The Lure and the Limits of New Mobile Apps for Parking

The future is here in the parking world, thanks to an explosion of new parking applications for smart phones and mobile devices, says Shawn Conrad, Executive Director of the International Parking Institute (IPI), the largest association of the parking profession.
What do these mobile parking apps and parking-related cell phone technologies do?

Imagine your phone calling you to tell you your time on the parking meter is about to expire - and being able to extend time by paying remotely. Imagine tapping on your mobile device and getting a birds-eye view of available parking spots or garage locations, complete with pricing information. Or imagine landing at an airport and having your mobile device display where to go for a taxi, shuttle, train, rental car or even a helicopter ride to your destination. Can't remember where you parked? Imagine checking your phone to find your car's location, complete with navigation instructions to get to your parking spot.

You don't have to imagine any more because in cities across the United States, mobile applications or "apps" that give real-time parking information and guidance on cell phones and other mobile devices are now available.

But, Conrad says, "Content is king and the maximum benefit for drivers will occur when mobile app companies take the steps necessary to get real-time data from the parking industry."

Conrad says there are a number of companies in the parking industry that are working to ensure drivers receive accurate data and content about parking locations, pricing and payment. "The benefits of this technology are negated if a customer pulls into a parking facility only to find that the parking rate information on her mobile app is unavailable or outdated. The key is to ensure that only high quality content is distributed so customers have a positive experience."

Cities across the country are embracing these new technologies and rolling out new parking payment and management systems. Santa Cruz, California, and Lexington, Kentucky, recently launched a mobile payment option for parking at their cities' street meters and pay-by-space lots. This system uses a pay-by-phone and Smartphone app that allows customers to pay for and tailor their parking session directly from their mobile phones, from any location. Customers call a toll-free number or access the app to start and end their parking session. All parking charges are applied to the customer's secure credit card on file with the account they set up. The app allows customers to receive text message reminders when their parking session is about to end. Customers who wish to pay using coins may still do so.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) will soon roll out a program which uses parking sensors installed in 6,000 downtown parking spaces, combined with the latest in parking meter technology, to feed data to an intelligent parking management system. According to Daniel Mitchell, Senior Transportation Engineer in charge of the Meter Operations Division for LADOT, "The goal is to make parking easy to find and pay for, while reducing traffic congestion and pollution and encouraging efficient travel."

Advances in technology streamline the ability to use actual parking demand to establish parking rates that effectively encourage turnover and maintain parking availability throughout the day. The system will deliver real-time parking information directly to customers through their phones, in-vehicle navigation system and dynamic on-street signs.

"We are excited about anything that makes parking easier and more driver-friendly," explains Conrad. He says the benefits go beyond convenience and extend to sustainability: "By reducing the time customers spend searching for a parking space, fuel use and carbon emissions are lowered and air quality is improved."

According to Jason Boseck, President of Parking Data Ventures, which licenses its parking database to Internet portals, navigation devices and wireless carriers, "The marketplace for mobile parking apps is growing fast, but we're only in inning one or two in terms of what the future will hold."

The International Parking Institute is a resource for professionals in the parking and transportation industries who want to learn more about mobile parking apps. The world's largest gathering of parking professionals will occur at the 2011 International Parking Institute Conference & Expo in Pittsburgh, May 22-25, and this year will feature several sessions on intelligent parking management systems, pay-by-phone parking and new technologies.

About The International Parking Institute

Founded in 1962, the International Parking Institute is the largest trade association representing the parking industry. Members include professionals from cities, port authorities, civic centers, academic institutions, hospitals, airports, theme parks, corporate complexes, race tracks, transit and transportation agencies, convention and sports centers, architects, engineers, financial consultants, urban planners, commercial parking operators and suppliers of equipment, products and services to the parking and transportation industry.
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