Next Photo Read More A key promise the “smart city” holds of reducing traffic congestion remains unrealized.  -  Photo via Optibus.

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A key promise the “smart city” holds of reducing traffic congestion remains unrealized.

Photo via Optibus.

Cities around the world are deploying technologies that collect, analyze, and share data to create smart energy grids, reduce pollution, improve water and air quality, make government services more accessible, and boost downtown business communities. However, another key promise the “smart city” holds of reducing traffic congestion remains unrealized. In fact, research shows the problem is getting worse, a challenge that presents a significant business opportunity for innovative parking asset owners and facility operators.

The Gig Economy’s Catch-22

The popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft has skyrocketed over the last decade, and with good reason; these companies have revolutionized mobility by enabling their users to summon cars to pick them up anytime, anywhere — with a couple taps on their smartphones, riders are prepared to enjoy a truly personalized transportation experience. However, these vehicles have also had a significant impact on congestion.

The rise in congestion from TNCs can be attributed to the additional miles spent commuting to city centers, navigating to areas of high demand, and driving while they await passengers, in addition to the traffic flow interference from stopping to pick up or drop off passengers.

Parking Operators to the Rescue

If you’re a parking facility owner or operator, you should be seeing dollar signs now. Using technology available today, can help ride-hailing company drivers get off the streets and into your garage by allowing them to pre-reserve parking and easily navigate to spaces on their Uber or Lyft mobile apps.

Drivers can then use their smartphone’s Bluetooth connection to enter your facility, pay (perhaps at a discount), and quickly leave when summoned by a customer. The entire process is automated and immediate; there is no need to pull out a debit/credit card, have cash on hand, or interact with a parking attendant.

All parties involved benefit when ride-hailing vehicles are not constantly roaming the streets. Along with relieving traffic congestion, drivers reduce the wear and tear on their cars and save money on gas, riders won’t experience delays, and parking operators grow their businesses by filling otherwise unused spaces.

First-Mile/Last-Mile Solutions

Ride-hailing services are among the pioneers of today’s mobility-first architecture, and other private sector companies have recognized the opportunity to solve the so-called first-mile/last-mile (FM/LM) challenge that has hamstrung transportation systems for decades.

If you’ve ever gotten off a bus and started walking or looking for a taxi, tram, or other mass transit option to take you to your final destination, you’re familiar with FM/LM. Most people are comfortable walking less than a quarter mile to or from public transit stops. But what if your destination is not within easy walking or biking distance? Your options become more limited — and often more expensive.

The prevalence of this FM/LM challenge has given rise to companies that provide on-demand rentals of personal vehicles like electric scooters and bicycles. Just like summoning a ride-hailing service car, users simply have to open a mobile app to pay for and unlock the vehicle, and they’re off to their final destinations. Trouble is, once they arrive, they often just leave the vehicles in front of buildings, bus stops, parks, etc., forcing pedestrians to navigate unsightly obstacle courses of scooters and bicycles.

Parking asset owners can address this issue by cordoning off areas in their lots and garages and turning them into charging and servicing hubs. The model could resemble what has worked for so long with luggage carts at airports. You pay to unlock the cart, use it to transport your bags to your car or the curb, then get some money back when you return the cart to a designated area.

In fact, why limit these areas to scooters and bikes? Parking garages can become hubs for charging electric vehicles, waystations for delivery trucks, and even landing areas for delivery drones. Whatever the vehicle and its purpose, users, and drivers — and robot pilots — would be able to find and pay for parking quickly and easily.

Embracing a Mobile-First Technology Architecture

Creating these seamless experiences requires the parking industry to get out from behind the technology curve. It’s an industry that has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies, even as their customers now use smartphones to manage virtually every aspect of their lives. People are now accustomed to using mobile apps and Bluetooth connections to communicate, pay for goods and services, navigate vehicles, summon cars, and rent electric bikes and scooters. To move forward, the parking industry needs to embrace the same mobility-first mindset that powers these innovations

A parking strategy should go beyond just controlling access and revenue; your parking technology provider should also deliver an ecosystem of future-ready mobility solutions that will evolve with technologies like private sector ride-sharing services, driverless cars, and frictionless access to better serve urban communities.

To encourage Uber or Lyft drivers, shared scooter or bicycle riders, delivery truck drivers, and drone operators to consider parking garages and lots as necessary components of their daily business operations, parking facility owners and asset operators must embrace an IT architecture powered by cloud computing platforms and services that create much faster and more satisfying customer experiences.

Cloud computing platforms enable companies to utilize data to control revenue and parking operations from virtually anywhere 24/7, including via mobile devices, to maximize occupancy, and increase profits. Collecting and using real-time intelligence facilitates the introduction of new, more efficient, and cost-effective operating processes and technologies, and that translates to a significant drop in support calls/emails and higher customer satisfaction levels.

For example, an all-too-common support call operators receive is from their monthly customers who have lost or forgotten their RFID-enabled badges. Instead of fielding those calls and scrambling to help customers stuck at the entrance, an operator can enable them to use a mobile app to gain access to the garage. The app pairs with a smartphone’s Bluetooth connection so a customer simply has to tap “Open Gate” to send a signal to the newly installed parking equipment that “tells” the gate to open. The customer doesn’t even have to roll down the window.

Additionally, migrating on-premises systems to the cloud eliminates the security and compliance risks inherent to keeping IT systems, and the sensitive customer data stored on those systems. Operators are responsible for protecting customers’ credit card numbers and other confidential information from loss or theft. Moving those IT systems to the cloud shifts shift the duties of maintaining and securing equipment, software and data to cloud services provider partners.

The parking industry can be a key partner to municipal officials who are working to turn their smart city plans into reality by solving the urban traffic and congestion issues that are becoming more prevalent. Innovative asset owners and parking operators can take a lead role in turning fragmented transportation systems and services into an end-to-end solution serving as a connected mobility hub that redefines the way people move throughout a city no matter what modes of transportation they use.

Jordan Weiss leads FlashParking’s marketing, including brand management, messaging strategy, lead generation, communications, and alliances.

This article was originally posted on Metro Magazine.