How UK car parks are transforming into tech havens

The days of driving around looking for a parking space or even getting a ticket from a machine could soon be over as modern car parks go high-tech.

October 25, 2018

Once a car park was simply somewhere to leave vehicles, but now digital solutions from apps to sensors are transforming the humble parking bay into a high-tech haven.

Parking is changing at a rapid rate as technology becomes more sophisticated and cheaper to implement at scale. Already, coins are out and cards are in when it comes to car park payment machines. JLL research shows that in 2017, 44 percent of car parks took contactless payments, up from 10 percent in 2014.

Yet even these machines may soon become a thing of the past, with charges paid through apps or the use of automatic number plate recognition technology acting as a virtual ticket.

In turn, this technology captures valuable data from motorists. “Data is the new oil and it is increasing in value because it allows you to build up a picture of how people behave and where they spend their time and money,” says Paul Gallagher, car park consultant with JLL in the UK.

Increasingly this data will also help to shape the bigger picture. Everyone from parking operators to local authorities can analyze it to predict future behavior patterns and improve the user experience by managing congestion or directing drivers to the nearest parking spaces, for example.

“In this digital age, operators can also improve their bottom lines, if they can leverage this data to find areas for improvement,” Gallagher says.

Future parking trends

By 2025, mobile industry association GSMA, believes advances in technology could connect most new cars to the internet – enabling cars rather than drivers to make parking choices based on real time data collected by sensors. Motorists will be able to program in their destination and the vehicle will direct them to the nearest available parking bay.

For now, the technology is in its infancy in cities such as Cardiff. Sensors cover some of the city’s 3,500 parking bays and drivers use the app to work out exactly where the available spaces are at any one time.

Other cities are further ahead with smart technology. In Kuwait, for example, robots are being used to park carsGallagher says: “We’re likely to see robots used to park cars in the UK in future. They could help speed-up parking in congested spots like airports.”

These advances are fueling interest from real estate investors. At the end of last year Japanese operator Park 24 and Development Bank of Japan acquired National Car Parks (NCP) from Australian infrastructure fund Macquarie for £312 million. While, Macquarie bought UK company, Parking Eye, earlier this year.

Going electric

Modern car parks are about more than just convenience; they can also help to reduce congestion and pollution in the UK’s urban areas.

Concerns about air quality means car parks will increasingly become hubs, offering sustainable solutions, such as Oxford’s park and ride, where people can catch a city center bus link.

“Car parks are going to become much more of a service hub, where people can car share, hire a bike, or park up and catch public transport. These out-of-town car parks will help to manage city center congestion and improve air quality,” says Gallagher.

Technology, too, has a role to play. Electric vehicles are becoming a more common sight on the UK’s roads – and car parks are adapting accordingly. Around 500 charging points are being added each month, with almost 17,000 available to the public as of June 2018, according to JLL research.

Yet even this is lagging behind potential demand. By 2040 BP estimates there could be 12 million electric vehicles on UK roads, offering operators a chance to turn car parks into destinations and generate revenue. Providing charging points, means drivers may be persuaded to visit shops, a restaurant or the cinema, while charging their car.

Shopping center car parks are now playing catch-up, with the majority not currently offering charging facilities but more than 50 percent looking to install them in the near future.

“I think operators have been slow to realize the opportunities electric charging points offer, but I think there will be more of a realization that incorporating charging points and utilizing the latest technology offers so many opportunities to deliver benefits for retailers, landlords and consumers,” Gallagher adds.

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