Originally published in the February 2021 edition of Parking Today’s Parking Magazine
We all know 2020 was an incredibly challenging year for the parking industry. Paid parking transactions were way down in every single state, significantly affecting local revenue. Trade shows were canceled, companies had layoffs, and some, unfortunately, went out of business.
After almost a year in the darkness, we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. As the COVID-19 vaccine gets distributed, we will see a return to normalcy. Offices will re-open. Commuters will return to cities. The parking industry will be back.
Parking customers don’t want to touch cash or physical payment equipment where people can spread germs.
And there’s good reason to believe it will be bigger and better than ever before. In a 2020 research study, we asked consumers how they believe COVID will change their future behavior. The respondents said they expect to use public transportation much less often and use their personal vehicle more often. That means more cars on the road and more demand for parking.
To prepare for this upcoming influx of cars hitting urban areas, our team has been busy creating innovative new solutions, making it easier to find and pay for parking than ever before.
Making it Easier to Find Open Parking Spots
In 2020, we partnered with the City of Columbus to create an innovative parking availability feature in the ParkColumbus app, displaying pins on the map with colors to indicate the likelihood that a space is open in real-time. Green pins show that a space is likely available, while orange and red pins indicate a space is less likely to be available. This prediction is based on historical parking data, continuously updated by the city, to provide the most accurate estimate possible.
Features like this will be important in a post-COVID-19 world where more vehicles will be on the road and parking will be harder to find. Showing people where the open spots are in a specific area can reduce the congestion caused by people circling the block looking for an available spot. It also can reduce the frustration of the driver, creating a better overall experience in the city.
Offering More Contactless Payment Options
Another insight from our consumer research was that people want more contactless payment options. They don’t want to touch cash or physical payment equipment where people can spread germs. They prefer to pay on their mobile devices.
However, many people don’t want to download and set up an account for yet another mobile app. Some may already have one parking app on their phone, and they don’t want a second one.
We understand this frustration. People want to pay their way and don’t want to feel forced to download a new app every time they park. Our ParkMobile app has 21 million users and a 4+ star rating in the app store. But a full-featured app might not be right for everyone.
So, in 2020, we worked to expand the contactless options to pay for parking. Users can now pay with the full-featured app, a lightweight mobile web app, or the new Google Pay app. Whichever works best for the consumer. We also now offer a guest checkout option in the web app, so users don’t even need an account to pay.
Additionally, we’re making it easier to quickly start a parking transaction by adding a text-to-park option and QR codes to our signs. Parkers either send a text or scan a QR code, and that gets them right into the web app to start their parking sessions.
All of these new contactless options use the same centralized database of rates and policies. Parkers don’t have to worry about rates being different across different apps. All the data from these different contactless options are consolidated in one report, making it easy for a parking supplier to do financial reconciliation. It’s a real win-win for the consumer and the parking provider.
More Flexibility with Parking Payments
Many universities sell semester-long parking permits to students. But as schools went virtual due to COVI D-19, those permits became unnecessary. If students aren’t going to in-person classes on campus, they don’t need a parking permit for the semester. Many schools saw their permit revenue disappear with empty permit-only parking decks, even while some people coming to campus would have paid a daily or hourly rate for those spots.
As a result, many colleges are shifting away from permits to more flexible parking payment options. Schools are letting people pay hourly or daily rates with the app. In some cases, schools provide special student and faculty rates that are only available in the app. Students pay one rate; visitors to campus pay a different rate. This flexibility enables schools to generate more parking revenue and create a better experience on campus.
Looking Ahead to 2021
While 2020 was a challenging year, it allowed us to step back, understand consumer needs, and build a better parking experience for a post-COVID world. The past year’s adversity has made our company and the industry much stronger. The future of parking is very bright.
Jon Ziglar is CEO of ParkMobile. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.