How to choose the right video parking management system

A video parking management system has one core function: “see” everything that happens on each of your car park spaces. Parking managers use the system to monitor spaces in real-time (occupancy, reservation, price, stats) and manage their facility more efficiently. Users benefit from parking guidance, enhanced security and better overall experience in the car park.

Some people call this kind of system video parking guidance but I prefer video parking management because I believe it is too restrictive to limit applications to driver guidance. This kind of system allows fine grained management like, for example, parking space reservation or dynamic parking space pricing.

I would like to review main differences between available video sensors in term of hardware implementation. I am not going to include specific software features or accuracy rates that are extremely important but easier to evaluate.

1. System architecture and impact on installation cost

I see 3 main architecture models that dominate the market today:

One camera for each space, placed on sides of the driveway

This architecture is the simplest with one camera per space - it is really similar to ultrasonic sensor based systems.

One camera for several spaces with “crossed” monitoring

In this architecture cameras look at the opposite spaces. From my experience this configuration allows up to 3 spaces to be monitored at most.

One camera for several spaces, installed in the middle of the driveway

In this configuration cameras are closer to the spaces they monitor and can see 1 or 2 spaces at most (more on that in section 3 below).

With a single cable trail and 1 fixation point per double-side camera, the more cost effective solution is clearly the last one. I would recommend this kind of architecture for more mature markets with high labor costs.

2. Camera optics and sensor

Optics

Even though each camera can monitor several parking spaces, there are some limitations. Due to the optical distortion of the camera lens, the closer you get to the space, the shorter the focal of the lens and this increases the distortion.

Below is an image taken from cameras installed in the middle of the driveway:

Monitoring 3 spaces with focal 2.8mm

You see the angle of the car plate. It is going to be very difficult to process the license plate with this angle. Here you end up with 2 spaces out of 3 with potentially unread license plates.

Monitoring 2 spaces with focal 4mm (By L’iPark)

On the picture above, distortion is minimal and license plates be recognized easily.

Sensors

It is not all about lens and camera resolution. The image sensor itself is extremely important to get clear images in different lighting conditions.

My advice - test the camera in different sections of the car park, especially the darker ones.

3. License Plate Recognition

License Plate Recognition (LPR) is one of the core features of the system. Without LPR there is no space reservation, no car retrieval and, more important, no customer behavior analytics.

Nowadays there is plenty of choice to do license plate recognition. There are even interesting open source projects.

The secret is that there is a huge difference between 90% and 98% accuracy - and this kind of high accuracy can only be reached with advanced algorithms and years of experience.

LPR is done in multiple stages. The short version is: plate detection, character segmentation and optical character recognition (OCR). This means that having an OCR capable of recognizing Latin or Cyrillic or Chinese characters does not ensure a high accuracy LPR.

In my experience, LPR is tricky. Many suppliers, particularly in China, promise to implement LPR for any country but in practice are not able to reach high accuracy on markets outside China. You will end up paying for their R&D and maybe reach an acceptable accuracy after years of testing. Be warned.

4. Video recording for security

Most of the video parking guidance systems on the market offer the ability to add video recording capability as an option. This option often comes with an external NVR (Network Video Recorder) using different management software. I would recommend using a solution fully integrated with the parking management system. This will help you get the most out of the system and there is no point installing cameras if you cannot use video streams.

In addition, if video streaming and recording is important, choose a cabled solution. Streaming over Wi-Fi is unstable and easier to jam or hack. Cabled installation can take a little extra time to install but this time will be saved on maintenance and greatly improve the security.

5. “Cloud” VS “On Premise” management software

On premise management software tends to disappear. The cloud era we entered a few years ago is reaching the parking industry with all the promises we have come to know: hardware virtualization, scalability and access to software anywhere and anytime.

But let me focus on some core advantages I see using cloud management platform in our industry:

  • Multi car park management from a single software access point

Very few car park operators manage a single car park. Connecting the management application to the cloud help operators reduce the staffing operational cost. In Europe some car parks are now running without full time staff.

  • Easy remote upgrades

With software running in the cloud, upgrades are a breeze. One update and all the car parks are using the same version of the software.

  • Higher availability and continuity of service

With hardware virtualization, it takes mere seconds to redeploy the software on new servers after hardware failure.

  • Open API for mobile application

Here comes probably one of the most important features to take into account during your selection process. If your customers can benefit from your investment as well, you will greatly improve the customer service and speed up your ROI.

By connecting your car park resources to drivers with mobile applications, you can acquire a competitive advantage and attract new customers to your facility. Make sure to check out our post related to mobile transition in the parking industry.

About Us

I am the CTO @ Silex Lab. We offer an affordable and innovative video parking management system, L’iPark©, as an alternative to the ultrasonic sensors systems.

We provide not only a powerful & scalable management tool for the car park operators but also a unique user mobile experience.

Discover here the kind of mobile experience you can create for your customers with L’iPark© API on your company mobile app.

Access Control in Car Parks: What's the Right Tech Mix?

Whether you are a Car Park Operator or a Parking Mobile App, you have to choose the right technology to manage car access at parking gates for the different kind of visitors you get.

