Navigating the world of mobile parking apps

Navigating the world of mobile parking apps

It’s no surprise that the parking industry has turned to technology to solve some of its most pressing issues. Mobile apps designed to make the parking process easier have popped up in great numbers in recent years. While more than half of parking apps – 53% — are for making payments at meters and parking stations, many of them are designed for locating a parked car, finding a spot, making reservations and comparing prices.

In fact, these apps have proven so popular that the International Parking Institute (IPI) has named them as the second-biggest emerging trend in the parking industry, with 44 percent of experts agreeing that device use has a tremendous impact on the way people navigate the parking experience. Consumers have certainly caught on: nearly one in five drivers paid for parking with an app in 2015; IPI’s report projected more than 13 million parking app downloads, more than 100 million transactions and more than $500 million in revenue in 2016 alone.

Parking apps are so commonplace now that it seems almost silly that they were once an unwelcome part of the municipality’s operations. When they first emerged, many cities issued cease-and-desist orders and even tried suing them, concerned that lost revenue from parking tickets would have a negative impact on the budget. Now, they are undoubtedly a permanent part of the parking management landscape, and cities are just one part of the parking garages managers, event spaces and others who have jumped onto the mobile parking app bandwagon.

There are seemingly as many parking apps as there are available parking spaces. In some ways, the sheer number of choices makes sense. Not only did many developers come out with their own solution in an effort to cash in on the growing need, but many app options are location-based, designed to serve regular everyday users in a certain locale. That means an app in Philadelphia isn’t designed to service San Diego’s unique needs. For example, Chicago Parking lists more than 300 garages along with their hours, addresses and contact information. In some cases, the local garages themselves have gotten into the business — New York City parking giant Icon Parking Systems has its own app which offers coupons, accepts reservations and allows the user to compare prices between garages.

On the other hand, the massive number of options can be confusing, or even annoying, for consumers. The surge of apps might offer a slew of options, but with little coordination between parking facility managers, customers may find themselves needing several apps to locate, reserve or pay for parking in a relatively small geographic area. Certainly, offering the app is a convenience many customers want, but if they need three different apps for three different places and spaces, these apps can go from convenience to annoyance. They take up precious space on devices and can get confusing as customers try to keep track of which app belongs to which municipal garage or metered space.

What does this mean for parking managers seeking a add a mobile solution to their suite of technologies? If you’re a parking professional considering bringing a mobile parking solution into your offerings, ask yourself a few questions before determining which app to use:

  • What is your main goal for using a parking app? Switching from cash to electronic payments can be satisfied by one solution, while locating a spot is satisfied with another solution. Identifying your main reason will help narrow down the sea of options out there.
  • Are you responsible for off-street or on-street parking? Off-street parking apps which feature valet and take reservations differ from on-street parking options, which are more focused on paying for a spot by a meter as it’s found.
  • Which apps are being used by other nearby garages? Joining the crowd may be a good thing here. Customers will be happy to see that they don’t need to download yet another app just to park.

It’s an exciting time to think about the role of mobile apps in alleviating traffic, pollution and more. The options are numerous, growing and more promising than ever, as tech leaders like Google jump into the fray with their solutions to this common daily frustration. As technology evolves and adoption becomes more commonplace, the potential mobile parking technology holds is sure to grow as well.