Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Breaking Through the 'Google' Glass Ceiling - The Future of Parking

Oh, wouldn’t it be a great tool to be able to predict what might happen in the future and what a great fool you would be to think you can actually do it. To see coming proceedings as mere extrapolations of current thoughts, information and events, then put them all together into some kind of sense, would rank you along side ancient fortune-tellers, soothsayers and wealthy card players. Neither really exists as randomness tends to catch up with you, although some always say they have the gods on their side as they walk through the casino doors. It would be great to be able to do that but to understand that technology will bring many changes is not the realm of a clairvoyant, but merely a pragmatist. To determine what the revolution will be, sometimes feels like it is within the realm of a clairvoyant as most of the recent revolutions were out of left field.

Predicting what car parking operations might look like in the future is also an exercise in futility as there are so many functions and disciplines that touch parking. All of these functions and disciplines have their own champions to push the boundaries of the accepted frontier and the discoveries of technology and methodology in all of these disciplines will radiate an enlightened knowledge for parking to bathe in. Who would have thought that the cordless vacuum cleaner, light emitting diodes and infrared ear thermometers would have come from the space program? The future of parking can be anything, but having said that it does appear to be in the field of technology that the changes are coming at an ever increasing rate.

Being at the end of this book, it is appropriate to look into a crystal ball and see what might be on the horizon. What are the harbingers of things to come? There tends to be two different types of future products or themes to keep an eye on, work place trends and global trends that touch parking.

Workplace trends that will affect the parking industry are related to what our customers will be doing in the future. The rise of the female worker, longer working lives (but from home), the appearance of increased processing power in mobile phones, global climate change pressures, increasing frequencies of economic crises of various sorts, rise and resistance to social media (what’s the next big thing?), working from home, increased PT use, self driven cars and cloud computing, are all themes occurring now and affect the parking industry directly. Expectations change as the latest widget that gets sold via the internet television at home, is expected to start to pervade the parking industry, by demand of the customer immediately. I have confidence that we, as an industry, will keep up with customer demands to be engaged in different ways because if you don’t, someone else will.

Global trends will always overtake an industry, if it is not exposed to better, faster ways of doing things. Some new ideas appear like a tidal wave rather than an image of a cowboy slowly moseying his way into the foreground from the horizon. Global trends when accepted and embraced by an industry tend to permeate the suppliers and operators of an industry as they embrace the changes to enhance their own service or product offerings. If they don’t embrace it, the technology will replace the industry.

The explosion in communications equipment and its increased processing power has been phenomenal. Quad-core mobile phones are now the norm, a similar amount of computing power to what NASA used to land Apollo 13 on the moon! You can get an App for almost anything now. It almost appears that app-creators have run out of stuff to invent in cool businesses and have started to look around at a business like parking. Not that parking is not cool, it has just always been the poor cousin.

Self driven cars are here. The results of having these machines about require deep reflection by the parking industry. Get alongside these developments or get left behind will be the call. I still have some confidence that the mum and dad user will still require a space to park their oil powered old clunker. The gradual pervasion of the electric and hybrid car, into the national vehicle fleet, will speed up to a fast jog, before moving at a bolt-like pace in the years to come. Its how soon that will occur that should occupy minds more immediately. A change over must occur as climate change pressures mount. I know my mum will be driving her old car for many more years yet. There will still be millions of these cars around for some time. I would be more worried if I was a taxi driver than a car park operator as companies can afford to replace fleets of taxis with self driven cars before fleets of mums and dads, replace theirs.

I tend to think that the self driven car will create more traffic and congestion than we need. As the driver decides that the inner city parking fees are too expensive, they prefer to pay the price of extra fuel and send the cars home again or to a lot at the fringes of the city. This will have the affect of doubling the trips made each day and creating congestion on the way out of the city as well into the city.

Another looming battle will be the conflict between car haters and the pragmatists. The pragmatists will slowly move into their eco-cars but the car haters will still enjoy thrashing any person who owns an oil driven vehicle or an electric vehicle alike. Green cars and green parking garages will not satiate these people. This would not normally be an issue for most, but the fact that most of these people are in positions in the City or Councils and in national bodies will create a real issue between the normal traveller and the various Government bodies. I have seen the goodwill gestures of the public attending the public meetings after the earthquakes in Christchurch, proffer up suggestions on how they would like to see their city in 25 years time and the haters then turn that into such a change that the original submitters may very well say, “that’s not what I asked for!”. These issues are coming around the world.

Micromanagement of parking is here now. With the advent of the ‘cloud’ and the increased database and processing power that it provides, means that we can now search for information and calculate results on a giant computer stuck somewhere in a air-condition warehouse in the middle of a desert, and have the results piped to our mobile phones or tablets in milliseconds. It means we are able to run calculations on occupancies and prices almost instantaneously. Zone parking is the modern way of dividing up and managing the city’s parking resources. A zone is created around a major parking ‘load creator’ whatever it might be, university, airport or retail precinct, and the occupancies are responded to by a locally derived price. With modern parking technology, the zones can be any size or shape drafted onto a GIS platform for visual interpretation. City and private operations managers can now offer greater ROI by pushing occupancies to a much more intense level. 85% occupancy might already be a thing of the past, as we aim for higher levels. Micromanagement of parking is here but we have to wait for city officials to catch up.