This article I wanted to share with the parking community is about selecting the right tech for your operations without being too geeky. :)

“The main function of a parking access control system is simply to identify a customer at entrance and exit to check the arrival and departure time and open the gate to let him in and out at the condition that you can collect the money due for its parking time.”

Let’s sum up briefly the kind of customer flows you’ve got:

  1. The traditional occasional customer (non App user) who just drives by and goes inside your car park because it is convenient for him.
  2. The regular customer who has no membership (you might have failed so far to track him and show him the benefits of becoming a member).
  3. The regular customer with a membership.
  4. The app driver who likes to compare availability, prices and traveling in different cities.

All those customers can access your car parks in different ways which are more or less convenient for them and your team to manage. As a car park operator, what you want is to manage the flow of vehicles quickly and easily while keeping your operational costs down.

Which tech do we have on hand to manage car access control?

Ticketing:

The good old ticket machine system.

Any customer who arrives at gate can take a ticket and then be identified for payment and exit authorization.

Very straightforward but we all know the problems of ticket loss or damage that result in hassles for the driver and the operator. And I’m not even going into the fraud issue here…

Advantages Disadvantages
Customers (drivers)
  • Anybody can go in and out (no need to register)
  • The user experience in his car
  • Ticket damaged / lost/ unreadable
  • Must go to a machine or counter only for payment (QR code excluded here)
Operators
  • Basic solution to have to welcome the traditional or regular customer
  • Custom print for advertising ($)
  • Problems solving with ticket issues
  • Fraud
  • Maintenance & consumable
  • Slow entrance / exit flow

RFID short range:

A plastic card is given in advance to the customers or directly by the machine at the gate. It replaces the ticket by something sturdier, let’s say more eco-friendly since it’s reusable. The RFID chip can contain a variety of data inside.

Note that I’m not going into NFC on mobile phones which is similar to short range RFID. But maybe an engineer at Skidata or Amano would like to give us their input on the ongoing developments with this tech? :)

Advantages Disadvantages
Customers (drivers)
  • Anybody can go in and out (some machines can give you a card at entrance)
  • If you have a membership, then you can enjoy monthly billing and avoid time wasted at the payment machine
  • The user experience in his car
  • Card lost
  • Must go to a machine or counter for payment (if not registered)
Operators
  • Basic solution to welcome the traditional or regular customer with and without membership
  • Problems solving with card lost
  • Slow entrance/exit flow

RFID long range:

Very popular in countries like Singapore, AVI (Automatic Vehicle Identification) uses long range RFID. It is a very convenient option for off street parking beside the toll gates on the highway since it’s hands-free (no need to open the window).

Also you don’t need to pay on site, you charge it in advance. Everybody saves time and hassle.

Advantages Disadvantages
Customers (drivers)
  • The user experience in his car
  • Monthly billing, you avoid time wasted at the payment machine
  • Registered users only equipped with card and reader on board
Operators
  • Fast entrance/exit flow
  • Deployment (logistics) with customers

License Plate Recognition (LPR):

Licence plate recognition is performed by a camera and dedicated software that can recognize most vehicules (around 95%) with a readable plate.

It’s a hands-free solution for any kind of customer (registered or not). It’s the fastest solution for optimum flow at parking gates offering a pay-by-plate method.

Advantages Disadvantages
Customers (drivers)
  • The user experience in his car
  • Pay as you want (machine, counter, mobile or monthly billing)
  • A small % of cars can’t be recognized and access will be refused
Operators
  • Fast entrance/exit flow
  • Security record
  • Must be coupled with another technology to ensure 100% customer access

QR Code:

Very common in Asian countries, the Quick Response (QR) code is becoming more popular than the traditional bar code since it can contain much more information in it.

A registered customer who is given a QR code electronically or physically can present himself at the gate and be identified.

Advantages Disadvantages
Customers (drivers)
  • Always with you (mobile phone). You can take a picture of the physical ticket too
  • Pay as you want (machine, counter, mobile or monthly billing)
  • The user experience in his car
  • Registered users only
Operators
  • Easy and cheap to generate
  • Secure
  • Date records
  • Slow entrance/exit flow
  • Must be coupled with another technology to ensure 100% customer access

Others:

I’m sticking here to the most commonly used technology that are supposed to be hassle-free and serve most of the driver types.

We can however mention the remote controlled access for registered customers.

Note that some companies today are providing a device that converts Bluetooth signals from phones to any radio frequency. That could give new life to this old tech!

You have the electronic lock technology on a keyboard or digital screen as well.

So what’s the right mix to manage car access control?

Well, this depends on the kind of users you have and the experience you want to give them at gates and when paying.

At Silex Lab we supply a turnkey solution for car park operators who want to manage the access of registered users 100% automatically with the best speed flow at gates and payment stage.

L’iPark® access control is based on the mix of License Plate Recognition + QR code technologies.

Our LPR recognizes 97% of the customers who can go in and out without even stopping at gates while the QR code serves as a backup for the 3% of unrecognized plates.

