By: Tim Flanagan, managing director, Sentry

We have all experienced the frustration of sitting in line, waiting for what seems like an eternity to pay and exit a parking facility. No one likes to wait in line, but having to wait in order to hand over money can be particularly exasperating.

Exit queues are just as aggravating for parking owners and operators. Obviously, long exit lines can have serious customer service implications (and business ramifications), but they also point to administrative problems that should be addressed. They are an indication that the parking facility’s systems aren't getting the job done. Fortunately, for many parking facilities, the solution can be found by combining a variety of parking technologies to create “Frictionless Parking.”

Frictionless Parking

What's that? It's a technology-driven approach to managing a parking facility that eliminates the tickets, credit card readers, and cash payment machines that can be so frustrating to parkers, parking owners, and operators alike.

Through frictionless parking, drivers can conveniently enter garages without stopping to take a ticket; are directed to available parking by guidance systems; and are automatically charged through one of a number of payment methods. When it's time to leave, the driver merely returns to his or her vehicle and exits the facility. There are no delays at pay-on-foot kiosks or exit booths.

The foundation of any frictionless parking system is access and revenue equipment. We tend to take PARCS equipment for granted, because it has been a near-ubiquitous element of parking management for so long. But as with other types of parking technology, PARCS technology has experienced extraordinary advancements in recent years, offering useful new features and connectivity to a wide range of other types of technology, including mobile payment tools, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), license plate recognition (LPR) tools, and barcode readers, and RFID technology. As a result, contemporary PARCS equipment can now manage frictionless parking in any parking setting.

Typically, when a driver enters a facility offering frictionless parking, his or her credentials are recognized by the system and associated with a payment account. This can happen in a number of ways. In some parking facilities, LPR equipment records the driver’s information and associates the vehicle with his or her credential. In others, RFID technology recognizes visitors’ parking lease tags, employee badges, driver’s licenses or other identification cards, or even hotel room keys, admitting authorized drivers to parking facilities or specially designated areas within a parking facility.

BLE systems, on the other hand, recognize Bluetooth signals from cellphones and other Bluetooth-enabled devices to identify parkers. Facilities also can utilize a combination of these technologies to improve the effectiveness of frictionless parking services. When the driver is ready to leave the facility, the system recognizes the driver and charges his or her card (or recognizes if the driver has already paid). When payment is satisfied, the gate opens and the parker is able to exit the facility.

Management Benefits

The customer service benefits of frictionless parking are obvious. When drivers can quickly and conveniently enter and exit facilities with a minimum of effort on their part, the parking experience is more pleasant. But these same advantages present important management benefits as well. The most obvious is the competitive advantage owners enjoy when their facilities are more customer-friendly than other local garages. But the benefits go far beyond that. By recording which spaces are most popular, and when certain spaces tend to be used, these data offer owners and operators a more complete picture of how parkers use their facilities.

As with many of the new technologies that have flooded the parking industry in recent years, the technological tools that make frictionless parking possible also enhance parking management. The same systems that oversee entry and exiting from a facility also record user data and information about parking habits. These data can be used to better serve parkers by developing programs and pricing programs that address the unique needs of individual user groups. This information also provides potentially powerful marketing opportunities, allowing owners to offer highly targeted loyalty and rewards programs, validation deals, and even discount offers from local stores. Automating parking facilities with frictionless parking systems also present important staffing advantages. Automated facilities don't require collection staff, which reduces the costs associated with employee salaries, benefits and worker's compensation. Automation also eliminates the risk of theft by employees, which has traditionally plagued parking owners and operators. It's a necessary element for parking to be frictionless, sensor-based systems promote the most important goals of frictionless parking. For instance, parking guidance systems dramatically enhance customer satisfaction by informing drivers how many spaces are available on each floor and guiding them directly to them. From a customer-service perspective, the point of frictionless parking is to make the experience easier and less frustrating and time-consuming.

Parking guidance can be an important element in achieving these goals and creating a much more customer-friendly parking experience. Likewise, the parking management advantages offered by parking guidance sensors complement those offered by frictionless parking equipment. Most notably, they record data about parking resource utilization throughout a facility. By recording which spaces are most popular, and when certain spaces tend to be used, these data offer owners and operators a more complete picture of how parkers use their facilities, which can then be used to make better operational decisions. Combined with the data collection capabilities of PARCS, vehicle and parker recognition equipment, and other elements of frictionless parking, these technologies provide unprecedented access to vital user data.

The Future of Parking

Frictionless parking represents the future of parking. The various technologies that make up Frictionless Parking—PARCS, vehicle and driver recognition, automatic payment—offer a new level of customer service that already appeals to drivers, and which drivers will soon come to expect ... and demand. And while it's good for drivers, it's just as beneficial to parking owners and operators. The many marketing and management advantages it offers make frictionless parking an investment that will more than pay for itself. Co-Owner Tim Flanagan also is Co-Managing Director of Sentry Control Systems, part of the Skidata Group.

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