Mobile Application as a Solution to Optimize Municipal Parking Lots

Digitalization became a trend several years ago, and it’s only gaining momentum. Due to COVID-19, 58 percent of business owners that hadn’t previously digitalized their business activities have accelerated the digital transformation of routine processes. But not only the business sector is actively digitalizing its processes. Urban authorities and municipalities are also modifying city services, migrating them to mobile applications. 

Cities like Columbus, Boston, and New York have already taken advantage of digitalization. With the help of mobile applications, they have allowed residents to request public services and get alerts about upcoming events. However, similar solutions can help cities solve many more problems. As urbanization progresses rapidly, cities are modernizing and can offer more technological solutions for different urban services.

In this article, we take a deep look at what needs authorities have already met by providing municipal mobile applications. We also look at the problem of city parking and share tips on how a mobile application can help your city cope with it.

What does a municipal mobile app present to residents?

Every city and state should develop an application that keeps in mind residents’ needs. Let’s take a look at the most common capabilities such applications provide.

Reporting city problems. Almost every city resident has encountered illegal graffiti or noisy neighbors. To solve such problems, Seattle has provided the ability to report urban issues using a municipal application. Users can take a photo of an illegal incident, write additional information, and mark the location of the incident on the map.

View planned sanitation events. New York City has launched the DSNY Info app for smartphones and tablets that allows users to view upcoming events such as cockroach baiting and water shutdowns. With this app, users can set a reminder so they don’t forget there are special jobs planned in their area or building.

View public transport timetables. There’s no need to stand at a bus stop while waiting for a bus with a varying schedule. Using an app like SF Muni Bus in San Francisco, a user can easily view a list of stops, build routes, and find out the exact time when public transportation will arrive.

Get driving directions. Routing functionality is relevant not only for locals but also for tourists. The City of Columbus, Ohio, has successfully implemented this functionality in its municipal app. Drivers can enter an address and the application builds the best route from point A to point B, taking into account traffic jams. What’s more, the app shows toll roads if the driver takes a long journey through Ohio.

In addition to these features, municipal apps let users monitor city news, view the weather, and find a city government job, as the City of Sparks app does.

the city of sparks app

As you can see, municipal applications can solve many everyday problems of residents. Parking problems can also be successfully solved with the help of such an application. But after examining a number of municipal mobile applications, we found that many municipalities haven’t yet implemented functionality to solve parking problems. 

Urban parking today: Why mobile parking functionality in a mobile app is important to your city 

To understand how big the parking problem is, we suggest you consider the most common vehicle-related issues and how you can solve them with a mobile application.

Heavy traffic 

Traffic jams are typical in big cities. According to Donald Shoup, a professor in the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA, 15 to 74 percent of traffic in the average city is caused by vehicles searching for parking spots. 

To reduce these numbers, you can add functionality to your municipal app for booking parking in advance or searching for a nearby parking space. Thus, drivers will be aware of parking spots and won’t cause as many traffic jams.

Ineffective use of parking spaces

Finding parking in a big city can be exhausting. Zipcar conducted a study asking New York City drivers about parking problems. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed said it was less stressful to go to the dentist than to find a parking space.

But are all of the parking lots full? Nope. A report released by RIHA, covering New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, Des Moines, and Jackson, revealed the astonishing fact that these cities are full of parking spaces that are mainly vacant during the day. In downtown Seattle, for example, only 64 percent of parking spaces were busy. Outside of the downtown area, the occupancy rate was less than half the capacity.

So what’s the problem? The fact is that many residents of big cities use only on-street parking lots. But there are also off-street and indoor parking lots that drivers may not even be aware of. By implementing a city map in your municipal application, you can mark all parking spaces available in the city. This functionality allows drivers to know in advance where to park their vehicles and reduces the stress of finding parking.

Parking fines 

Each municipal parking zone has its own rules. It’s fair to say that most motorists feel resentful when a parking ticket appears under their windshield wiper or in the mail. The issue is that drivers often don’t know about specific rules until they park.

To reduce the frequency of fines and increase residents’ satisfaction, you can inform users about parking rules and areas where parking is prohibited in your application. Also, you can allow users to take pictures of signs and share them with other users to notify them of the rules for certain parking zones.

