutions for Toronto-based MMM Group Limited. Increasingly, new technology is used to streamline parking systems and reduce the manpower necessary to run a parking facility. The 2011 Emerging Trends in Parking survey by the International Parking Institute (IPI) highlights several recent developments behind this, from electronic payment systems to pay-by-phone parking services.
How big is your parking budget? Is it worth installing new equipment? If your needs are somewhat basic—such as managing only several tenant parking spots—then overhauling your current system may not warrant enough ROI. But for others, a system that provides instantaneous, detailed reporting on parking availability might be well worth the investment.
One of the main challenges to managing a parking facility is streamlining your system on a tight budget. Some virtual payment methods are helping people do that. Based in Ottawa, Sandra Smith, executive director of the Canadian Parking Association, explains that online systems are gaining ground because they enable property managers to use existing resources more efficiently.
If you sell some of your spaces to drivers who are unfamiliar with your property and parking facility, then online systems can be especially beneficial. Tracking space availability is difficult, so property managers tend to wait until the beginning of the month to tally spaces, Smith explains. But an online system can alert them to availabilities at any time, removing the need for putting drivers on waiting lists.
Consider three common factors in virtual management:
As more people access the Internet via their cell phones, keep an eye on trends in cell phone parking. Because of their ease of use and accessibility, "pay by phone" systems—whereby drivers secure spots by text messaging or making a call—might be a good option for people who manage short-term itinerant parking, Smith says.
New smart phone apps are helping drivers locate available parking, as well. To stay on the cutting edge—and on people’s smart phones—property managers can either build the app themselves or work with a GPS company. Hill and Smith recommend working with downtown business districts to get on their geolocation lists. An organization trying to gain exposure may even include your location for free, Hill says.
For tenant-only parking, your solutions should address a different set of needs. In a residential building, for instance, tenants might use an online tool to update their records, while the manager would log on to keep track of new tenants, visitor registration or licence plate updates, Smith says.
In general, parking facilities are going gateless as a way of cutting expenses and easing the flow of traffic. Residential facilities can do so as well, keeping in mind the need for proper enforcement. "Vehicles can register by licence plate number, or the manager can issue [tenants] decals or hang tags to identify their vehicle," Smith says. Another newer way to monitor vehicles is by placing sensors in the ground beneath each space to alert you when cars come and go.
Just don’t push anything too complicated in a building that primarily serves tenants. "Fancy technology is overkill if you’re dealing with monthly parkers," says Hill, who recommends focusing instead on amenities like improved security.
Some property managers might benefit from multiple systems—for instance, adding pay-by-phone options to their existing services. However, Smith urges them to transition slowly to any new system and to communicate the changes to tenants by posting signs throughout the building.
When it comes to new parking technology, be sure the solution meets the challenges you face. The right choice should simplify the parking process for the property’s tenants and customers, as well as your own.