This technology mix has also been selected by the leading car park operator Indigo who is presently giving the best user experience to Indigo App users daily.

“If you would like to try L’iPark® access control solution and increase your customers’ mobile experience and your revenue, contact me. We offer a 100% money back guarantee on our product during 3 months after setup at your car park.”

The Inevitable Mobile Transition in the Parking Industry

Back in the 1950-60’s, do you think that Ace Parking or Vinci Park’s founders expected that drivers would be able to book a parking space and pay electronically on a mobile?

Of course not! But today the 3rd generation of CEO’s is fully working towards this novel idea because parking mobility is THE main battle field in the parking industry.

They are facing “disrupters” or better known as “start-ups”!

Start-ups raise millions of dollars and spend them in mobile applications, business development, and marketing. They allow people to check parking space availability, compare rates, book and pay for parking in the cities. They establish direct relationship with drivers and are building their own parking brands.

And some (maybe most?) parking operators are not looking at them with a friendly eye. Kevin J. Leary, president of VPNE, stated in the Boston Globe about Luxe Valet:

“They were trying to create a business out of our garages. They’re disruptors. Eventually, they’ll be parking operators.”

Parking Mobile

So the old school is forced to learn from the new school and must follow the current trend “parking + mobile = $”!

While most of the start-ups could learn just as much from the old parking operators, such as “customer service” for example, the parking mobile APPS are quite innovative in term of parking functions they offer today.

Shared parking Apps

Firstly, we have the shared parking Apps, like the French start-up “ZenPark” who raised 6.1 million Euros last April. Secondly, the Chinese team at “Air Parking” (Wechat account based) is currently running its operation in 50 residential buildings in South China. There is also the brilliant UK based company “JustPark”, backed originally by BMW I Ventures, which raised an extra 3.5 million Pounds on Crowdcube from 2702 individual investors last year (impressive!). All those shared parking APPs have shown a great capacity to monetize unexploited private parking resources and offer friendly alternatives to the traditional on & off street parking operators.

Vinci Park, recently rebranded “Indigo”, has probably learned one or two tricks from those innovative, shared parking start-ups. Indigo is indeed positioning itself as a competitor in this parking rivalry. They offer free hardware installation after auditing your precious parking assets. Then when there are available parking spots at a specific time in your residential or office buildings, Indigo indicates that they are available for rent on its parking mobile APP.

Valet Parking Apps

The 2nd kind of mobile parking App, which is quite disruptive, is the Valet App. It essentially helps you to park your car and then brings it back to you at your chosen location and time in the city. You don’t need to stress about finding a place or parking at all. It is all done for you by a valet. Brilliant service for busy people. But the Valet App industry has already seen a lot of start-ups left behind because of all the working permits and legal issues they were faced with. Not everybody excels like Uber in navigating through the regulatory legal nets!

What can Parking Operators learn from this business model? Well, as per the shared parking, develop a similar service for their clients and “Valet them for extra bucks”! At the same time, ensure that you bring all the cars in the city to your car parks and not the ones of your competitors. The Valet companies will, of course, get to choose where they park the driver’s cars in order to maximize their margins.

Mobile Payment Parking Apps

We must also recognize the leaders in the mobile parking payment industry, which are the pioneers and forerunners for “on street” parking payments. The most famous one is PayByPhone, a Canadian-French company started in 2001. They operate today in more than 350 cities around the world. Their mobile payment solution is just incredible, making it easy to understand why it is used by millions daily. One of its American competitors however, ParkMobile, which is currently operating in 35 US cities, is also innovative. They are notably partnering with Ford and Volvo car manufacturers to offer a connected car experience on top of just the mobile app itself. Stay tuned on this new tech shift…

Love it or they hate it, parking operators must face the reality of the market; mobility is king in today’s business.

And for a simple reasons: it is fast, secured and stress free!

Keith Jones, owner and managing partner at Ace Parking, shared the same vision in a recent interview with Parking Exec:

“Changes in our everyday culture will continue to affect and dictate changes in the parking industry. Mobile based GPS, payment, and access will continue to broaden the way we park. Gates and tickets will slowly become a thing of the past.”

To quickly check online parking spots availability, book, park and go…that’s all we want as drivers. We have no time to turn endlessly around the city or inside a car park to just find a d### space to leave our car! We need guidance, easy access in the car park and a fast payment method that doesn’t require us to queue in front of an antiquated coin/credit card machine.

Is it too much to ask when an hour of parking costs more than an hour’s wages?

There is plenty of work ahead for parking operators and system integrators in transitioning to the “parking mobile” age, but the result in the cities of the future will be amazing, according to Laurent Derache, technical director @ Silex Lab:

“The stress and time waste for drivers will be something cured. Accessing any parking lot from mobile registration will increase car entrance and exit flows while decreasing management costs by removing the ticket pains (fraud, unreadable ticket, ticket lost and so on).”

L’iPark is a turnkey solution for parking APPs and operators to automate the access and guidance of drivers in car parks while securing people’s assets and increasing revenue, unlike any other technology.

L’iPark empowers car parks with mobility and supports their transition into the “connected parking” era.

Smart Parking