Moreover, one of the most common fines is for staying parked after the meter runs out. Let your users set timers and notifications informing them about the expiration of their parking time.

Read also: How to implement push notifications in your mobile app 

Air pollution

Heavy traffic, partially caused by cars in search of a place to park, leads to environmental degradation. Vehicle exhaust and oil residues pollute the air. Parking functionality in a municipal app can notably decrease driving time, lowering the amount of daily vehicle emissions and decreasing a city’s ecological footprint.

Considering the urban parking issues mentioned above, cities need to rethink their parking services to help drivers get fast digital access to parking-related information, including:

  • Real-time information about the availability of parking spots

  • Automatic vehicle navigation to the nearest parking point

  • Parking fees

  • Meter expiration notifications, fines, and more

You can implement this functionality in two ways. The first is to follow the Columbus city example and integrate mobile parking functionality into an existing municipal application. Or you can follow the New York City example and create a standalone municipal parking application from scratch. In any case, you need to think about what functionality to add and what things to avoid.

Based on the experience of existing municipal applications and private parking providers, we’ve collected the best examples of functionality and tips.

Categories of parking apps

The first thing to do when implementing mobile parking functionality is to define the principle by which mobile parking will operate. We can view parking applications from different angles, classifying them in different ways. 

By parking time

Two categories of parking time apps aim at meeting different parking needs. But keep in mind that your app may meet both needs.  

Parking in advance. Your municipal parking app may allow users to pay in advance to reserve a place long before they intend to park. For instance, ParkMe informs a user where they can park up to two weeks before a planned business trip. 

Parking on the fly. Some apps are specifically tailored to finding a space to park that’s available right now. SpotAngels shows current parking options for every city block.

By payment method 

Most parking apps require in-app payment for booking a parking space. These apps offer a variety of payment methods including credit card, Apple Pay, and PayPal. Read how to integrate payment gateways in your mobile application in our article on Stripe, BrainTree, and PayPal. 

Some apps let drivers pay for parking by phone. Private parking providers like PayByPhone and municipal parking providers like MKE Park are two examples.   

Other apps like Parker allow users to filter parking options by payment type. This includes payment by cash for those who prefer to avoid cashless payments.

There are also apps like Parkopedia Parking that don’t let users pay for parking within the app. 

By the method of finding available parking spaces

Most apps for parking mark available parking spots on a map. ParkWhiz gratifies users with easy-to-read maps showing discount prices.

the parkwhiz app

Other applications allow users to find a parking spot differently. For example, in US cities like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Houston, the local government owns most public parking lots and grants control over them to parking operators. ParkMobile is one of them. So when drivers are looking for a parking space using a municipal application powered by ParkMobile, they need to enter the location code where they want to park. This code is shown on street signs. Customers can use such filters as nearby, recent, and favorites to simplify the search. Then the app requests the amount of time the user wishes to park for. 

the parkmobile app

Applications like Parker and Waze place GPS navigation at the heart of their functionality, helping motorists navigate to nearby parking lots. To learn more about navigation, read our post on principles of building location-aware apps

How to automate parking management

A mobile application can become an irreplaceable assistant, replacing manual processes with technological solutions. Let’s take a look at some functions to make parking management more automated for your city.

Create functionality for parking inspectors

Parking inspection involves time-consuming paperwork. With a mobile app or advanced features for parking inspectors, you can greatly facilitate your parking staff’s work. Allow inspectors to check license plates using a smartphone camera, then issue an electronic ticket in case of a violation. This way, inspectors can handle more fines per day.

Introduce several payment methods for parking

Save people from having to go to parking meters, look for small bills, and fiddle with parking checks. The Federal Reserve recently asked 3,016 consumers what forms of payment they prefer. 42 percent preferred to pay with debit cards, 29 percent preferred to pay with credit cards, and only 23 percent preferred to pay in cash.

Obviously, by providing only one method of paying for parking, you limit people’s ability to pay for parking conveniently. With advances in technology, you can enable users to link their debit and credit cards to a parking app and pay online.

