The Future of Parking in a Connected World

The Future of Parking in a Connected World

Rob B.2nd March 2020

PICTURE THE SCENE: You’re about to board a plane, while standing in the middle of a long line of fellow passengers. The queue is moving at a snail’s pace, as every fifth passenger struggles to scan their boarding pass. In this world, there are no cheerful airline staff to greet you at the gate or to help you scan the bar code or your pass. Just turnstiles - and a red ‘help’ button to press each time a customer has a problem verifying their credentials. There is a human at the other end of the button, but he’s in another part of the country and only has a grainy video feed to work with. The elderly lady in front of you can’t get her phone correctly positioned under the scanner and is getting flustered. ‘Simon’ in the remote call centre is doing his best to provide instructions, but can sense the lady’s frustration. In adherence with the airline’s "15 second rule", he opens the turnstile remotely and the queue shuffles once more. Inside the plane, it’s a free-for-all. Many of the seats are dirty, but you can sit wherever you want. Not a flight attendant in sight, and an argument breaks out between two passengers over a window seat. The plane is already twenty minutes late taking off and the tension inside the cabin is palpable. On arrival, it’s the same unpleasant customer experience: No “Thank you for flying with us, Sir. We’ll see you next time” from the smiling duo of First Officer and Captain, as you leave the plane. Just a line of frowning passengers, as they’re forced once more to scan their boarding passes to get through the turnstile at the other end of the air bridge. At least five travellers have left their boarding passes on the plane. The red button is pressed, and the 15-second rule is applied. Again, and again. 


Not even the lowest-cost airline in the world would survive in the 21st Century if it offered the customer experience described above. So why do drivers tolerate an almost identical customer experience from just about every commercial car park in the world? Many car parks still require tickets. Most have cumbersome access barriers. Most are devoid of humans (and certainly humans with data on drivers and vehicles). Most are dirty, expensive, low-tech, high-friction environments that don’t deserve to serve as a place to leave your second most expensive asset for a few hours. But if the car parks we begrudgingly park in today are not the car parks of tomorrow, what are?


Human Experiences Matter

The American storyteller, poet and activist Maya Angelou reminded us that people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you think, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel. Last time I entered a car park, I felt sick. No humans. Just a cold barrier. Litter and graffiti everywhere. The stench of urine accelerating my steps through the dark basement - into the tired elevator - up to the sparkling retail mall three stories above. When I think about parking in any commercial car park, I think negative thoughts. When the queue of frustrated drivers at the gate starts honking horns, I scream inside me. When I come back to my car to find a scratch on the rear wing, my stomach writhes within me. The way you make me feel is important, even if it is “just the car park”. I have a first name. I park here regularly. I would feel a lot better about your establishment if you acknowledged those basic facts. In the future, landlords and car park operators that don’t acknowledge my presence will lose it.


The Great Trust Shift

A funny thing has happened in the past twenty years: our trust in churches and banks and travel agents and government has faded. Too many scandals; not enough accountability. Today we trust our peers far more than we trust the institutions of yesteryear, which is one of the most fundamental shifts between the last century and this one. We follow the crowd, because the crowd is wise to the shenanigans of its leaders. The connected crowd knows that 455 two-star reviews on TripAdvisor can’t be wrong, just as it knows that a tour-operator or a restaurant owner or even a high school teacher is delivering a below-parr service. So how has parking escaped this scrutiny? Perhaps because the bar was always set so low? Maybe drivers simply expect barriers and scratches and the stench of human faeces when they leave their polished Mercedes in a tight concrete spot? In the connected world of tomorrow, parkers will rate the car parks - and don’t be surprised if car parks rate the parkers too. Of course, the bar won’t be set too high, but it will be set - somewhere above zero.


New models for a new world

If Uber, Lyft, Ola and Grab have shown us one thing, it is that the process of booking a ride from A to B can be “appified”. No longer do you need to wait in line for a taxi, or double-park while you fumble for cash. No need for paper receipts or swiping cards or that awkward “tip-or-no-tip?” moment. In a future world of parking, your phone takes out critical steps: it removes the need for barriers, tickets or credit cards. It tells the car park when you are arriving, and when you have left. It guides you to your parking space, via beacons and sensors. And then it guides you out. Loyalty schemes enhance the parking experience, as retailers begin to pay for your parking - in exchange for “two-for-the-price-of-one” offers and other attractive discounts. Suddenly, parking fees become a thing of the past.


