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From old-school to ‘smart’ parking in a matter of days

David Neys - Smart Mobility Expert, Cegeka

Amidst the buzz of utopian stories about autonomous cars and flying taxis, David Neys, Smart Mobility Expert at Cegeka, has a rather refreshing, pragmatic approach. “One of the main priorities of smart cities and regions is smart mobility. Smart parking is a logical first step,” he says. “At Cegeka we support this by building smart parking solutions for campuses, companies and project developers. We know they want to make optimal use of their parking capacity by making it available to a wider audience. But on the other hand, they also want to remove the obstacles and irritations that come with parking your car; not only for their primary target group, but also for the staff who run car parks, such as facility managers. Better parking systems are both necessary and possible, both for users and managers.”

Smart Mobility - David Neys
Smart Mobility - David Neys

“Building a smart car park is easier than you think. In terms of software, we can often implement the platform within one week, integrating it with legacy hardware such as barriers, payment terminals, printers and cameras.”

“Building a smart car park is easier than you think. In terms of software, we can often implement the platform within one week, integrating it with legacy hardware such as barriers, payment terminals, printers and cameras.”

Q: We all know what old-school parking means. But what exactly is smart parking?

Neys: “Parking your car is a lot like an obstacle course; not only in cities but even on campuses or company sites. People drive in circles because they can’t find a parking space, barriers won’t open, cameras can’t read the license plates, reserved spaces are used by the ‘wrong’ drivers and so on. Every facility manager or reception desk staff knows all too well what can go wrong.”

“Smart parking removes most of these obstacles. It’s based on the principle of user-centrism. Here the concept of a ‘user’ not only includes the driver, who wants to park his or her car quickly and without hassle, but also the facility manager, who has better things to do than running around solving problems.

Smart Mobility - David Neys

Q: How do old-school car parks become smart?

Neys: “The transition usually takes place in several stages. A typical first step is to analyse how the car park is operating now, identifying the problems and areas for improvement. We then propose small or large changes, such as automatic number plate recognition or ANPR. The myth that ANPR doesn’t work is not entirely correct. ANPR cameras based on OCR (Optical Character Recognition) have a margin of error of up to 40%. But we use cameras equipped with Artificial Intelligence technology, which have an error margin below 1%. As a result, nearly all cars can drive in and out of the car park and the barrier always opens, even if the license plate is partly covered in mud.”

“Things get really exciting in the second phase. For example, as the owner of a car park you can decide to open up your site to a wider audience at night or on weekends. A campus or business car park that offers parking for a wider audience is an excellent example. Or a residential car park in an urban area, which is temporarily made accessible for non-residents if it’s under-occupied.”

Smart Mobility - David Neys

“You can decide to let users pay automatically and digitally. This is possible in a number of ways. Community-based mobile apps like Spacewell allow users to link their license plate to their account. If they leave a car park equipped with ANPR and they’ve linked their license plate to the app, the payment can be processed automatically. Alternatively, they can scan a QR code at the payment terminal with a banking, Bancontact or Payconic app, which then transfers the payment from the account.”

“You can keep reinventing your car park according to the new mobility principle: offer spaces for shared bikes, scooters or cars, install charging stations for electric vehicles, provide an e-commerce drop-off or pick-up point, and so on. There are many exciting opportunities, all of which can generate new income.”

 

Q: What does that mean for facility managers?

Neys: “They will have more time to focus on what’s really important. The problem with old-school parking garages is that they are extremely labor-intensive. There is a lot of hardware running on a variety of local software packages. For each of those packages you depend on your vendor’s roadmap. In addition, each parking garage is an isolated IT island that needs to be managed separately. And that’s exactly what facility managers don’t want.”

“The Capacity Platform removes those obstacles by offering a cloud solution that allows you to control all sites centrally. The system also has a modular structure, which means you can determine what type of functionality you want to use and when. In other words, you can grow at your own pace. Capacity is also hardware-agnostic: the software can run on most hardware. And last but not least, it’s very user-friendly. You don’t have to be an IT professional to understand it.”

“The Smart Rule Engine, which enables facility managers to easily implement rules, is an interesting feature. For example, you can use it to give a limited number of employees access to the car park on the day of a big customer event, so that your customers will have a guaranteed parking spot. Or you can keep a fixed number of spaces available for executives and allocate the rest on a first-come first-serve basis.”

Smart Mobility - David Neys
Smart Mobility - David Neys
Smart Mobility - David Neys
Smart Mobility - David Neys

The digitization of mobility has become a trend. You can already see this shift in the world of smart parking. And it’s just a matter of time before ANPR will be everywhere and more players will join this digital story. Take banks for example: more and more banks will ensure you can pay for mobility via their app on your smartphone, whether it’s a bus ticket, refueling or a parking session.

 

Q: Finally, which trends do you see in the field of smart mobility and how are they relevant to your story?

Neys: “Firstly, there’s a growing trend to keep cars out of cities. As a consequence, parking spaces in the city are becoming scarce, which owners of urban residential car parks can benefit from if they open up their car park for a wider audience. Secondly, traffic is directed to the city’s periphery as much as possible, where campuses and company car parks can play a more prominent role.”

“My second observation is that public transport remains, to some extent, unpredictable, and it also doesn’t offer a complete network - just look at the remote areas in a province or country. This benefits providers of micro-mobility options, such as shared scooters and bicycles, on the one hand, and shared cars on the other hand. We are moving towards a sharing economy anyhow: getting from point A to B quickly and safely, including the first and last miles, will be more important than having your own car.”

Another trend we see is the digitization of mobility. You can already see this shift in the world of smart parking, and it’s just a matter of time before ANPR will be everywhere and more players will join this digital story. Take banks for example: more and more banks will ensure you can pay for mobility via their app on your smartphone, whether it’s a bus ticket, refueling or a parking session. This is all still considered as ‘a trend’, but in five years’ time everyone will be doing it.