Torontonians wanted an app for parking — and they got it
By Stacy Sneed
One of the fastest growing cities in North America, Toronto is a hub for the design, finance, science and media industries. The city is also known for its tech savviness and app usage. In 2016, the latest report by Yahoo Canada! shared that Canadian app use grew by an average rate of 74 percent, far exceeding the global average of 11 percent. In fact, the number of Canadian devices exceeds the estimated number of Canadians by more than 2 million. What this signifies is that people in Toronto enjoy the ease and convenience apps add to their lives. When citizens become accustomed to the advantages that apps provide, they want to have access in every part of their lives … including interactions with their local government.
As this growing metropolitan area reached over 6 million residents in 2014, it faced increased congestion and traffic. Finding parking in Toronto became a hassle for drivers, and parking payment options were limited. Drivers either had to have cash available for meters or use their credit cards at a pay station. The Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) realized that point of frustration for drivers, and saw an opportunity to offer a better way to pay for parking. TPA issued a request for proposal (RFP) for mobile pay providers in 2014 in an effort to improve the overall parking experience around the city.
“The choice to go with a mobile app was heavily driven by our customers. We also wanted to provide an operational cost savings with it,” said Ian Maher, TPA’s vice president of strategic planning and I.T.
TPA sought a solution to implement technology and make local trips faster and easier. In order to achieve that, the parking authority had a vision for an app that was flexible enough to meet the city’s needs but built on a scalable platform. Although other comparable cities at the time had rolled out applications for parking, Toronto was forward-thinking in seeking a tailored solution that would not only meet its current needs but also the city’s needs of the future. TPA decided to select Passport, whose platform was able to provide data-driven reporting and analytics, simplifying the problem with an easy solution — mobile payments with a powerful back office and a branded application. The Green P application was born to service Toronto’s growing population, while helping the parking authority experience lower hardware and operational costs, and increased revenues. Overall, TPA found that the mobile parking payment program has created a line of communication to parkers that never existed before — enabling its administrators to communicate with parkers directly about special promotions or other pertinent information through the app.
“Passport offers a cloud-based mobile pay operation. It was proven to provide leading-edge technology and was incredibly customizable, which allowed us to stay with our Green P brand,” said Maher. “Toronto is a center of scientific and technical research in the Canadian community. It makes sense to have a mobile app that provides convenience to Toronto citizens and visitors.”
The rollout began with the Green P app being tested in five car parks. With the success of those car parks, TPA increased to 20-25 car parks per week thereafter. After the off-street installation was complete, the next step was to implement the on-street program.
“There was a strategy in place for introducing the Green P app in Toronto,” said Passport Regional Director Conor Kelly. “When TPA approached us, they had a clear vision. This had to be an app with residents, visitors and the city in mind. That was a priority. It also needed to align with where the city saw itself in the next five to 10 years and beyond.”
The strategy paid off. Not long after implementation, more than 1 in 3 parkers were utilizing the app, and that figure grew quickly. Toronto was able to enhance the parking experience for both its residents and visitors. With the Green P app, drivers have the option to conveniently pay for parking sessions using their mobile devices at 55,000 parking spaces across Toronto. The Green P app enables them to monitor their parking sessions, extend time remotely, view payment history and receive email receipts all from one place.
Additionally, TPA has decreased its reliance on meters, pay stations and cash — reducing costs and making on-street and off-street parking operations more efficient. The parking authority experiences $1 million a week in mobile pay revenue through the Green P app with a nearly 50 percent mobile pay utilization and a 29 percent decrease in citation issuance. This success, however, was not achieved without the work needed to notify the public about the app’s availability in the city.
Marketing played an integral role in introducing and adopting users to the Green P app for the first time. TPA worked closely with Passport to ensure the app’s success from the very beginning. The authority conducted orientation sessions for all TPA employees with an emphasis on frontline pay-and-display staff; created handouts for customers; made VIP welcome packages for ambassadors, such as City Councillors; and purchased local radio and print ads. TPA also used posters on-site at car parks, social media campaigns, billboards and marketing materials were distributed in 54 of the business improvement areas.
But one of the most crucial activities that led to the app’s adoption success was signage. In order to best communicate to drivers their different payment options for parking, the parking authority installed two types of signs for payment options and location IDs. The payment options signage quickly showcased to customers the different payment methods — from the pay station to the mobile application, giving them the freedom to choose what suits them. The location ID signage would encourage parkers to visit greenp.com to pay for parking by providing the zone number listed for quicker and easier payments. Passport provided the signage options and most effective locations for parkers, based on its experience and expert judgement in working with municipalities. TPA also launched the mobile pay greenp.com website, which introduces the mobile payment system with multiple instructional videos.
Lastly, the Green P app was integrated with PayPal to make paying through the mobile app (with a digital wallet function) simpler and faster for drivers. The progressive-profiling feature of the app is a favorite among Toronto drivers. When parkers load funds into their digital wallets via PayPal, it gives users $5 free for every $20 loaded. This promotion has helped boost utilization at launch and beyond by giving parkers an incentive to use the app.
“Toronto has proven to be an innovator and leader when it comes to leveraging mobile technology,” said Kelly. “TPA knows its customers’ needs and we worked to accommodate those needs. They wanted an app that offers high-level performance at a swipe of a finger. We’re proud to have been able to deliver that and more.”
Yet, the amenities offered to drivers is just one small piece of the solution. It’s about the back office system that provides TPA with the reporting and analytics it needs to make data-driven decisions. For example, TPA administrators are able to access pertinent information such as real-time parking trends to determine how their parking inventory is being used at any point in the day and how their revenues are trending.
“The real program is in the back office,” said Maher. “The perception is the whole program is the app, but the app is only a part of it.”
Toronto’s forward-thinking initiatives have continued to pave the way for future mobility efforts. TPA plans to continue with Passport to provide service to gated facilities and beyond in the future. As the city expands, TPA is looking at ways to optimize its off-street surface parking lots, implementing underground infrastructures and increasing mobility among its citizens. Newly minted partnerships with companies such as Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., will create a mixed-use development along Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront to further the city’s reach to lead the technological incline upward.
The parking authority plans to extend an opportunity for municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to join the Green P network. Other municipalities will benefit from an app familiar to its drivers, growing in popularity and utilization, with consistent branding across the province of Ontario.