The power of networks (and convenience)

The mere act of parking becomes a networked experience: Five of your friends ‘like’ this car park; your friend Susan parked here yesterday and rated her experience four-point-nine stars. The same parking-and-mobility app that got you into this parking lot gets you into the next one. The car park owner knows who you are and which vehicle you and your partner drive. They know you’ve booked a parking space tomorrow morning, and they can also let you know that your friend Tony is in the same shopping mall. Yes, privacy becomes an issue, but only at the point that it stops providing convenience. Because that’s the trade off with parking in a connected world: As long as you’re removing steps and easing the friction associated with parking, I’ll willingly trade my private data on ‘where’, ‘when’, and ‘how often’ I park for your special offers and perks. Just as long as you make my life easier - which means allowing me to park in tens of thousands of parking spaces across my city. And all through the same app. Because, in a decade’s time, there will be only one app for parking. Your local retail mall hopes that you’ll download their ‘Rewards’ app - the latest version of which includes discounts for parking - but the reality is that you don’t want fifteen Rewards apps on your phone, just like you don’t want fifteen different hotel apps on your phone. You want everything connected, via Expedia or Trivago or Booking.com. Car parks and parking spaces will be networked in the cities of tomorrow, and a single app will provide access to them all.


Brand in a world of voice

In the connected cars of tomorrow, parking will be incorporated into the head unit (“Toyota - find me a cheap parking space near here”). Because if I can sell you a car and can also help you park it, you might choose my automotive brand over the other one you were considering. On Apple Car Play and Android Automotive there will be one or two mainstream parking-and-mobility apps, which will take voice commands from anyone who is driving the car. And in this world of voice-activated everything, your brand will either define you or deny you. Little-known parking brands will be at the mercy of the bidding algorithms of Google, Facebook and Amazon, and will be forced to pay more to appear in search results. Until they no longer do. Siri, Alexa and Google have been training us for this future for years. We talk to them like they’re part of the family, and soon we’ll turn to them for parking.


PEOPLE versus AUTOMATION

Automation works well in certain circumstances, but not in others. Checking in to a hotel, or ordering food from a menu is more satisfying when it is a human-to-human experience - as is getting from A to B. We just didn’t appreciate it before. Because we forgot that humans like buying and learning from each other, and telling stories to each other. Yes, WeChat in China and Line in Japan are removing some of this interaction via smart-phone capabilities, but this kind of automated, human-less interaction has yet to catch fire globally. As Sharing Economy commentator Rachel Botsman rightly points out: the way you leave a hotel room (bed unmade, towels on the floor, room-service tray from the night before festering in the corner) is a far cry from how most people would ever leave an Airbnb. Why? Because when you are working or transacting in a ‘human’ (as opposed to an ‘automated’) environment, you behave very differently. When the airline replaces the flight attendants with turnstiles, or the car park operator introduces automated barriers, the environment degenerates - rapidly. Humans care more for their environment when other humans are present. People “self-police”, and this peer-pressure manifests itself in many positive ways. From the friendly exchange you had with your Uber driver, Mohammed, this morning, to the delightful review your Airbnb hosts Sue and John left you last month, people crave recognition from other people. It’s part of being who we are. So when you replace people with automatic barriers or turnstiles, not only does the experience suffer, your brand does too. There is no clearer evidence of this than in a car park with automated barriers on entry and exit, and in a plane with no flight attendants. The car parks of tomorrow will need to adjust.


A final cautionary tale…

Not so long ago there was an industry just like the Parking industry. Like Parking, it started hundreds of years ago - with horses and carts. Like Parking, it was a global industry that was well understood throughout the 20th Century, but for most it involved an expensive “grudge purchase,” accompanied by a negative customer experience. It was an industry in which few customers felt totally safe - especially female customers. Like Parking, it was an industry which was full of friction: Friction on entry, and on exit. Friction with barriers and receipts and cash and credit cards. This industry was conducted in what was invariably a dirty, unpleasant environment with little data, almost no personalization and lots of barriers and checks. That industry was the Taxi industry just ten years ago. In the intervening decade, it has been absolutely blindsided by an Internet-led disruptor that it never saw coming. And that it never really understood; that it deemed “illegal”. This was an industry with a 20th Century mindset, attempting to survive in a 21st Century world. 


Will the Parking industry follow the trajectory of the Taxi industry in the next decade? KERB’s view is ‘yes’: the barriers need to go; the customer experience needs to be radically improved; and data on customers and vehicles needs to be leveraged to personalise the parking experience. In the cities of tomorrow, there will only be one or two apps, and - in all likelihood - those apps will do a lot more than just parking. They will be “super-apps” which allow users to book parking in thousands of residential and commercial bays across any given city; they will allow users to locate EV chargers and to plan their trips. They will provide comparative data on fuel prices and location-based special offers. And those parking-and-mobility super-apps will be global. Need to park or charge a share car in Sydney or Santiago or San Francisco? Just pull out your phone and use the same app. The future of parking in a connected world is still light years away from the parking experience we all endure today. Things are about to change…




Rob Brown

CEO - KERB

rob.brown@kerb.works


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ABOUT KERB


KERB is a global-from-Day-One parking marketplace which is aiming to redefine the way people park around the world. KERB is opening up tens of thousands of peer-to-peer private, off-street parking spaces in over 30 countries worldwide. KERB also offers a self-service car park management platform which allows car parks and parking garages around the world to make money from their under-utilized spaces, while personalising the parking experience. Download the KERB app on iOS and Android, or access the KERB website via www.kerb.works to see how KERB can help you save - or make - money from your parking space(s). Alternatively, contact us at JustAsk@kerb.works


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