Another example of technology making headway into parking and a battle I am looking forward to is the NFC versus Pay by Widget battle. I am already hearing people saying they are coming down on one side or another, or even skipping one technology altogether to wait for the other to triumph. I suspect there will be a shake out in the industry but there will be room for both. It won’t be solved next year but it will be bare-knuckled fight to watch. I suspect that with the computing power of the phone and its links to the cloud, they phone will win but don’t underestimate the power of the parking equipment makers. Parking equipment makers will always want NFC as it is an add-on to their equipment, but Pay by widget can be had by the customer simply owning a phone. We currently have 7 billion people on this planet and 6 billion phones. The big budgets of the equipment makers will offer up a tantalising message but in the end, the mobile phone will win as it connects to more people.

Outside of the Pay by Phone versus NFC debate is a new intruder. I’ve watched the arrival of products such as Google Glass over the last few months and wondered how this will change what we do in parking. I have not used it but have seen it on the many Youtube videos and they like. Can Glass enable parking users? Will third-party apps be there to help do so? Will the equipment companies latch on to this technology to drive the next revolution in parking?

There is a lot of interest in Glass use by many professions that require a ‘hands free’ approach to what they are doing, but the biggest group of interested parties will be drivers. Surgeons, CEO’s, and mechanics will have access to hands-free and real-time critical information. Some of the changes we will notice may be,

• Google at your eye tips – to answer any query while you are awake.

• Instant photos – never be without your camera or be too slow to get the shot you area after again.

• Mobile calls while driving – In many countries, its illegal to drive and talk on the phone, although that doesn’t seem to stop some people.

• Google maps in an instant – never get lost again.

• Google translator for travel – Read the food labels in French or Chinese with Glass on.

• Live traffic and news feeds – figure out a way around the jam you’re in by seeking alternatives routes and see why the traffic is stopped by the live news feed.

• Google calendar – make your appointment on the run. Forget the written diary from now on.

• Contact lens makers may become redundant – You will wear glasses, so no more contacts.

• iPhones may become a thing of the past – You just don’t need them anymore.

• They will look as good as Versace … eventually

• Parking - Find your car park by the use of one of the many parking apps or link directly to the parking equipment to open the barrier gate and even pay for your parking by accessing your bank account through your Glass.

The largest unanswered question is whether apps, called Glassware, will be there to boost Glass adoption. I believe that as soon as the price starts to come down, early adopters will drive a trickle of app creation and then the pay by phone techs and others will transfer to Glass apps.

Glass will revolutionise parking technology again, in a similar way that pay by phone and self driven cars are about to.

The entry into the market of technology giants has been a major move in the last couple of years. 3M, Xerox, Morgan Stanley and Google in the future are huge names in technology and finance and are related to other, more glamorous industries. They are infiltrating the parking business and bringing with them an intelligence that can cross-pollinate into this industry that is already not fallow of good ideas, but limited in the ability to apply them and limited by a lack of vision to buy the good ideas. These guys bring size, power and brands with them. Most of these companies have strayed into parking via transport and traffic but they are now here. A side affect of this entry into the market by global giants is the assortment of ivy leaguers they bring with them.

With all of these options, there are three major challenges for all parties in parking. Firstly, the one challenge for the parking practitioner is to push the boundaries of and embrace new technology to create a solution for the customer that extends knowledge and more intensely improves parking utilization. The result being increased ROI.

A huge challenge for the parking practitioner is to get the parking methodology right, to suit the designed parking plan. Then the parking technology decisions, made after the methodologies are chosen, area an easy choice made from the point of finding equipment and technology that will suit your plan’s goals. The result is increased ROI, although this wont be from parking but from the customers activity that parking supports.

A final challenge is one for parking customers, and that is to rely on the practitioners to get the choices right, to keep up to date with changes. Not easy since most people think parking is simple, easy and still adequate with single-head meters.

Parking is now sexy. Then again, I always thought it was.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How do you deal with too much parking?

It's a conundrum facing many Cities.  How do you get 85% occupancy when
there are less than 60% of all spaces actually being used?

This is a question I ask here in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The context
is that after the earthquakes, there are now a large number of vacant
sites, awaiting developments, that are being used as car parks.  There
are 1,500 cars parking in 2,700 private off-street sites (all open-air
lots) in the CBD as no buildings are open yet.  So how do you control
parking to 85% when there aren't enough vehicles to get past 56%?

 The answer is to break the city into zones and manage the occupancies in
the zone separately, then set a wider 'working' occupancy goal of about
60% to 85%.  Don't use too narrow a 'band' around the 85% target, as
it's almost impossible to achieve at this stage where there is a lot of
vacancy.  Zone management then gives you the ability to relocate
vehicles around the city by pricing to affect the local activity level
in that local zone, for the purpose of maximising the utilisation of the
parking resource.  You may be able to offer higher prices where there is
a PT choice (by removing supply), higher prices where there is over-use
such as on the western edge of the Christchurch CBD today.  You can also
start to remove spaces for the purposes of better landscaping or other
mode changes.
Gap Filler Project - Christchurch


 We also know that we need to create and administer an operational system
that will be flexible enough, over time, to deal with the current
situation where there is too much supply; then change to a system where
the developments have occurred and we have a under-supply.

The final step if you like, is where the city is fully back to normal
and congestion is occurring and mode shift needs a bit of a boost, as
most cities require a mode shift in their transport plans these days.
To get the required mode shift, we may need to put in the plans that a
desire that public car parks are all managed to a guide of 85% but also
private car park resources (don't know how to enforce it yet) are also
managed to 85%.  That will see a large reduction in extra car parks, the
combining of car parks by neighbours and the use of car parks for other

That's the theory anyway.
Kevin Warwood

Friday, July 5, 2013