Best solutions to manage mall parking lots
About 79 million cars were sold across the globe in 2018 and this year sales are expected to remain steady, according to Statista. As these cars take to the roads, there is an increasing need for parking lots that are managed with advanced technologies.
Izvor: a&s International
Malls and shopping centers present some unique challenges to parking management. The most significant among them is that there is always some kind of movement in the parking lot. Visitors enter and exit throughout the day, and in some cases, night. There is also the need to provide convenient payment systems that are easy to user.
Technological advancements and user behavior have prompted the emergence of certain trends in this industry, according to the International Parking and Mobility Institute (IPMI), an association of professionals in parking, transportation, and mobility. Key among them are the use of mobile technology, increased use of guidance systems, and better access control and payment options.
Then there are also concerns on changes in the automotive industry. As electric cars become popular, mall owners may create special spaces for them. Looking ahead, there are bound to be more autonomous cars and that would present a whole new challenge altogether.
The following is a look at the major requirements of parking management in the mall and shopping center vertical and potential criteria for selecting solutions.
What Are the Major Security Concerns in Mall Parking Lots?
Being a place where crowds gather, malls are vulnerable to several kinds of attack. But in parking lots there are other concerns too.
The number of malls across the globe is increasing. So are the number of private vehicles that people use to get to these malls. The situation inevitably calls for improved parking lot management solutions that can take care of safety concerns as well as make processes more efficient. From a systems integrator’s (SI) perspective, understanding the evolving threats in mall parking lots is integral to offering solutions that would ensure maximum protection. Speaking to a&s recently, Arvind Mayar, CEO of Secure Parking Solutions listed some of the major concerns that SIs should be aware of.
1. Bomb threats
Malls are places where a huge number of people gather every day. This makes them a target for terrorist attacks. In December last year, two people were killed and about 30 wounded when a bomb exploded at a mall in the Philippines. Similar incidents have taken place in other places too. While they may not always have occurred in the parking areas, car bombs are a serious threat that parking lot management systems should be concerned about.
2. Vehicle theft
Theft of cars or things kept in cars parked at shopping centers is also a cause of concern. Incidents such as the burglary at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto last year continue to show that parking lots are far from safe at present.
Accidents are a risk wherever vehicles are being driven. In the closed spaces of parking lots, where there is limited room to maneuver cars, this risk is higher than in several other places. According to the insurance firm ThinkInsure, one in five accidents happen in parking lots. While most parking lot accidents are minor and involve low-speed impact, they can still result in serious damage and injury.
According to Mayar, the possibility of vehicles catching fire is a major issue that needs to be addressed when providing solutions for parking lots. Some experts point out that car manufacturers increasingly use more plastic in vehicles now than before, leading to fire-related incidents becoming a major concern.
5. Vandalism and related issues
Damage to cars by vandals is also a concern. This becomes all the more common in malls that have nightclubs or bars and inebriated people acting irresponsibly, according to Mayar. Vandalism may not always be an isolated incident and could happen as part of a theft. According to Twin City Security, a firm that offers security services, malls are the new main streets of the U.S. This means the wide range of security concerns that could have been expected on the main street can now be expected in a mall. In the specific context of parking lots, we could say that any concern that’s relevant to a car parked in the streets could also be applicable to malls. The only difference here is the efficiency of a parking lot management solution. An ideal solution should be able to integrate with different security systems like surveillance cameras, access control systems, and fire solutions, to act in accordance with a given situation. Naturally, security is just one benefit of a parking management solution. Operational efficiency, economic and environmental advantages would also benefit mall managers as well as their customers. Drivers will be able to know the number of vacant parking spots available before entering the area. Some solutions even offer mobile solutions that can inform the drivers of the status through short message services. This reduces the amount of time, energy, or manpower that would otherwise be spent searching for a spot considerably. In turn, it also reduces pollution.
