The future of parking with ParkDots

Does the world need yet „another smart parking app“? Although parking is one of the most pressing problems a city has to solve, there seem to be too many apps around – just a quick look on AngelList shows 384 parking startups and the list is definitely not complete.

However, many parking startups set up their business model (if they have one) on the premise, that from the day one everybody will be using their fancy app and all the parking problems are gone. Well, that is (in 99,99% of cases) not going to happen. Cities are like huge ships that are hard to steer and not so flexible to change things from one day to another due to various procurement rules and laws, existing parking regulations, etc. Also, the landscape of the existing parking systems and payment options could be very complex, and these pieces of the puzzle are usually not ready to „talk to each other“. So, understanding the context is crucial.

Obsessed with technology

Maybe it’s the rise of IoT, or the long expected (and not yet fully delivered) NB-IoT network, that drives this obsession. „So, we have this low-power network for sensors, that last for years on a battery, are connected to the cloud, and can track the occupancy, so let’s put them everywhere and all the problems will be solved”. Many times, technology companies do not have sufficiently broad knowledge of the parking domain and their projects are usually driven by technologies they have in their portfolio, fueled by the smart city hype, not customer needs. At ParkDots, we do not start the discussion with a mayor about the sensors, or about the mobile app, but rather ask him about top 5 pain points he is facing in the parking area in his city. Because it is all about understanding the customer needs (well known cliché) and offering him the best solution. Surprisingly, in many cases, the sensors would not be even needed... They would hardly help a city running old pay and display parking machines, SMS payments, improve its enforcement efficiency and payment morale. Without upgrading the basics, setting up the proper strategy and adapting the regulations, sensors would only help people find a vacant space easily and burden the city with considerable costs.

Towards a comprehensive parking system  

As a smart parking system provider, we try to unravel this tangle and offer a step-by-step approach to build the city’s parking system. The introduction of the mobile payment for parking (using an app), followed by the integration of other existing payment options – e.g. based on the car plate number - do not require a lot of investment from the side of the city and is a true quick win. The replacement of the old payment machines and the digitization of the permit issuing is more resource intensive, but sets for a good parking system that is fully interoperable and allows to put more advanced parking policies into practice. Also, the savings generated by lower transaction costs (mobile vs. SMS payment) and by more efficient inspection allow to either invest back into building new parking facilities, or upgrade the parking system with advanced modules.

Key is bringing value to the customer and provide him with useful technology. A smart parking system needs to be flexible and able to adapt to various scenarios, there should not be a “minimal size of the project”. And it’s not only about guiding drivers to the next free parking spot, but also about efficient enforcement of limited maximal duration of parking time, recognition of unauthorized parking (e.g. at EV charging stations) or intelligent identification of residents at their reserved spots.

Parking 2.0 and beyond

We can see a global shift in the parking domain. While today the old 20th century methods of paper parking tickets or SMS prevail, the current state of development shifts towards the use of vehicle registration plate as the most universal denominator. Also, if we want to succeed in the long run, we need to prepare for the era of connected cars, where many paradigms in the area of parking will change, and the change will be disruptive.

At ParkDots, we are making sure that our platform is ready to take its stake. We are building a platform with parking services, that can be used either via our own, or even 3rd party apps. Imagine Alexa-like systems will be equipped in the connected cars of tomorrow, where you will be able to find, book or pay for a parking spot using a native voice command. Thanks to ParkDots’ modern microservice architecture, where each module communicates with each other via APIs, we are ready for the era of conversational UIs, that will bring the parking services to your fingertips. Or imagine a scenario, where you arrive at the entrance of the parking garage, automatic plate number reader recognizes you and lets you in. When you’re done with your shopping, you simply jump into your car and head for the exit. The barrier automatically opens and just like when stepping out of the Uber’s car, you get discretely notified, that your parking fee was paid automatically using your stored payment card. A completely unattended and automated parking is the future for both off-street and on-street parking.

Author: Martin Budaj ParkDots Product Manager PosAm
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