Airports are full again, and airport parking garages are even fuller. Because of COVID, travelers who in the past would have taken buses or other public transit, or even TNCs, are driving themselves to the airport. As a result, airport parking garages are packed.
This may be good news for the bottom-line, but it’s not necessarily good news for travelers. It can be mind-numbingly difficult to spot an open parking space in a sea of occupied spaces. In some airports it can now take travelers 20 or 30 minutes to find an available parking space. This would be a problem for any parking facility, but it can be a particularly frustrating issue for air travelers, who are often rushing to catch a flight.
That’s why parking technologies like advanced access and revenue equipment, parking guidance, customer service solutions, and pre-booking are so important today. In the post-COVID world, when airport garages are busier than ever, these are essential technologies.
“Technology should be an integral element of every airport parking program,” said Rob McConnell, vice president at WGI Parking Solutions. “When airports can help travelers get in and out of parking facilities quickly and conveniently, they can provide a much more enjoyable and less stressful travel experience.”
A parking guidance system can be an essential tool for helping travelers find a parking spot close to their terminal quickly and conveniently. Parking guidance systems monitor and analyze parking areas to determine where in the parking garage or lot parking is available and transmit that information to strategically located signs at entrances, individual floors, and sometimes even in individual aisles. When drivers enter the parking facility, signs tell them how many spaces are available on each floor at that moment, then as they ascend to different parking floors signs tell them how many spaces are available on that floor. A good parking guidance system can reduce the amount of time it takes to find parking by as much as 20 minutes, and with the pressures of contemporary travel and airport security, those 20 minutes can make all the difference between catching a flight and missing it.
“Parking guidance is particularly useful for airport parking facilities, which tend to be large and are often close to capacity,” said Chris Scheppmann, managing partner at EnSight Technologies. “When you are rushing to catch a flight, having technology available to guide you to an open space can be incredibly helpful.”
However, most airports still haven’t taken the plunge. The primary reason has generally been cost. An accurate single space guidance system can cost hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars and require intensive infrastructure retrofits to install. The costs and associated installation times (which can require spaces to be closed and result in lost revenue during installation) has deterred many airports from adding parking guidance.
Car counting systems are also an option, but in the past, they’ve been extremely unreliable and inaccurate. The only thing worse than not providing guidance is to offer technology that’s going to provide bad guidance.
The latest parking guidance technology to be introduced, Intelligent Camera technology, bridges the gap between single space guidance and car counting. Intelligent Camera technology does in-motion car counting. The technology platform leverages AI to perform object recognition to guarantee 99% or greater accuracy, a degree of accuracy that was previously only available with single spaced guidance, at a fraction of the cost. The platform accurately monitors how many vehicles come and go into facilities and on individual floors and analyzes the data to determine how many spaces are available in the area that’s being monitored. It then transmits that data to strategically located signs at garage entrances and on individual floors.
“The cameras have machine learning, so the system is constantly improving itself and keeping up with the introduction of new types of vehicles,” said Scheppmann. “This will be important in the future, as self-driving vehicles become common and as other new vehicle technologies are introduced.”
Parking pre-booking technology permits travelers to reserve parking close to their terminals in advance, providing the certainty that a convenient parking space will be waiting when the traveler arrives at the airport. The pre-booking provider develops a program that will meet an airport’s unique needs, and then that technology is embedded right into the airport’s parking website. That way, the parking reservation program is presented as an integrated element of the airport experience, and the pre-booking process is seamless.
“We offer Chauntry’s white labeled pre-booking platform at Phoenix Sky Harbor and San Diego International airports,” said Shane Henning, general manager at parking operator Ace Parking. “Allowing travelers to reserve a parking spot in advance makes traveling a lot less stressful.”
Here’s how the process works: when travelers make their plans to fly, they log onto the airport parking website and hit the link to reserve parking. The link takes them to the reservations page, and they are prompted to select their flight details. When the system recognizes the flight, it recommends the most convenient and appropriate location to park. The travelers then select their preferred location and reserve a spot. They can even reserve multiple spots for multiple vehicles if they are traveling with a large party.
“A pre-booking platform can also support business located in the terminal, such as restaurants and bookstores,” said Theresa Hughes, CEO of Chauntry, Ltd. “It can be set up to allow these businesses to offer pre-book parkers access to specials and other deals, which can be offered via the platform, or directly to customers in texts sent to their phones. Supporting terminal tenants in this way is good business for airports.”
Pre-booking can also be a useful management tool. The utilization data provided by pre-booking platforms can help airport parking managers accurately forecast parking occupancy levels.
Access and Control Technology
Bottlenecks at garage entrances and exits can be frustrating for travelers. The access and control equipment (PARCS) that controls entry and exit gates and collects parking fees has evolved dramatically in recent years. Automating the parking experience makes parking more convenient for travelers and more manageable for airports, and PARCS technology controls the automated parking system.
“Today’s PARCS tools are complex technologies that can manage most elements of the parking experience,” said Chris McKenty, head of sales, North America for SKIDATA. “They can be set up to manage integrated suites of parking technologies offering frictionless parking, allow airports to adjust rates to occupancy levels, offer non-app mobile payments, and even manage EV charging.”
Modern PARCS systems can accept multiple payment methods, including credit and debit cards. They can also handle contactless payment technologies like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay, and can be networked with other parking technologies like pre-booking platforms to permit touchless payment.
“A PARCS system can also be used to manage parking rewards programs,” said McKenty. “
“Rewards programs are becoming increasingly popular at airports to build customer loyalty, encouraging travelers to park at the airport rather than at competing satellite lots.”
Customer Service Solutions
A customer service solution can be an important complement to automated airport parking systems. As reliable as modern PARCS equipment is, transactions don’t always go as planned. Whether problems arise because of user error or an issue with the equipment, a customer service representative can solve the problem and quickly get drivers on their way.
When a customer service solution is in place, it can provide a direct real-time connection, via video or audio link, to a trained customer servicer professional. The customer serve rep can help walk the driver through the payment process and, if necessary, lift the gate for the driver if the issue can’t be resolved. Usually, the issue is a simple user error that can easily be addressed. But sometimes, payment equipment doesn’t operate as intended. In both cases, the customer service rep can resolve the issue.
“In the post-COVID age, travelers are driving themselves to the airport more than ever,” said Brian Wolff, president and CEO of Parker Technology. “This trend puts a lot of stress on automated airport parking facilities. “A single problem at a gate can cause backups that can delay exiting or, in the worst case, cause people to miss a flight because of queuing at parking entrances. A customer service solution can mitigate these risks by allowing customer service professionals to quickly resolve problems and keep people moving.”
More Important Than Ever
Airport parking garages and lots are busier than ever. That’s why parking technologies like advanced access and revenue equipment, parking guidance, pre-booking, and customer services solutions are so important.
“These parking technologies are essential to keeping travelers moving smoothly as they arrive at the airport or leave after a long flight,” said WGI’s Rob McConnell.
Bill Smith is a writer specializing in parking, and contributing editor to Parking & Mobility magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]