How many parking engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

A Perspective on the Parking Technology Ecosystem at the IPMI Conference 

When I was young, I loved using the “light bulb” joke as a way to poke fun at whatever target profession my friends and I chose to swap in. For example: How many bureaucrats does it take to change a light bulb? Two – one to assure that everything possible is being done while the other one screws the bulb into the water fountain.

Rest assured that I’m not here to poke fun at the parking industry – in fact quite the opposite. On June 11, I attended a parking conference hosted by the International Parking & Mobility Institute (IPMI) in Anaheim, California. After spending just one day at the show, I walked away with a greater appreciation of the vast ecosystem of technologies and providers that are all coming together to make it easier for you and me to park our cars.

IPMI exhibition floor

It made perfect sense for me to attend this show since I manage the commercial relationships with the content provider ecosystem that drives the CloudCar intelligent infotainment platform. While I went to meet with parking app providers like Arrive, ParkMobile, PayByPhone and SpotHero, I also found it helpful to get a more holistic view of where they get their data from.

As drivers, all we care about is finding a space to park our car. After all, it’s just a space, right? Well, the parking industry sees it differently, and classifies that space based on how we access it and whether or not it costs money to do so. It matters because the technologies required to support each use model vary considerably. It also influences how you might interact with the parking app to get to it, and even which app you use. My visit to this show was a great opportunity to learn how these differences play out.

Street Smarts

On-street parking (Photo credit: The News, A SaltWire Network Publication)

On-street parking occurs, well, on-street – right against the curb. In a typical neighborhood, on-street parking is generally not an issue, unless of course you live next door to a car enthusiast or a family with teenagers. However, curb space is always at a premium in cities where it is further subdivided based on allowed use, such as for handicapped, loading and fire zones, etc. Keeping track of it all is a daunting task for cities who want to efficiently manage their parking utilization and traffic flow. Companies like Coord and CurbTrac showed tools that help city planners build digital maps of their curbside inventory and models for optimizing its use.

Methods for accepting and enforcing payment for on-street parking are equally important. Historically, cities employed a fleet of “meter-readers” in scooters looking for expired meters or crudely tracked time limits with chalk marks. These are all giving way to automated and efficient methods of enforcement.

Parking meters, for one, are becoming more sophisticated. CivicSmart and MacKay Meters showcased models that connect wirelessly to the cloud and offer options for flexible payments and even enforcement. Cloud-connected meters open the door to city-wide tracking and management and offer the ability to pay remotely through phone apps such as those from ParkMobile and PayByPhone.

Canada-based HonkMobile showed an alternative solution for cities, universities, airports, etc., who struggle to justify the expense to upgrade their aging meter infrastructure. With HonkTap, they can post inexpensive stickers or signs on existing meters or nearby walls. Drivers tap their phone against the sign or scan a QR code to initiate a parking session and then pay for it using familiar mobile methods – all without the need for a meter or having to download a specialized app. Mobile phones provide the cloud-based connectivity infrastructure to track and manage all such enabled spaces. Those without smart phones can still pay at a kiosk. It’s an intriguing, almost disruptive concept.

Off the Beaten Path

Off-street parking (Photo credit: Regional Energy & Environment)

Off-street parking, on the other hand, encompasses parking lots and garages used for both short- and long-term parking. Regulating usage of these facilities requires specialized equipment known as Parking Access Revenue Control Systems, or PARCS for short. As with on-street parking, these once isolated islands of mechanical functionality are now data-driven, intelligent and cloud-connected. The ecosystem that supplies this equipment was well represented at the show.

Companies like FlashParking, IP Parking and Orbility manufacture parking gates, payment kiosks and ticket machines. RED LPR and Uncanny Vision Solutions, among others, offer License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology that automatically registers vehicles as they enter and exit to help manage access, billing and enforcement. Parking Sense and Frogparking showed parking guidance systems – those signs that tell you how many spaces are available on each parking level and then help you find one using a system of lighted stall indicators. All these systems offer APIs for aggregating data for remote management.

Many PARCS equipment manufacturers offer mobile apps that can be customized and white labeled for the specific park facility owner. These owners often sign exclusive agreements with the parking system provider. Fortunately, many of these parking technology companies are also making their data accessible to parking data aggregators like SpotHero and Arrive to help reduce the proliferation of apps needed to park in a specific geographic region. While that’s getting better, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

That Perfect Spot

It’s a dizzying array of companies and technologies that come into play when we park our cars today. And we haven’t even touched on parking reservations, payment providers, or the separate and equally complex ecosystem that supports charging of electric vehicles while they are parked.

At CloudCar, we research the market to access and deliver a solution for automotive OEMs through our cloud-based, in-vehicle infotainment platform to help drivers locate and pay for parking and charging as part of an overall driving experience. Our voice-first capability minimizes distraction, and our machine learning technology discovers a driver’s preferences and behaviors to provide intelligent, personalized and context-aware recommendations.

So, if you are still worried about how many parking engineers it takes to change a light bulb, don’t. We’re here to do that for you. To learn more about CloudCar’s solution, visit cloudcar.com.