By Gorm Tuxen, IPsens, LLC
A common problem facing urban shopping centers is people often misuse their parking lots. Free parking at retail centers can present an irresistible temptation to people who live and work in surrounding businesses and neighborhoods where parking lots and garages charge an hourly rate.
This was the challenge facing Assembly Row, a large mixed-use project just outside Boston. The 40-acre development features 635,000 square feet of outlet shops and restaurants, 2.8 million square feet of office space, a 159-room hotel, and 1,800 residences — and thousands of parking spaces. Three hours of free parking is provided for the convenience of patrons of tenant shops and entertainment venues.
However, parking shortages had become a problem because the spaces were frequently used by commuters traveling into downtown Boston via a subway station located on the site. Some travelers would avoid paying for parking provided for commuters at the station, taking up free spaces intended for shoppers.
To combat this the owners of Assembly Row implemented an integrated wireless parking solution that utilizes wireless in-ground parking sensors to manage the free parking. Sensors are typically used to help drivers find available parking. They are placed in or over parking spaces and they use a variety of technologies to determine whether that space is occupied or available.
They communicate their status to drivers through a series of lights, each one having a different meaning (for instance, a green light may indicate that the space is available, red that it’s occupied, blue that it’s an HP space, and so forth). Parking guidance sensors are also typically connected to a series of signs that may be located at the entrances to parking facilities and on individual floors or driving aisles, and which indicate how many available spaces are available in that particular area. Parking guidance is a powerful patron amenity that’s becoming more common at shopping, dining, and entertainment venues across the U.S.
The Assembly Row sensor programs utilize the technology in a unique way. The wireless in-ground sensors allow management to monitor parkers’ length of stay in real time and ensure time limits are observed. If parkers do overstay the limits, enforcement officers can be notified. It’s effectively electronic chalking, permitting enforcement personnel and shopping center management to keep track of how their parking is being used, and to be able to do so in real time, at the click of a computer mouse button.
The brain of the Assembly Row system is customized software created to meet the unique needs of Assembly Row, its tenants, and customers. In addition to managing the operations of the sensors, the software also collects data and creates reports providing comprehensive data about how the parking spaces are being used, how long vehicles tend to remain parked, and when peak parking hours occur. This data is used by Assembly Row administrators to manage the parking lots more efficiently and effectively, as well as to determine how to handle parking enforcement.
In fact, the software is the key to making the whole program work. It doesn’t matter how good your equipment is if you don’t have the right software to run it. That’s why the technology team worked very closely with Assembly Row’s managers to make sure that the software they were building would meet all of Assembly Row’s requirements while flawlessly running the software.
This wasn’t the first time sensors have been used to manage free parking, though. The University of Central Missouri has a similar “Shop & Go” program that provides dedicated, short-term parking zones for visitors wishing to make quick shopping runs. However, though the Assembly Row program isn’t the first installation of this kind, it is by far the largest in the U.S., with 1,144 in-ground sensors.
The Assembly Row and UCM sensor programs can serve as a model for other urban shopping centers that experience the misuse of their parking resources, or which merely want to better manage free spaces. The sensors work well in all climates and are relatively simple and affordable to install and operate. Installation of the Assembly Row network took just two weeks!
Such a program also can be used to provide other advantages. The primary use of parking guidance is to help drivers quickly, conveniently, and safely find available parking. It’s a tremendously powerful customer amenity that can provide an important competitive advantage relative to other area shopping complexes.
For centers that rely on parking to generate revenue, parking guidance also can help maximize revenue. It’s not unusual for shoppers to get frustrated and leave a garage or parking lot when they can’t quickly find an open parking space. As a result, retail centers typically consider their garages fully occupied when they hit 85 percent occupancy. In essence, shopping centers have been willing to write off up to 15 percent of the parking revenue they should be earning. Parking guidance systems eliminate this problem by guiding drivers directly to open spaces. The financial benefits can be considerable: By increasing parking occupancy by 10 to 15 percent, parking guidance technology can help parking owners earn hundreds — even thousands — of dollars in additional parking revenue every day.
Parking guidance may be the answer for a number of common challenges facing retail executives by improving customer service in parking areas and making parking more manageable. And for shopping centers that struggle with misuse of their parking resources, a “Shop & Go” system overseen by parking guidance technology may be the answer.
About The Author
Gorm Tuxen is President/CEO of IPsens, LLC, a leading provider of cloud-based parking, data exchange, and information management solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.