International Parking & Mobility Institute

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Parking & Mobility | November 2021

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Smoothing the Parking Journey

Planning for a Parking Equipment Overhaul

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Setting the Stage

Parking equipment is the interface connecting the owner/operator with the customer. A customer’s experience with technology can make or break their experience. Physical and digital solutions continue to evolve to enhance efficiency, customer options, satisfaction, and the precision with which systems can be operated and managed. New equipment options on the market allow for diversified and increased revenue streams (think event and pre-paid parking reservations) and a greater ability to fine-tune parking options and offerings.

What are the considerations related to overhauling on-street and off-street parking systems? The term “parking equipment” covers many potential products and services. For this article, we refer to physical and digital equipment and technology to handle payment collection, credentialing/permitting, enforcement, and reporting in the on-street and off-street parking environments. While we focus on the municipal parking environment, the same concepts and principles can be applied in the university, airport, or commercial parking environment.

Upgrading your on-street or off-street parking equipment represents one of the most significant investments your parking operation will make. It can significantly enhance the customer experience, improve system use efficiency, and streamline operations if done well. These can all lead to increased customer satisfaction, enhanced system profitability on a per-space basis, and an improved operational experience with staff being able to focus on system improvement and enhancement opportunities rather than “putting out fires” and dealing with pressing daily issues brought on by customer complaints or equipment concerns.

Why Upgrade?

Functioning equipment is central to a positive customer experience and efficient, fine-tuned operations and management. Customer frustrations often stem from difficulties (sometimes user-inflicted) using physical payment systems. Parking owners and operators need reliable equipment that behaves consistently and accurately and provides rich data analytics for performance management and reporting.

Reasons for overhauling parking equipment vary; a primary reason is equipment age. Much of the on-street and off-street parking equipment deployed these days are still legacy systems – functionally obsolete, limited in capabilities for customers and the owner regarding payment methods and reporting, often past warranty and unsupported by vendors, and past system useful life. Perhaps problems with validations have been a common complaint in your operation; maybe the backend management access for your operation is clunky, and you are not getting the reporting you need for system management and administration.

Maybe the motivation for upgrading your equipment centers around a desire to change how the system operates to achieve broader system objectives: a move from a gated to a gateless garage to enhance throughput, reduce congestion, and promote a “frictionless” customer experience. In the on-street parking environment, perhaps you are moving toward a more “asset light” metered parking system that emphasizes mobile payment and multi-space meters over an old single-space meter system.

The first step in your parking equipment upgrade journey is to evaluate your current operation.

  • How do users interact with the system?
  • What is working, and where are the pain points?
  • Are there specific use cases or situations that seem to keep cropping up as issues?
  • Is staff time and energy well-appropriated to system management and maintenance, or are staff having to spend an inordinate proportion of their time on certain operations tasks?
  • Is the system efficient and profitable on a per-
    space basis?

These questions help unearth areas of focus. Direct engagement with system customers, businesses, and operations staff is critical. If one is employed, involve your parking operator. Evaluation helps you identify needs, issues, and opportunities, determine what you are solving for, and set you up for successful procurement of upgraded equipment.

After you conduct a system evaluation, key factors begin to emerge. Whatever the reason for the upgrade, careful planning and execution are warranted.

Planning and Execution

It’s time to develop a plan for the equipment upgrade. This does not need to be too complicated, elaborate, or specific. The basic concept is to document what you want and how it should function to address the needs, issues, and opportunities uncovered in the system and operations evaluation phase described above. The best way to do this is to develop a “theory of operation” that outlines parking system users, their specific needs and use cases, and how they will be accommodated – gated/ungated, pre-paid, event parking, permit parkers, validations, hotel parkers, contract parkers, hourly parkers, etc.

Furthermore, the theory of operation outlines specific desired functionality (mobile-friendly, streamlined enforcement, prox/access card integration with the hotel or other build systems, customized reporting, etc.). This document begins to help you develop your “needs” and “wants” list and is the launching point for developing detailed specifications and, if necessary, a Request for Proposals for procurement.

An important consideration when developing specifications and a Request for Proposals is who will operate the upgraded technology and how it will be operated. Some owners wish to maintain operational control through a traditional third-party parking operator. Others may want to procure a technology vendor that can also provide operations functions. This must be resolved in the planning period before finalizing the specifications and Requests for Proposals.

