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It’s something we do without thinking, every time we take our vehicle – be it a car, a van, or a motorcycle – out with us to run an errand or enjoy a day out. But do we ever really think about the industry in the background, and the roles and businesses decisions associated with the vast concept of parking?
The parking industry as a market is one driven be necessity rather than desire, with consumers facing a choice between the most cost effective parking solutions when they go out and those which offer the most convenience to their day. Free parking is a concept on the rise, driven especially by those attractions and locations looking to draw in greater footfall or looking to encourage more participation – meanwhile paid parking has undergone a number of updates in the last few years as operators look for new ways of meeting consumer demand and making the parking payment as pain free and easy as possible. And then we have the specialist parking bays designated to specific vehicles and tailored for different purposes – be they disabled spaces, VIP spaces, or mother and child spaces.
Our car parks are becoming increasingly complicated, with more and more bays that the average consumer is required to avoid or else risk additional fees and fines. To look at it from the outside, the parking industry could be viewed as one which comes at a cost and yet delivers next to nothing – however those involved in the industry view it very differently. Structured parking is designed to keep consumer’s vehicles safe, and to deliver the most convenient and effective support to consumers arriving by motor or electric vehicle.
And parking doesn’t end at the mere process of driving, stopping the car, and leaving it in a location which we hope is safe. Parking trends and industry analysis data is also used by various organisations to find out more about various demographics and target audiences across different locations – how long they are staying, which sites they are most likely to park in, and what kind of cars they are driving. It is information like this which helps parking operators and car park companies to determine how many bays should be assigned to short stay and long stay, how many can viably be transformed into electric car and smart car parking bays, and how many spots should be allocated to disabled parking.
None of this happens by chance. It all comes from detailed research and an understanding of industry trends.
Keeping a tight leash on the industry from various levels of responsibility are those tasked with handing out parking fines; keeping note of valid and out of date permits, and security workers who manage parking arrangements on specific sites and at dedicated events. In some cases, this even goes so far as to induce clamping where a vehicle is chained to a spot and a company must be called by the consumer in order to have it released – incurring a hefty fine. The earliest examples of these clamping mechanisms appeared in the UK in the 1960’s and the have been an effective method of deterrence against parking regulation breaking ever since.
The task of parking management and keeping consumer vehicles in check is largely split between councils and private companies, depending on the location of the parking site and the way that it impacts visitor numbers to various sites and attractions. For small towns and community car parks, the council tend to operate and manage the variety of parking options - handing out fines to those who don’t display tickets or parking clocks in their vehicle windows, and taking note of public complaints about the safety or risk of leaving vehicles in certain spots. Parking clocks are fast becoming one of the most popular developments in the council parking industry due to the fact that what they offer is a shortcut to convenient and easy local parking for free; providing parking for a dedicated number of hours, across a dedicated selection of parking sites. For locals who regularly visit their community town or high street, these clocks - which are valid for a year - can save vast quantities of money in the long run and thus present a great savings deal.
For those parking sites which are outside of businesses premises, it tends to fall to the business themselves to monitor their own parking. Some bring in outside companies to install ANPR cameras which track when number plates enter and leave a site; others offer free parking for a specified time period and then have the right to fine vehicles which surpass their allotted time; others still choose to install barriers at the entrances which are closed outside of the store or businesses opening hours. These include both corporate office blocks and buildings, and stores like supermarkets and retail parks.
Another industry which requires adequate parking provisions is attractions and destinations – for example beaches, theme parks and funfairs, as well as hotels and campsites. All of these examples of leisure destinations are again subject to their own parking services, with the car parking provisions at Seaworld becoming world famous a few years ago for all the wrong reasons, when a map was released which compared the vast expanse of parking spaces to the tiny enclosure reserved for orca whales. What this campaign did, besides tarnish the reputation of the global theme park franchise, was highlight just how much revenue the parking industry across these destination attractions is making at the expense and exploitation of consumers and entertainment provisions – in this case, live animals. Another example which shows just how much the parking industry has grown is the fact that at Magic Kingdom in Florida’s Walt Disney World, the parking alone provides enough income to support the running costs of the entire park for a day – including the spectacular firework show at the end of the every night. For those companies who get it right, parking alone has the power to generate huge profits.
And then there are the private hire and event sites which may require specific and often short term parking for a set period of time before, during and after an event.
One of the main focuses of the parking industry is the use of corporate spaces - something which is becoming more of an issue as companies expand and set up offices in suburban sites outside of the main cities. This means that employees are less likely to be able to use public transport - meaning more private vehicles and requiring more parking options. Most companies get around this by providing parking passes to colleagues to ensure they are able to park without fee - however most come with a first come first serve policy.
For others, the reliance on outside parking management companies is one of the easiest and most convenient ways of implementing parking regulations and ensuring that they are followed – with these parking site operators sending out officers to perform random checks throughout the day assessing tickets and parking passes. One of the locations where this is most popular is across train and bus stations in the commuter districts and towns outside of major cities – with parking operators making steps to make official and legal parking more attractive to consumers by offering not just say passes but also weekly passes, monthly passes and even annual passes which in turn reduce the cost of a day pass by paying more upfront in advance. It is then up to the consumer to determine if a pass is worth the cost depending on how often they plan to park in the same location – however for many who live in towns surrounding major cities, what this does is create a deal which supports their daily commute and allows them to leave their vehicle in a safe location.
To look at some of the main brands and retail operators working in and dominating the parking industry, the main names include:
What makes each of these companies stand out is not just the way that they operate a parking site, but also the extra details and features they have in place to support consumer experiences and to ensure that vehicles are safe during the set period of time. Another way in which various companies stand out from others is in the different methods of payment they encourage and offer – with modern trends making those which still only accept cash the least popular among a range of more modern and technologically advanced companies.
The top methods of paying for parking in the modern market include:
The wide range of payment methods show just how far the parking industry has come in succumbing to the rise in technology and the consumer demand for convenience across all areas of life.
One of the biggest trends which is changing the way the parking industry operates is the lack of cash carried by consumers, leading to the rise and development of various other ways of paying for parking which involve smartphones, apps and card payments. One example of this is the use of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) which is used by both parking sites and other tolls-applicable areas and sends bills to consumers once their stay at a car park or their use of a toll road has ended. For the industry, this delayed payment means that keeping track of overdue payment is more of a challenge, though many operators implement rising fees for those who do not pay straight away.
Another trend in the parking industry and one which has become particularly popular across high end and luxury shopping malls and attractions is the use of electronic lights above every space – showing red is the space is occupied, and green if it is free. These lights are most effective in multi storey car parks where the surroundings are much darker and so the lights are more prominent, and makes parking a more convenient experience as consumers are more easily guided towards rows and areas where there are plenty of spaces.
The final trend in the industry is one we have touched on already, and that’s the development of various car parks alongside trends and advances in other industries – for example the inclusion of electric parking bays and chargers to meet the growing demand of electric car users.
All of these trends indicate ways in which the parking industry can – and is – making its operation and service provision more convenient for consumers. Everything from valet parking to short and long stay parking, disabled parking and free parking are all offerings which increase the value of a parking site and make it more appealing to a wider audience. And for those local or corporate parking sites where long term deals with regular parking visitors can be made, the consistency of advancement payment is a positive step which eradicates the need for as much security and policing.
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