Make sure drivers can make contactless payments using near-field communication (NFC) functionality in smartphones and smartwatches. San Francisco, for example, has a new generation of smart parking meters that allow for contactless payment. This allows drivers to make cashless transactions and improves payment automation.

Report on illegal parking

Let’s imagine you found a suitable parking spot and paid for it in advance using an online parking solution. But upon arriving at the parking spot, you discover another car has already parked there. To avoid such cases, the best solution would be to develop functionality allowing drivers and other users to report illegal parking.

The BOS:311 app provides such a feature in Boston. Users can take a photo of an illegally parked car, add a location, and describe what problems the parked car caused. Users can send reports anonymously or by providing contact information. With this functionality, parking police can not only take necessary measures in time but also reduce the number of illegally parked cars in the city.

the bos:311 app

How to make your mobile parking app valuable

It’s always a good strategy to encourage users to interact with your application. But how do you achieve this and bring value to your users? It’s time to give you a rough sketch of how to create parking functionality. Review a few of the functions below and use them as inspiration to expand your municipal app or build a parking app from the ground up.

Cheaper in-app parking. ParkWhiz promises parking rates up to 50 percent cheaper if booked in advance. This is actually a default discount offered by many parking providers – for example, airports. The trick is that online rates are usually equal to or less than drive-up rates as a special deal for booking in advance.

Easily find the cheapest parking. Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to overpay for parking, but being behind the wheel of a car, a driver cannot always compare parking fees and choose the best option. For example, the parking cost in San Francisco varies based on location and demand at specific times of the day. As a result, hourly parking fees range from $0.50 to $7.00. How can you help drivers be aware of the current parking prices and let them choose the most suitable option?

You can follow the example of the ParkMe application. Its interface allows a user to easily find daily and monthly parking rates. Prices are laid out on the map, enabling users to compare parking options.

the parkme app

Determine a car’s location. Recently, Skoda UK interviewed 2,000 British drivers. They found that 52 percent of those surveyed lost their parked cars at least once a year. What’s more, on average, drivers in the UK spend 5.5 million hours a year looking for their cars. 

To help drivers not lose their parked cars, you can follow the example of the Find My Parked Car app. It offers a notepad for forgetful drivers to enter their car’s location. Besides, Find My Parked Car lets users photograph the parking place and add a note to the image. This app also has a map to help hapless explorers find their cars more traditionally.

the find my parked car app

What to avoid when building a mobile parking solution

Now that you’ve seen the useful functions of municipal and parking apps, let’s switch to things that annoy users. Make sure you don’t make these mistakes.

Incorrect rates. Some apps – for example, Park NYC – are criticized for displaying incorrect prices. Only when a user starts the booking process do they see the true price. There are many possible reasons behind such discrepancies, from bad car parking software testing to deliberate price obfuscation by owners. Keep in mind that such discrepancies are likely to affect your app’s reputation. 

Inconvenient filtering. ParkMe doesn’t please customers with the ease of comparing parking spots. Let’s say that a user filters for a specific time to find rates, then goes to the page of a garage to check out details. When the user then returns to the list of parking spots, all the information they entered has disappeared. So the user has to re-enter it. During car parking app development, make sure that entered information doesn’t disappear until the user intentionally changes the search parameters. 

Poor information about garages and lots.  BestParking’s users complain about a lack of information on amenities. Details such as how to redeem reservations are also absent. Provide your users with detailed descriptions of parking garages and lots. This info may include photos, extra services, regular parking fees, and hours. You can go further by informing users of nearby cafes, stores, gas stations, and car washes. 

Design issues. In order not to mislead users with your app, try to provide an intuitive and uncluttered design. Users of the Miami Beach municipal parking app powered by ParkMe often complain that the app’s interface design is too complex. Users claim that it’s impossible to understand how to interact with the application. Provide user-friendly design by enlisting the help of an experienced design team.

To sum up 

As cities continue to thrive and more cars and parking lots appear, it’s inevitable that mobile parking management will become more important for your city’s improvement. By taking the time and effort to invest in a mobile parking solution, a city can make a significant difference in solving its most pressing traffic problems. If you decide to digitalize city parking, we’ll gladly come alongside you and share our technical knowledge of developing mobile parking applications to help you improve your city. Fill in the contact form to get in touch with us!

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