by Stan Bochniak —
This article originally appeared in the January-February issue of FMJ magazine.
Mixed-use developments are on the rise, and they bring together residences, retail, hotels, nightlife and office spaces in a walkable environment. However, parking is still an important part of the picture. Office workers, shoppers, hotel guests, and other visitors often arrive at developments by car, so reliable, safe parking is a critical component of the customer experience. Each type of business attracts customers with varying demands, and their expectations for parking are diverse. By implementing technology, zoned parking, and an attentive maintenance program, a facility can maintain a financially successful garage that provides an exceptional customer experience.
With a diverse cross-section of customers, there are a wide range of expectations to manage. Office workers and hotel guests may expect to pay, while shoppers and restaurant guests will expect to get their parking validated or receive discounts on the standard rates. Shoppers, in particular, aren’t used to paid parking garages, since traditional shopping malls typically offer free parking. Many stores will validate or discount parking, and that needs to be communicated to shoppers through signage and instructions on gate and ticket kiosks.
Hotel guests and office visitors also need education, as they’re unlikely to be familiar with the rules of the garage. Signage is one way to address that challenge, but parking attendants and remote command centers are also key to making sure drivers understand the policies and navigation of the garage. Command centers can take on the role of parking attendants by answering customer questions and monitoring for abuse. Regardless of whether attendants are mobile or communicating through kiosks, it’s important that parking staff understands the needs of each customer type and are prepared for their questions and concerns.
License Plate Recognition
Depending on agreements with the tenants of the development, pricing structures for shoppers, office workers, and hotel guests can vary. That complicates revenue collection and can create confusion for customers. Ensure pricing guidelines are clearly communicated, so the right amount is collected from each customer without creating frustration.
One way to address this challenge is license plate recognition (LPR) technology. As each customer comes in, their ticket is paired with their license plate. Parking is separated into zones, and LPR technology associates the customer with the zone they park in. That data is sent to the revenue control system, and when the customer leaves, they are charged according to the rate structure for that zone.
LPR technology can also be used to identify customers who don’t need to pay. For instance, some mixed-use developments allow for free parking for customers who park for less than an hour. LPR technology can identify drivers who haven’t exceeded that time frame before they even have a chance to enter their ticket at the gate kiosk. This allows drivers to exit more quickly, and it cuts down on potential traffic jams at the garage exit.
LPR technology also helps monitor for abuses. Systems are growing more sophisticated by aggregating data and “learning” about driver behaviors. This allows garage managers to be more proactive about identifying issues and addressing them more efficiently. For example, LPR technology can be programmed to recognize which zone a particular car typically parks in, and it will notice when something is inconsistent. If someone is parking in the wrong zone – say, an office worker taking a spot designated for retail – they can be flagged for parking in the wrong area and addressed accordingly.
Segregating parking into zones doesn’t just help identify each driver’s destination. It also makes it easy to ensure that each customer has access to the best spaces at the right time of the day and week. For example, during the work week, office workers may take up the best spaces before stores open. Since they’re more likely to stay parked for several hours, those spaces end up being taken for a good portion of the day. As a result, shoppers end up with fewer convenient parking spots. One way to address this is to close lower parking levels in the early part of the morning on weekdays. Since shoppers stay for a shorter time, this ensures that those quality spaces are regularly made available to incoming customers throughout the day.
The key to making zoned parking work is signage, particularly for transient customers like hotel guests and shoppers. Signs don’t just direct drivers to the right sections – they also help guide them to exits and to the stairwells closest to the businesses they plan to visit. While it seems simple, insufficient signage is an inconvenience that can drive customers, especially shoppers, away. At traditional shopping malls, customers have the luxury of seeing which stores they’re parking closest to. In a mixed-use parking garage, it’s easy to end up accidentally parking next to a locked office entrance or a hotel lobby – and far from the shops and restaurants.
To prevent frustration, signage must be kept clean and unobscured. It should also be consistent. For instance, reserved spaces may be denoted with signs on the wall or railing at the driver’s eye level, or they can be painted on each space. Some operators make the mistake of using different methods in one garage. Others will use both methods with varying degrees of consistency. This creates confusion for visitors as well as tenants with reserved spots. An established policy makes it easy for parking staff to maintain consistency.
Increased Maintenance Demands
Since mixed-use garages are used more than traditional garages, their maintenance demands are higher. Spaces turn over more quickly, and everything from elevators to trash cans are used more frequently. Regular maintenance tasks, like sweeping and steam cleaning, have to be done more often and scheduling is a bit more challenging. It’s often better to schedule maintenance in the late evening and early morning. To get work done before customers arrive, be prepared to increase staffing to get it done more quickly.
Different customer types will create different maintenance needs. Office workers and residents tend to be more conscientious about litter and overall cleanliness, while transient customers can create more litter. If a mixed-use development has restaurants and nightlife, be prepared to deal with inebriated customers, who are messier.
Mixed-use developments are increasingly popular – businesses see them as a way to attract customers who want walkable environments and enjoy the live-work-play balance. To keep tenants and customers satisfied, anticipate their questions and concerns. Having an established operational plan, with clear protocols for everything from cleaning to dealing with abusers, will ensure the facility is able to respond to their diverse needs. By mixing in technology and low-tech tactics like signage and zoning, it’s possible to create a financially viable garage that makes parking hassle-free.
Stan Bochniak is a Regional Marketing Director at ABM Industries. A graduate of California State University, Northridge, Stan began his professional career in the banking industry in both sales and operations. Since 1993, he has worked in the parking industry, the last 19 years with ABM. His wide range of responsibilities have seen him in the positions of facility manager, regional manager, and regional business development manager for ABM’s parking services.