No Parking, No IT


by Samuel Greengard

Did you ever think about how incredibly inefficient it is to procure parking places and how much time and gasoline we waste doing so?

We're stuck with a chaotic mess because the operators of parking decks and pay lots have near zero incentive to put technology to use. In some cases, particularly with parking meters, city officials know that people constantly overpay in order to avoid costly parking tickets.

It doesn't have to be this way. Visit Portland International Airport's short-term parking garage and you will see electronic message boards that display information about open spaces. Then, as you cruise down the row, you will see a green light over an open space (and a red light above an occupied spaces). It's fast, it's easy and the system works flawlessly. I've never witnessed a single traffic jam at the PDX lot.

Why is this type of system not used at other busy facilities? An airport is motivated to get people in and parked quickly. Those who operate a federal building or a giant downtown structure in the middle of L.A. or Chicago have no incentive to make things convenient. Usually, you have no choice but to use their facility.

Paying for street parking is another pain in the wallet. Although many cities have moved beyond coin meters and now allow you to swipe a credit card, these systems are still inconvenient. You have to find the payment box, run your card and then go back to your car and tape the receipt to the car window.

An Atlanta company called Parkmobile may have the answer. The service, which now operates in more than 100 U.S. cities, uses a smartphone app to let you pay for parking through your phone. Once you register your license plate number and credit card, you pay a 35 cent premium per transaction but also receive a notification when your time is running out. At that point you can add more money. Another cool feature: at the end of the month, you receive an itemized list of parking expenses.

At some point, parking technology will deliver us to the promised space.