Why hasn’t tech delivered a silver bullet to parking?

For a long time, parking has been quite a conservative industry with little change to its basic model of turn up and pay to leave your car in a space. But a combination of electrification of vehicles, and digital technology, is now transforming the business of keeping vehicles stationary.

Whilst both will be critical to the future of the industry, sadly much of the change have been driven by technology not by the user.

Early EV charging rollouts often took a ‘just get them in the ground’ attitude, leading to short-term thinking that is coming back to bite us in the form of long queues and broken charge points.

Digital technology, too, has often been a brute force solution. The idea of paying with an app was so appealing that some assumed it was a silver bullet, and ripped out their old infrastructure, only to find half their residents didn’t want to use an app.

This ‘app problem’ is even greater in EV charging, where companies have developed lots of highly functional apps that don’t work with each other, leaving users with a bewildering array of schemes.

That is why – as our recent research shows – both have been met with a mix of both joy and frustration.

The problem – in our view – is that innovation has been too siloed. Too focused on disruption and not enough on understanding of the complex nature of inclusive public infrastructure.

Most of these products are individually good. But the business models are copied and pasted from the winner takes all tech industry. This is wrong for this market. These products must be deployed into a public service (in the case of parking) or a managed infrastructure transition (in the case of EV charging). They need to not just be good in their own right, but to integrate into a complex ecosystem that works for everyone, not just the wealthy or the tech savvy.

These technologies all have a role, as do others that are emerging. But for local authorities – whose first duty is to their residents and community – they must be part of a bigger strategy, aligned to the evolving user needs. They cannot be driven purely by what is technically possible.

Flowbird has operated parking around the world for decades. This new raft of technologies does indeed represent unprecedented change for parking. But the underlying principle has not changed: public infrastructure needs to be designed for a broad range of user needs. EV charging and digital technology are here to stay.

We need to approach both as part of a combined strategy to evolve parking infrastructure in a way that works for everyone.

That starts with understanding what users actually want. That is why we recently commissioned research with YouGov to understand the diversity of user experience needs when it comes to using parking or charging.

Read our recent report: Parking and EV charging that works for everyone

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