Other important considerations, particularly for public entities, include ensuring appropriate funding for procurement, gaining internal political and staff support, and aligning procurement schedules with operational needs and funding cycles. These items may require public entities to re-engage critical stakeholders from your evaluation phase and update your Council, Board, or Commission on identified issues and planned changes. This is particularly important if you contemplate modifying your overall approach to parking operations with items such as the introduction of mobile pay-only or virtual permitting, transitioning from pay-by-space to pay-by-plate on-street parking, or moving from gated to gateless off-street parking.

Once the theory of operation has been clearly defined, the schedule is aligned, and all necessary financial, staff, and other resources are secure, it’s time to begin developing equipment specifications and a Request for Proposals (if required). Care should be taken to create equipment specifications according to your stated theory of operation, operational needs, and constraints to ensure the desired functionality, data security, and system integrity. Equipment procurement processes are multi-faceted, and your agency’s procurement requirements will dictate different elements of the procurement process, including evaluation criteria, vendor requirements, and the front-end forms included in the proposal request.

Typical public procurement processes may include a pre-bid meeting, written question-and-answer period, shortlisting of vendors, interviews, and selection and contract negotiation with the preferred vendor(s). Owners should ensure they have clearly defined, justifiable, and transparent evaluation criteria and that an evaluation committee is on point to help with specification development and vendor selection. This includes parking, facilities, information technology, and other staff to coordinate operations-related issues, data and power resources, and operational questions.

Important considerations for vendor selection include system functionality, ongoing maintenance, warranty, support, upfront capital, and ongoing costs such as software integrations and ongoing support. Owners should pay close attention to how a system looks, feels, and functions for customers, how well it accommodates different users and use cases being contemplated, and how well the system tracks and communicates data and key performance indicators to the parking owner/operator for ongoing system performance management.

The owner may wish to conduct vendor interviews to vet candidates. Vendor references from similar cities and operations should be requested and followed up with to learn how deployments have gone in other communities. Talk to and question parking operators using the equipment you are considering. Visit sites where equipment has been deployed, and ask operators honest questions about how things have gone, how the system functions for customer needs, how vendors have dealt with maintenance and support, and how vendors have accommodated requests that have come up.

Once the contract is executed with the selected vendor(s), the process moves into the preparation, staging, construction, and, eventually, system acceptance phases. Owners should be well-represented throughout these phases to ensure that the system is designed and installed to specification and passes the system acceptance testing protocol. Acceptance testing ensures the system can correctly handle all myriad use cases before going live to the public.

A critical process that needs to be conducted in parallel to equipment procurement is a process of stakeholder and communications. Stakeholders and the public should be informed of the scope and schedule of all parking equipment changes well before any go-live date. This is especially true of existing permit or contract parkers, who likely will need to be migrated to a new credentialing system before the new system goes live. System communications should explain the upgrade’s what, when, where, and why, including the benefits, and provide customers with information about how the system will work. Communications should include on-site signage and wayfinding upgrades. Operations staff should be informed of the plan on how to deploy new technology, deal with immediate issues, and engage with customers.

Ongoing Performance Management and Adjustments

Once the equipment is upgraded and goes live, you may wish to implement an enforcement grace period while customers learn new technology. Staff should be made available to help customers through this first phase. One of the most powerful functions of upgraded parking equipment is the rich data it can afford to help conduct data-driven parking management. Over time, you will begin to recognize and understand trends, allowing your operation to adjust rates, calibrate oversell, or perhaps modify your enforcement or operations approach in some way. Whatever happens, don’t be afraid to change course if necessary, and leverage ample communications early and often. ◆

February 3rd, 2022, through February 2nd, 20232
EV-1 EV-2 EV-3 EV-4 Total Description
Odometer Sum (mi) 14,701 3,854 14,608 12,954 46,117 Sum of odometer
Charging Port Energy (kWh) 40,886 14,547 40,009 39,834 135,276 Charging energy measured at the Combined Charging System (Combined Charging System) port
Net Charging Energy (kWh) 34,832 11,627 34,482 32,726 113,667 Charging energy measured at the batteries
Cumulative Energy Consumption (kWh/mi) 2.37 3.01 2.37 2.53 2.47 Cumulative energy consumption rate when not plugged into a CCS port
Cumulative MPGe 15.7 12.4 15.8 14.8 15.1 Cumulative B20 diesel equivalent fuel economy when not plugged into a CCS port based on 37.037 kWh per diesel gallon

*EV2 was out of service for repairs due to an accident in February 2022

Mobility Consultant | 

Kevin White,AICP, CAPP, is Parking and Mobility Consultant with Walker Consultants, and Co-Chair of the IPMI Planning, Design, and Construction Committee.

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