In the opening scene of the original Blade Runner from 1982, we’re introduced to a dystopian Los Angeles skyline filled with massive oil refineries perpetually spewing balls of fire into the air, generating an endless smog that covers the dark city of concrete skyscrapers and dim lights for miles. The year? 2019. So the screenwriters pretty much got it right on the money.
As populations rise and cities continue to gobble up more land across the globe, the number of megacities is projected to grow. Definitions differ based on what constitutes a city and how many people should live in a city to be labeled as a megacity. But according to the United Nations, which defines a megacity as a city with a population of at least 10 million people, there are at least 33 megacities around the world. Ten additional cities will gain megacity status by 2030.
We’re all aware of how mind-numbingly slow and inefficient local government can be. Just walk into any Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and experience it for yourself. Imagine compounding all those dreadful inefficiencies with a growing world population, with at least two out of every three people living in cities by 2050, and municipalities will soon have a living nightmare on their hands. In one megacity, Jakarta, residents can’t even be uniquely identified because people sometimes share the same ID number. The ‘Rona already showed how vulnerable cities are to interruptions to municipal services, turning simple tasks like renewing a license into a multi-month ordeal.
Building the Future with Smart Cities
Some clever MBAs figured out that by throwing “smart” in front of a word, we can transform everyday concepts into high-tech solutions of the future. And smart cities are being touted as one of those solutions to the growing challenge of overcrowded urban centers. The smart city concept, like any other smart buzzword, entails using a combination of digital technology, data-driven approaches, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) to create a streamlined experience for those fortunate to live in a concrete jungle. By connecting time-consuming, manual processes like getting a permit from the City Hall or dealing with municipal waste to a digital platform, efficiencies can be gained, costs reduced, and waste decreased to build a better quality of living for citizens.
We discussed some benefits of smart cities in our past piece on 11 Smart City Solutions Creating Smarter Cities. There are many components of a smart city, each at varying levels of technological maturity.
Today, we want to talk about one component of smart cities that’s lacking just about everywhere outside of, perhaps, Tokyo – parking and transportation. According to McKinsey, smart cities that adopt smart-mobility applications can cut commuting times by 15 to 20 percent. That could mean time savings of 20 to 30 minutes per day, and fewer downloads of guided meditations podcasts to keep you from developing a bad case of road rage.
We previously looked at how smart cities are tackling their transportation problems using technologies such as geospatial intelligence. It’s about time too. How many of us have driven around for hours looking for a parking spot, only to discover the meter only takes coins and our change purse is at home? Or how many of us got stuck on the sixth floor of a parking structure, only to realize half the parking stalls are for permit-only residents? That’s where smart-parking startup called Passport changes the game.
Smarter Streets and Sidewalks
Founded in 2010, Charlotte-based Passport is a startup that’s focusing on payment systems for transportation and mobility, allowing cities and universities to streamline parking payments, enforcement, micro-mobility applications (scooters and bikes), and digital permitting, all on a single platform. The 11-year-old company has raised $213.5 million in disclosed funding so far, pulling a cool $90 million just this month. The Passport platform essentially connects existing parking, permitting, and metering systems to new secure digital payment options as a one-stop-shop for all things related to municipal transportation operations.
Permanent residents and visitors no longer need to waste time at City Hall and waiting for approvals through the byzantine bureaucracy of modern local government, or drive in circles after getting their designated parking spot snapped up by their neighbor’s extra large Ford pickup truck. Passport has over 1,000 clients and partnerships with some of America’s notable universities and biggest cities – Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Omaha, Tucson, and Detroit – to help them increase efficiency and payment options for parking.
Use Cases for a Smart City Parking Platform
The smarter, simpler parking management experience touted by Passport is driven by its Parking Passport mobile app. The application is a single system that allows users to access a larger parking ecosystem with consistent rules, rates, and restrictions across all parking partners. That means parking customers don’t have to go running down the street to each individual street parking sign and read the obscure rules and restrictions on which day the street sweeper is coming or on which holidays parking is enforced. And that means fewer instances in which parking customers can contest the rules (there are actually companies now that handle parking tickets for people to get them off the hook which defeats the whole purpose of having rules and penalties for not following them). The vehicles of repeat offenders with open citation records can also be identified and penalized with higher parking fees. The result is a more seamless customer parking experience with less headache for everyone.
The Passport app provides users multiple options to pay for parking with several digital payment systems connected to their platform. That means users can keep their eye on the leftover time and continue to pay for more parking time before the meter runs out. No more rushing off in the middle of a happy ending to pay the parking meter, only to find out the parking enforcement officer has already slapped a hefty fine on your windshield.
Decreasing the number of manual transactions and processes also helps partners reduce wear-and-tear on their meters and kiosks. Over time, using Passport can extend the investment lifetime of partners’ parking hardware and lower processing costs from credit and debit card transactions. Not to mention there’s some nifty reporting made possible by the rich data sets being generated on the backend.
The Passport Operating System combines data from parking, enforcement, and permits that gives partners access to rate and restriction management in real-time. The parking data can also be analyzed for better decision-making. For example, if a parking lot seems to be congested on certain days or seasons, the operations team can decide to increase the rate for that day, or open up a second parking lot to ensure equitable access to parking for all visitors and residents.
A Case Study in Bahstun
If you misplaced your khakis and can’t start your car, you’re probably from Bahstun, a city that thought introducing mobile payments would decrease overall parking revenue because fewer tickets would be written. Passport’s salespeople handled these objections gracefully, and their baby was born – ParkBoston.
In the first year, the city was right, and parking violation revenues plummeted. But you won’t believe what happened next. Revenues from parking soared +240%. Turns out the decrease in ticket fees the city correctly predicted was offset by the increased revenue through the app, creating a win-win for parking officials and parkers alike. Moral of the story is, if you make it easier for people to pay, they end up paying you more.
ParkBoston was a private label application Passport built specifically for the City of Boston. The app has been featured as one of the “must-have” apps in Boston, and has won awards for its marketing efforts and events. What’s even more impressive is the time it took to deploy. In only 57 days, the platform was rolled out to all of Boston’s 8,000 meters.
The Bigger Picture
There’s a much bigger picture here than just a futuristic parking app. And we’re not just talking about all the big data that’s being generated. After all, there is no shortage of parking apps out there that promise similar benefits. Where we see the opportunity here is in the ability for additional revenues to be generated through dynamic pricing and enabling property owners with the ability to sell their spaces as they need. When you go on holiday, rent your apartment using Airbnb and your parking space using Passport. It should be that easy. If someone parks their electric scooter on your sidewalk, the app should automatically credit you with a small commission – courtesy of the scooter provider who is essentially renting your sidewalk.
Another more distant opportunity may be around autonomous driving. Sure, you could argue that autonomous cars won’t need parking spots because they’re always on the go, but you could also argue that they’ll probably need places to park too. All those nifty autonomous grocery delivery vehicles they’re building will need places to offload their goods. Of course, this opportunity can only be maximized if Passport can capture a lot of the parking market very quickly.
While we’re still a long way away from getting rid of the dense, ozone-rich smog that surrounds Los Angeles and other great cities of the United States, Passport can at least keep tourists and residents from clashing over 180 square feet segments of property. As more megacities blossom and parking becomes scarcer, smart cities need all the help they can get to make urban mobility more efficient and effective.
May 30, 2021