”Parking is the industry that everyone hates,” says Kim Jackson, executive director of the International Parking Institute, in Fredericksburg, Va. ”But we’re the industry that no one functions if we’re not there.”
The industry is there—on the streets and in our pockets—in a big way: it employs more than 1 million people and generates about US $27.5 billion in annual revenue in the United States alone, according to Jackson. And now the industry is undergoing a revolution, applying new technology to achieve municipal and corporate objectives.
Some cities use regulations as a weapon to discourage people from parking downtown or as an incentive to use mass transportation. Others use them as a means to raise money. (Washington, D.C., has a reputation for aggressive parking enforcement, last year issuing more than 1.6 million tickets, which generated $66.1 million in revenue.) Boulder, Colo., is taking an altogether different approach, however. Boulder has been trying to improve the parking situation and reduce the number of tickets for residents and visitors alike for more than 40 years by taking what Molly Winter, director of parking services for the city, says is a holistic approach, using advanced technology and novel ideas.
”People tend to view parking negatively,” Winter says. ”What we really try to do is manage the [parking] resource, which is an integral part of the economic success of any area. To create a ”customer-friendly parking experience,” as Winter calls it, Boulder is removing its electronic parking meters and replacing them with solar-powered, wireless pay-and-display stations. Drivers now buy the right to park anywhere they can within a specific parking district for the chunk of time they purchase. Boulder thus follows other cities, including Portland, Seattle, and Manchester, N.H., that have moved away from a pay-for-space approach to a smart parking system. Drivers also have payment options—cash or credit card and soon a prepaid card. ”People, given more payment options, tend to pay for what they use, rather than the change in their pocket, and then the tickets for overtime parking go down,” Winter says.
Boulder also has the Downtown Gift Card, which can be used to pay for municipal parking as well as to go shopping, see a movie, and dine at a restaurant. Such cards are a way to make parking an integral part of the whole experience of a visit downtown.Finding a Spot at BWI Airport
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport also strives to make parking less painful. The airport installed a smart parking system for its hourly and daily garages, which combine to offer 13 200 parking spaces.
Sensors embedded in each parking space at BWI detect whether the space is occupied, with that information fed into a central parking management system.
As drivers approach BWI on their way to departing flights, they see signs showing the availability of parking at the airport’s garages. As a passenger enters a garage, signs indicate the total number of parking spaces available and the number on each level. At the levels, there are additional signs that tell the passenger how many spaces are available per row. A light over each space indicates whether it is available: green for open, red for occupied.
BWI was the first airport in the country to use smart parking technology, says Jonathan Dean, spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration. The technology came to BWI after Maryland’s transportation secretary saw it in use while on a trip to Europe.
”The smart-park system helps the airport manage the parking inventory,” Dean says. ”The technology allows the airport to obtain accurate up-to-the-minute data.”
Importantly, it helps keep the garages open to their true capacity. ”Surface lots and other parking facilities must close at 75 percent to 80 percent of capacity,” Dean says, ”because at that point they essentially become full. At BWI, we can run to virtually 100 percent capacity.”
One would expect such a system to be expensive. ”The extra costs were about $450 per space,” Dean says. ”But it really pays for itself through increased utilization and improved quality of customer experience.”
Passengers love the system, he says, since it makes going to the airport less stressful. ”It really takes the guesswork out of parking,” he says.
Other airports including Jacksonville International, in Florida, DallasFort Worth International, and Logan International, in Boston, have installed smart parking systems in some of their garages. At Logan, a nightly inventory of the parked cars is conducted—which means if you forget where you parked, someone can tell you where you left your car.