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Parking: the ideal spot for technological transformation

Image credit: Dreamstime

The transport industry is developing technology to help with one of the most challenging parts of a car journey – finding somewhere to leave your vehicle when you reach your destination.

When you think of technological advancements in mobility, it’s advances like self-driving cars, electric vehicles and smart motorways that spring to mind as examples of how transport has been transformed through innovation.

Yet it doesn’t stop there: parking is also a space in which innovation is thriving. There’s far more to the parking sector than unjust tickets and a lack of spaces. The industry is taking advantage of technology that has been successful in other sectors and is adapting it to make parking better for all.

Our lives today are dominated by apps. From the moment we wake up, throughout our whole day - and quite possibly the last thing we look at before we go to bed - there’s an app for everything. Parking is no different.

Long gone are the days of scrounging around for coins and sticking a ticket to your windscreen. Today, parking apps can help with everything from locating a parking lot to providing directions to a specific spot and handling payment.

Moving with the times, parking apps now even track electric-vehicle charging points and are working towards combining parking payments and charging payments to provide one simple process. This will go a long way toward helping to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles by addressing the barriers posed by the range of different models and the availability of charging points.

Not only do apps run the world, we’re becoming even more dependent on using our voice to get what we need. From asking Alexa to play music and act as our kitchen timer, to controlling the electrics in our house, we now talk to our tech. Taking this approach out of the home and into the car, Amazon Echo Auto launched in 2020 and is making us think about other tasks with which Alexa could help.

Tapping into Alexa Skills – which enable Amazon’s voice assistant to connect with devices and software to execute tasks – parking can now be voice activated, too. Enabling parking payments in seconds through voice activation takes the payment process truly touch free. This innovation also follows a current trend in the uptake of cashless payments in the wake of coronavirus, as local authorities and parking operators look to provide safer ways to pay for parking.

There’s no denying that cars have become smarter. Soon, they will even be driving themselves while we sit back and relax. They tell us when they need to be serviced; warn us when we’re about to reverse into something; use alternative fuel types, and continue to become more luxurious through the years. They are becoming supercomputers within themselves.

One area where car manufacturers are now focusing attention is making infotainment systems within cars that replicate your phone. From music to phone calls, everything can be done from one central location. What is also now being realised is how much of a utility this can be. If the system also includes useful apps that help get you from one place to another and – surprise - help you park, then a car suddenly becomes more than just four wheels to get from one place to another.

Car manufacturers who are including a parking app as a standard part of their infotainment systems truly understand the whole mobility journey. Realising that it doesn’t necessarily stop when you reach your destination, and including the technology to ensure that drivers can safely and efficiently park, puts them one step ahead of the rest.

As is normal in the tech world, competition in this arena is fierce. Not only are car manufacturers working on solutions, but, as mentioned before, Amazon Echo Auto alongside Apple Car Play and Android Auto are also making it more accessible to do everything from one place.

While the world has been leaning into the insights that data can provide, many in the parking world have been relying on gut instinct and falling back on old habits. With all the advancement of parking apps comes a deluge of data.

Data can help to plan cities, understand traffic patterns and high-street habits. It can help local councils to meet sustainability goals by understanding the types of cars visiting the area and automatically implement tariffs on higher-polluting vehicles. It can provide insight into return on investment and help to provide predictive revenues for parking operators.

There's also the trickle-down impact on motorists, from helping to predict the availability of parking spots to creating more navigable cities and delivering a smoother transition from one form of mobility to another. 

This influx of data will continue to increase as cities become smarter, with IoT technology collecting and analysing data to understand how infrastructure is used. Parking data will play a role in this.

Cashless transactions are needed now more than ever. Being able to park through an app has provided drivers with a feeling of safety following the end of strict lockdown measures and the steady return to some form of normality. Parking apps also provide local councils with the opportunity to encourage visitors to return safely to shops and local attractions, all in a controlled and risk averse manner, giving local economies a much-needed boost. This is just the beginning. 

Parking needs to be viewed as an integral part of the mobility journey: quite literally from door to door. Integrating mapping, parking, train tickets, bus schedules, e-scooter rental and more into a seamless process is what travellers are going to look for moving forward.

Peter O’Driscoll is UK managing director of RingGo

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