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Modern Parking Says Goodbye Kiosks, Hello Real-Time Apps

Haverford Township in Pennsylvania transitioned its downtown public parking from digital kiosks to the ParkMobile system, which removes clunky hardware from streets and replaces the parking experience with an app.

A parking pay station outside of Portland City Hall marked with a Parking Kitty zone decal.
A parking pay station outside of Portland City Hall marked with a Parking Kitty zone decal.
Modern parking technology is offering drivers real-time data on available spaces and pricing — and even the ability to reserve a space.

The developments are putting to bed the relentless block-circling by drivers searching for an empty street space, as well as those large, clunky digital kiosks, which emerged about 20 years ago as the modern replacement for parking meters.

“Technology is absolutely evolving,” said David Hoyt, chief revenue officer and managing director for North America at ParkMobile, a parking management and payments technology company. “I think there is a space for kiosks. I think what you’re seeing is that space shrinks a little bit as technology continues to evolve and provide just so much better of a consumer experience.”

ParkMobile recently launched a new digital parking payments and management system for Haverford Township, Pa., a downtown with about 420 on-street and off-street spaces. For years, the city used standard parking meters as the mechanism to collect payments and help manage enforcement. In 2019, the city transitioned its public parking management to a kiosks and mobile app system, which was not always reliable.

“They just struggled,” said Hoyt. “There was consumer outcry to look for another solution.”

Haverford Township officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The ParkMobile system is an entirely digital parking system, eliminating the need for hardware devices like the kiosks. Drivers instead use an app, which gives them real-time information about availability as well as a payment platform.

Traditionally, the parking process has been burdened by obstacles — finding a space, fishing around for coins to pay for it — “and we’re trying to take that friction out of the process,” said Hoyt.

With the app, drivers can see parking availability in real time in the area they’re headed to. In some cases they can even reserve a space in advance.

“How do you make cities more livable? Well, you give the consumers some options before they even start their journey,” said Hoyt.

ParkMobile features another service known as parking data as a service, which involves digitally mapping the curb space, offering insights into curb assets and availability, allowing the city to make real-time decisions.

The data can give added insight into how robustly the parking is used and how it is used, giving planners more insight into where to place loading zones and other curb uses.

“Our clients can make actionable decisions on what they want to do — or what they should do — instead of really using hunches to make policy when it comes to parking,” said Hoyt.

These are the kinds of technology solutions cities will need as they struggle to meet goals to calm traffic congestion and reduce vehicle miles and greenhouse gases.

“Moving forward, when we start talking about managing all this traffic flow into our downtown urban core and the things that we need to do ... technology is going to play a big piece of that,” said Maria Irshad, who oversees on-street parking for ParkHouston, speaking on a panel at the CoMotion Miami conference in May.

Alejandra Argudin, CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, admitted she has been know to circle the block in search of parking.

“I’m the first one that circles around the same block 50 times just to try to park in front of where I’m going,” said Argudin, speaking on the panel.

“It’s hot here. It’s rainy, sometimes. And it becomes very difficult for people to wrap their arms around taking mass transit, taking Metrorail,” she added, scoffing at the idea of riding a bike in a dress and then climbing onto public transit. “Yeah, that’s not happening. I’m not doing that."

To really push the idea of zero-emission transportation, “we need to change the way we think,” said Argudin.

Officials have found that parking compliance increases when the parking system makes it easier to pay, leading to increased parking revenue and reduced citations.

“So it’s great for the constituents and the city. You’re not giving as many tickets because you have more ways to pay for your parking,” said Hoyt.

“We’re that tool, so that consumers don’t get the ticket,” he added. “How do we do that? We just make it easier for the consumer to purchase instead of hunting for a pay station … or worrying about the fact that I don’t have coins to [pay] to park in a single-space meter.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.