Frictionless Parking: Promoting Campus Public Health During This Pandemic

In recent years many colleges and universities have turned to frictionless parking to better manage campus parking facilities. By combining unique focused parking solutions into complete suites that can make it easier to get in and out of parking garages, universities can make parking more user-friendly for students, faculty, and staff. The same solutions make parking lots and garages easier to manage and, combined with the frictionless parking benefits that students and staff enjoy, are very attractive to universities.

parking payment stations at exit 

But now, during this public health crisis, frictionless parking can promote public health by dramatically reducing the number of common touch-points within a garage or parking lot. These touch-points are particularly common in equipment that handles payments or issues tickets. We don’t give a second thought to pressing the buttons on parking payment equipment or on find-my-car kiosks. We’ve done it so many thousands of times that it has become second nature. But someone using that equipment isn’t the only person pushing those buttons. Chances are, many people have already used that equipment, and there’s no way to know whether it has been contaminated.

Frictionless Parking to the Rescue

That’s where frictionless parking comes in. The technology trend to which many colleges and universities have already turned to improve the parking experience can also reduce the hazard of common touch-points in parking facilities.

With frictionless parking, drivers can enter garages without stopping to take a ticket, are directed to available parking by parking guidance systems, and are automatically charged through one of a number of different payment methods from apps on a phone, registering on a website with the plate number to scanning the barcode. Universities also often offer permits to students, staff, and faculty, and the equipment can also administer permit programs from the universities website which obviates the need to visit a parking office. When it’s time to leave, the driver merely returns to his or her vehicle and exits the facility. There are no delays at pay-on-foot kiosks or exit booths. Nor are there screens for parking patrons to touch when paying.

Frictionless parking begins with PARCS technology offering connectivity with any of a wide range of other types of technology, including mobile payment tools, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), License Plate Recognition (LPR) tools, and bar code readers, and RFID technology.

Typically, when a driver enters a parking facility offering frictionless parking, that driver’s credentials are recognized by the system and associated with a payment account or permit. This can happen in a number of ways. In some facilities LPR equipment records the driver’s information and associates the vehicle with his or her credential. In others, RFID technology recognizes visitors’ parking lease tags, employee badges, drivers’ licenses or other identification cards, admitting authorized drivers to parking facilities or specially-designated areas within a parking facility. BLE systems, on the other hand, recognize Bluetooth signals from cell phones and other Bluetooth enabled devices to identify drivers. All of these approaches limit the driver’s physical contact with the parking equipment.

When the driver is ready to leave the facility, the system again recognizes the driver and charges his or her card (or recognizes if the driver has a permit). When payment is satisfied, the gate opens and the driver is able to exit the facility. Once again, when the driver leaves, he or she doesn’t have to touch any equipment.

Public Health Benefits

In recent years, many colleges and universities across the United States have added frictionless parking technology. For those campus parking facilities, the technology is already in place to protect parkers and staff. In those cases, campuses should be reaching out to students, faculty, and staff, as well as any transient parkers who may use the garages, to explain the public health benefits of frictionless parking and encourage them to utilize the equipment. Typically, this is just a matter of parkers creating an account associated with the frictionless system, associating the account with their license plate or permit tag, and inputting a credit card or permit number. Then, as they drive in and out of parking facilities the system will do all of the work, and they don’t have to stop to pay or touch equipment.

For colleges and universities that don’t have frictionless parking, now may be the time to install it. Even after this public health crisis is over, it will continue to reduce the risk to students, faculty, and staff during future cold and flu seasons, not to mention if there are future pandemics. Plus, the equipment will continue to pay dividends by creating a much better user experience and enhancing parking management. The utilization data that’s collected by the various PARCS and guidance technology provides a valuable and accurate snapshot of how the equipment is being utilized. This is invaluable information for improving parking management.

The Future of Parking

Hopefully, the coronavirus crisis will be over soon, but the public health implications of the common touchpoints that are often present in parking facilities will continue to be an important concern. Even if the novel coronavirus disappears once this pandemic plays itself out — and that’s certainly far from a certainty with many experts predicting its seasonal return — we are still subjected to the flu and other viruses every year. The new reality of parking is that we need to eliminate as many common touchpoints as possible, and frictionless parking can be an important part of a campus parking public health strategy.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Chris McKenty is vice president of SKIDATA. He can be reached at [email protected].