The Washington Post

Could the ease of Uber come to parking garages?

Barney Pell wants to make the parking experience better. (LocoMobi)

Anyone who has ever tried Uber knows the joy of how simple it is. Your wallet stays in your pocket and everything is done on your phone. There’s a remarkable lack of friction. Barney Pell wonders why parking in a garage or lot can’t be just as easy?

Instead we struggle to lean out of our cars to press the ticket button, sometimes lose our tickets, and have to feed money or credit cards into payment machines.

On Friday, Pell’s company LocoMobi acquired Nautical Technologies to help create a better solution for parking, which is a $30 billion industry and remarkably low tech.

In Pell’s world, parking could work like this. You’ve downloaded an app (LoCoMobi’s is QuickPay) and entered your credit card and license plate. When you drive up to a garage, a nearby camera scans your license plate and recognizes you. That information is also sent to the garage, so it knows exactly how many people are parked in the garage.

On your way out of the garage, another camera scans your license plate. Your credit card is automatically charged and a digital receipt is sent your way. Your wallet never leaves your pocket or purse. The system would be better for customers, and more profitable for garages.

“There are a lot of problems in parking,” said Pell, the co-founder and chairman of LocoMobi Inc. “There are always places people could be cheating the systems.”

People can park in a garage for several days, claim they lost their ticket and only pay a one-day rate. Or gate operators can siphon off profits, or let their friends in for free. With an automated system garages could also save money by hiring fewer employees.

Pell likened parking to the hotel and airline industries, which also sell perishable inventories but do a far better job of using technology.

Parking garages know little about their customers, or what’s happening in their garages on a real-time basis. With hotel rooms and airline tickets, prices are constantly adjusting to fit the market. Parking lots could do the same. With technology getting cheaper, it’s reasonable to rig up a set of cameras, and have analytics software running on the cloud.

Parking lots could also join hotels and airlines in offering dynamic pricing. Why should the worst spot in a garage have to cost the same as the best spot? Or on slow days prices could drop to entice customers, while rates could rise on the busiest days.

Pell foresees a future where parking lots get involved in local advertising. So often people who are parking are about to go shopping. They’re a great audience for nearby merchants who may want to entice customers with special deals. But first Pell’s team will have to convince parking garages en masse that they could run their businesses a lot better.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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