Major Challenges in Managing Parking Lots
Several parking management challenges can be dealt with by employing some of the latest technologies on the market.
With rapid urbanization and increased population density in cities, there is a heightened need for mobility solutions. Private vehicles are a preferred mode of transportation for many people in developed economies. As the standard of living continues to go up in several parts of the world, more and more people and companies buy new cars. For cities, this has brought with it the challenge of creating parking spaces. The concept of the parking lot has evolved quite a bit over the years from just a place where people could leave their cars to places that are managed by automated solutions to ensure security and operational efficiency. The number of malls and other commercial centers is also increasing in cities, attracting more and more people who prefer to drive in with their cars. This has increased the need for efficient parking lot management systems in malls, not just to make sure people have a hassle-free experience but also to avoid wasting money and resources. Nevertheless, there are several challenges that mall management and solution providers face when it comes to managing parking lots. Some of these challenges are the reason automated systems have come into place. Others persist despite the introduction of such systems.
Manual Ticketing is Time Consuming
Before venturing into the realm of automated parking lot systems, let’s take a look at why electronic solutions should be used. Manual ticketing systems take up time and require more manpower, resulting in higher costs and slower processing. While this may be seen as an obvious issue to many, the fact is that there are still several malls and commercial entities across the globe that are yet to make the shift from manual ticketing systems. Paper-based ticketing systems also make the job of information management difficult. In case of any untoward incidents, the management should be able to provide information about any vehicle parked in their space immediately. Automated electronic systems make this possible.
Access Control and Ticketing System Failure
One of the worst nightmares for a parking lot manager is the malfunctioning of any access control system. Since malls are often open for long hours and mostly every day of the week, parking lots will be in use most of the time. Should an entry management system fail in any way, there could be delays that leave customers upset.
False Damage Claims
According to Arvind Mayar, CEO of Secure Parking Solutions, there are always some customers who try to claim that their car was damaged while in the parking lot, when in reality the car was already damaged before entering the lot. To deal with such an issue, there is a need for high-quality video surveillance that can provide clear images of the condition of a vehicle at the point of entry. Adequate lighting is also required to support the surveillance systems that are being installed.
Installing new parking solutions at existing malls and shopping centers is a challenge. But perhaps what’s even more difficult is the integration of these solutions into third-party systems. For instance, surveillance and fire may be managed by a different vendor. Unless all the companies involved are willing to support integration, operations could be tough.
Open standards for traffic data exchange like DATEX II become relevant in this context. Fortunately, major companies do support such standards. For instance, Siemens’ intelligent parking solution offers links to third-party applications via open standards such as DATEX II. This interface can allow for the integration of data produced by a system for payment providers, enforcement and in-vehicle platforms that consume data in order to provide services that add value to the infrastructure in place.
Six Major Requirements of Parking Lot Solutions Customers
Security and convenience are key for parking lot management. But providing them is not as simple as it sounds.
Mall and shopping centers require parking lots that offer convenience and safety to their customers. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when considering customer requirements. When providing such a solution, systems integrators (SI) should know the specific demands of end-users in order to provide a hassle-free solution.
1. Ease of finding parking space
People arriving at malls should be able to know the number and location of vacant parking spots even before entering the premises. There are several ways in which solution providers deal with this. Sensors placed at parking spaces inform the system on the status of the space. Signage boards placed outside of parking lots can display the information gathered from these sensors. Alternatively, some systems may also provide mobile-based services so drivers can send a message to the system to get an update on vacant spots. There are also app-based solutions that can inform drivers about where they can park their vehicles.
Surveillance systems are necessary to ensure the security of cars parked. Apart from providing evidence for forensic purposes, applications like a license plate recognition (LPR) system can help to identify cars that warrant special service, like those of VIP customers. Analytical solutions may also come in handy in detecting intruders and providing instant alerts to security personnel. Several major global security vendors have dedicated parking lot management solutions that include cameras equipped with LPR integrated into the access control system.
