Technological and sociological trends will transform the design and operation of parking services. The car park of the future will be a place where, besides parking, you re-charge your electric car and/or pick up online purchases. Within the next few years, car parks will become places where semi-autonomous cars drop-off their driver and passengers, park themselves and then pick them up again after their shopping trip or leisure experience.
The fact that the car of the future will most probably be electric presents an opportunity. Car parks will become re-charging stations for electric vehicles. In some respects, this will be a return to the dawn of motoring when many parking garages came complete with their own petrol pumps. In parallel, as petrol and diesel vehicles vanish from our streets due to ever stricter controls on emissions, filling stations will continue their current evolution to become convenience stores equipped with rapid charging hubs for alternative powered vehicles.
Besides the change in the usage of car park facilities, there will be a major change in the way people find and pay for parking. Not so long ago, car parks were often manned by an attendant with the uninviting demeanour of Mike from Breaking Bad.
Surly attendants who skim the takings are a thing of the past. Many parking operators have introduced automated and networked payment systems that allow them to control their sites remotely and collect data about how they are functioning. There is a move toward virtual parking systems based around mobile payment which eliminates the need for physical equipment on site.
Over the past decade the smartphone has transformed the way in which we live, work and shop. This has major implications for the parking sector. The advent of mobile payment is changing our industry in ways not yet understood. In the near future, the success of parking facilities will depend on information and payment systems and not simply on location.
Car park operators across both the public and private sectors must connect with the world of data-sharing to survive and thrive in the future.
The geographic location data provided by mobile devices such as smartphones and satnavs has already changed the way people travel and, in particular, drive. We live in the era of the Google blue dot, the pin that signifies a person’s location in real-time digital maps. Many us now depend on the blue dot when travelling.
As most cars become connected, with route guidance and parking systems displayed via in-car screens, the blue dot factor will become ever more important. Connected cars currently offer drivers real time information about the best routes and their parking options near the destination. They are set to become even smarter. We are looking at artificial intelligence (AI) arriving in the car. General Motors is combining IBM’s Watson AI software with its OnStar in-car system. Watson is the software system that won the American gameshow Jeopardy. AI will transform how car and drivers behave.
The increasing smartness of cars presents real challenges for the parking sector. Enabling drivers to locate the most appropriate parking in real-time relies on populating their satnavs and smartphone apps with accurate data on the location, pricing and availability of parking. Our industry does not have available the information that connected cars and smart mobility systems need. Gathering this data and making it available to the myriad of apps is a massive challenge for parking operators. If operators do not enter the data economy, as connected cars become increasingly automated vehicles, they will end up being digitally invisible.
Local authorities are already major collectors and repositories of data. Council CCTV control rooms can track not just vehicle traffic on streets and in car parks, but occupancy levels, system status and revenue streams. Private sector operators have control rooms to monitor and manage their estates and payment systems on a national, and even international, level. With their banks of TV screens and computer monitors, car park offices often resemble NASA mission control centres. These parking data sets will be meshed with road traffic management, vehicle-to-vehicle data, public transport and trip planning systems to make parking part of an intelligent mobility infrastructure
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) have been focussed on travel between urban areas, although the focus is currently changing to movement within urban areas. Parking is now being recognised as a key element of a much wider, emerging infrastructure that brings together the worlds of payments systems and ITS.
As part of a new positive parking agenda, operators must harness all the available data streams (digital parking payment transactions, bay sensors on-street and in car parks, parking guidance systems at the roadside, etc.) to make it easier for drivers and their cars to park conveniently and compliantly. Like many retailers, we currently think in terms of customer loyalty. But, in the future, it will be the vehicle rather than the driver that will select the parking location. If a place is not on the digital map then it will not exist for the autonomous car.
Nigel Williams is managing director of the consultancy Parking Matters. In the course of his 30-year career in the French and UK parking sectors, he has acquired extensive knowledge of all aspects of the business. He has held various positions including managing director of Vinci Park UK (now Indigo UK) and development director for Q-Park UK. Nigel is chair of the Board of Directors of the British Parking Association. He is also a member of the European Parking Association’s Board of Directors, as well as co-chair of the E-payment and Data Standards working groups. He is co-founder of the annual Parking Property event.
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