By Joni Eros

We take choice for granted in our daily lives. We choose what we’ll eat or drink; what we listen to on the radio or watch on tv; what products we use each day; and who to befriend in our lives. There’s a cliché about life being about choices, but it’s true. We make so many every day that we begin to take them for granted.

Historically, choice has not been a significant element of parking. Sure, drivers get to choose where to park, but that is pretty much where their freedom of choice ends. Once they choose a parkade or on-street space, the parker has to use the meter the city has installed, or the PARCS or pay-on-foot equipment the garage offers.

Why does choice matter when it comes to parking payment? Simply put, we don’t all like the same things. Some people are Coke, some are Pepsi; some are Apple, and some are Windows; some like Tim Hortons and some—ok, everyone likes Tim Hortons.

The chasm is particularly wide when it comes to technology. The most obvious 21st Century example can be found in smartphones. Some of us are iPhone users and some are Android. Different people experience technology differently, and that affects their preferences. While one phone may seem alien in its layout and functionality, the other seems entirely intuitive.

The good news is that the evolution of the parking landscape is drastically changing, providing drivers more choice than ever. This is particularly true when it comes to mobile payment. As mobile payment becomes increasingly popular, municipalities, institutions of higher education, and private parking operators are adopting the multi-vendor model on a global scale. And this increased choice benefits both drivers and parking organizations.

Choice Benefits Everyone

In today’s technology-dominated parking world, it is easier than ever to provide choice for payments. Many cities and private owners already offer payment apps as a convenient alternative to meters and PARCS equipment. We all have our preferences when it comes to technology. Why not improve the experience of drivers by offering multiple mobile payment choices?

In fact, that’s exactly what cities are starting to do. Parking professionals across the globe are seeking new ways to promote mobility and are applying new technologies to their mobility challenges. The City of Atlanta, for instance, recently took the first step by offering PayByPhone, Passport, Flowbird, and ParkMobile so drivers can select the payment app with which they are most comfortable. Through trial and error, or perhaps based on the first look at each app, drivers in Atlanta are selecting the payment app that they like best and adopting it as their payment method of choice. This obviously benefits parkers, but it’s good for cities too. Providing choice promotes higher mobile payment utilization, which leads to increased compliance. It also reduces infrastructure costs by reducing wear and tear on meters or eliminating the need for them altogether. These savings can be funneled back into the community and into facility improvements.

And the benefits of offering multiple payment apps is not limited to cities. More private owners and operators are beginning to offer mobile apps as a payment option and a convenient way to manage permits. Doesn’t it make just as much sense for them to offer multiple apps too? After all, if offering choice makes the parking experience more convenient, won’t it also provide a competitive edge over owners and operators who don’t offer mobile payment or who only offer one mobile payment app?

Mobile payment solutions can offer many potential benefits to any parking provider. The most visible—and the benefits that are most familiar to drivers and parking professionals—revolve around making the parking experience better. There is no easier way for drivers to manage their paid parking sessions than with their own personal devices. But the efficiencies and cost effectiveness provided by mobile payment apps can also be critically important to parking providers. These efficiencies can allow for the reallocation of parking personnel in ways that can make parking systems safer and more parker friendly.

But perhaps the most important benefit is the data that is collected and analyzed by the solution. This data can tell parking managers exactly who is using their parking assets and how. This information can help parking planners understand parking trends and make more informed decisions about how to manage all parking inventory more efficiently and effectively, now, and well into the future.

All About Choice

The benefits of cashless payments primarily revolve around convenience: it is simple and quick. But it’s more than just convenient—in this technology age it has become essential. Tech-savvy, young adults (and even many older technology aficionados) also value being able to review transactions and track their spending habits on their mobile devices. Integration with rewards or loyalty programs can also create a new customer experience that strengthens the connection people have with a given brand.

While offering mobile payment choice with a multi-vendor model is a relatively new trend in North America, the trend is well-established in other countries. We can learn a lot by looking at the experiences of parking professionals in other parts of the world, the challenges they face, and the strategies and tools they are utilizing to overcome those challenges.

It’s important to remember, too, that offering mobile payment isn’t simply about supplanting all other forms of payment methods. For many people, 28% in fact, cash is still king, and most parking owners will continue to accept cash payment even after introducing mobile options. But customers today expect a wider range of options from the stores and merchants they patronize, and that extends to parking. This demand will continue to increase as cashless payments become more common and businesses continue to create escalated expectations for their checkout process.

And as the Covid-19 crisis continues, demand for contactless payment options will continue to grow. By offering a contactless payment experience by allowing parkers to pay for their personal devices, mobile payment is a healthy and safe option during this pandemic. And technology companies are doing their part to promote this safe approach. Solutions like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are making contactless payments safer and more accessible.

We tend to take the many choices we face every day for granted. But that doesn’t mean we do not value them. In fact, we have come to expect choice in our day to day lives. When it comes to mobile parking payment, it makes sense for municipalities, universities, private parking owners and operators to offer a range of mobile payment options. Choice presents a win/win scenario that benefits us all.

About the author:  Joni Eros is Regional Sales Director, Pacific Northwest for PayByPhone.
She can be reached at jeros@paybyphone.com

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