According to Arvind Mayar, CEO of Secure Parking Solutions, many customers are concerned about the initial investment for a solution. While high costs can deter many end-users, systems integrators and solutions providers should be able to convince customers of the long term financial benefits that increased operational efficiency would bring.
4. Multiple payment options
Customers should be given the option to pay in their preferred mode. This could be card, cash, or a mobile payment system like Apple Pay. This could speed up entry and minimize the chances of long lines forming. The parking management software should be easy to configure and set up, and should be able to calculate the parking duration and cost. In the case of cars that have management-issued passes, the system should be able to exclude them from payment.
5. Integration and retrofitting
Solutions that can be integrated into existing systems are necessary for older buildings. Considering that there are already several malls in many developed countries, systems integrators will often have to work within certain constraints.
Analytics solutions provide deeper insights into the behavior of customers, allowing management to improve the customer experience and optimize operations. These solutions can also provide information on the status of machines and if they require any maintenance. Reports can be automated and scheduled to be sent by email at regular intervals. In short, the requirements of the customers in the field are a mix of solutions that would improve safety and business operations. For SIs, knowing the right hardware and software to put in place, integrating them with existing systems, and ensuring their seamless operations is what matters most.
How to Select Parking Management Solutions for Malls
Although several advanced parking management solutions have hit the market in recent years, many shopping centers and malls have stuck with traditional systems.
Speaking to a&s, Ian Goodwin, owner of the Parking Consultancy, pointed out that traditional systems use a barrier with a ticket vending machine where the driver pays upon exit. However, as technology evolves and malls look to improve their systems, solutions like license plate recognition (LPR) will become more common. LPR would be especially useful in places where the parking is free but only for a limited amount of time. An LPR system can assist in tracking how long a car has been parked in the parking lot. Given the several different brands of parking solutions on the market, the customers should know what to prioritize when making a purchase. Here we list some of the major factors to consider when buying a parking management solution.
1. Reputation and cost
This would seem like an obvious point to some, as going with a reputable brand is necessary for reliability. However, those who are familiar with the industry will tell you that reputation and cost do not always go hand in hand. Quite often, customers compromise on the quality of a product for the sake of cost. In Goodwin’s opinion, zeroing in on a few brands that have a history of providing reliable products is a good way to start. Goodwin pointed out that especially in the U.K. market, several Asian manufacturers, especially those from China offer reliable solutions that are easy on the pocket as well.
2. Sticking to a single brand
There are companies that provide either hardware or software alone for parking management. In Goodwin’s opinion, it’s better to stick to complete solution providers who sell both hardware and software. “Sometimes the hardware and software may be manufactured by separate companies … But in my opinion, it’s much better to stick to in-house built software,” Goodwin said.
3. Installation and support
The company should provide support for the installation and setup of the solution from scratch. Make sure the solution requires minimal maintenance while ensuring that quick after-sales service is assured. Some experts suggest ensuring the company has a local presence as a priority. This would help them understand the local conditions and provide suitable support. Any downtime of the product will lead to losses for the management. Hence while purchasing a solution, the customers should be clear on how quickly the company will provide maintenance support in case of a malfunction. “There should be agreements in place with the solutions provider about the after-sales service,” Goodwin said.
4. Detailed reports
The solution should be able to provide a structured and detailed report on the payments made by customers, who is in a car, and, if possible, analytics data to the management. This will help understand factors like the peak time and frequency of users and help in making informed decisions on tariffs and other rules.
5. Friendly but secure
Customers who visit a mall are not going to be happy if the parking solution is not easy to use. Hence being user-friendly should be a priority. This will also make the work of mall staff easier. However, user-friendliness should not come at the cost of security.
6. Third-party integration
Being able to integrate the parking management systems with other systems like security and safety solutions will help in ensuring better management. Integrated systems can work quickly in the event of any unwanted incidents. Such solutions are also easy to operate and control from a management perspective.