Smart Parking blog

Sign of the times

If you can’t remember the last time you read a book, don’t worry: you’re not alone. Whichever way you look, the reality is that reading across the developed world has been on a steady decline across the last 40 years. It’s a phenomenon that’s been with us since the mass popularity of TV, and it’s a decline that has accelerated with the growth of online. Only 16% of web users read every word on a screen, while website designers have found that using bullets increases reading by 50%, and halving text has a similar positive impact on message penetration.

In short, people are generally reading a lot less, and that means two things: one, if we’re to communicate with them effectively we must make every word that we do use count, and two, because people are more used to eye-grabbing salient information we can learn from online to communicate visually as well as verbally.

When these thoughts are applied to driving, it’s even more important that we get this right. After all, when we’re driving, the case must be that our brains see signs, compute their meaning, and instruct us to take action – almost instantaneously.

So, when we’re helping people park cars, we need to find ways of making sure that drivers buy into what we’re communicating quickly, easily and with no room for misinterpretation. And, if we can do all that and put a smile on their faces, we’re doing an awesome job.

img-1Here’s a great example where bright, fun painting makes it easy to get round a car-park, while undoubtedly making a driver feel good about the space.

Go to the next step, and it’s possible to use car-parking signs to challenge behaviours and thinking – while introducing a degree of humour into the process. Two examples here – both US signs, and both attempting to manage parking violations, but in a slightly different way.

The disabled sign is interesting; the smaller sign highlights the fine, but the main sign provokes drivers who might use the parking space thoughtlessly to reconsider their actions. The library sign is cute, as it reinforces a likely self-image of library users – clever, but mild mannered!parking

While it’s important that the terms and conditions that apply to a car park are clear and visible to drivers, perhaps the use of short, humorous or thought-provoking messages could play a greater role in car park communication. This could help ensure greater and more willing levels of compliance, which are, after all, the building blocks of customer loyalty and advocacy.

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SmartPark – the triple bottom line

What does a high-energy protein bar made from ground up insects, leasing instead of buying jeans, and waterless toilets in the slums of South America have in common with parking a car in the middle of London?

Not a lot, on the face of it, until you start to dig a little deeper.  These seemingly unconnected ideas have all made a list of the top 100 sustainable business innovations in an authoritative review of environmentally friendly enterprises.  The list has been created by Sustainia, one of the world’s best-respected organisations specialising in researching and then campaigning for breakthroughs that deliver measurable environmental, social and economic benefits.

Sustainia’s overall premise is that while world needs to do things in a different way if it is to combat the threat of climate change, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this should be at the expense of living enriched, interesting lives.

As Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the intergovernmental panel for climate change said about Sustainia 100: “we now know where to find the most inspiring solutions. Reading about how new projects and technologies are innovating transportation, advancing our food production, slowing down fashion and speeding up resource efficiency, you cannot help but be amazed by the opportunities to start creating sustainable industries, communities and cities. Sustainia100 is a guide to a green and desirable future within our reach and it is a guide away from threats and insecurities.”

That’s why it’s such an honour for Smart Parking to have our SmartPark solution selected as a Sustainia 100 innovation for 2014. According to Sustainia, our technology, which enables communities to reduce congestion, cut vehicle emission totals, lower costs-to-enforce and improve the experience of drivers who are looking to park in city centres, delivers a Triple Bottom Line of benefits – environmental, social and economic.  As Sustainia says, “all the solutions in the Sustainia100 are readily available, have the potential to scale up across markets, and impact society on the triple bottom line of sustainability.”

Interestingly, Sustainia reviewed more than 900 solutions and projects around the world before agreeing its shortlist, so it shows how vibrant eco-technology as a sector has become, and also, why being in the top 100 is a real testament to the success of SmartPark.  With it being implemented in cities around the world, including Westminster, Sydney, Madrid, Camden, Edinburgh and Prague, SmartPark is gaining profile as the ‘go-to’ solution for all cities.  As we continue to work hard to engage with cities and highlight the benefits of our technology to them, it’s great news that a globally recognised authority on sustainability has underlined SmartPark’s credentials

Download the Sustainia100 for 2014

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Creating Smart Cities in New Zealand and around the world

When it comes to how a modern urban centre performs, there are many different ways to measure progress and success.  New amenities… more public and private investment… the enhancement of green spaces; all these priorities and many, many others are on the agenda as towns seek to deliver an increasingly positive experience for residents, businesses and visitors.

While many of these variables have been part of urban improvement for decades, it’s technology and the concept of the smart city that has increasingly captured the attention as a way of maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of town centres.  A smart city is built on the back of ongoing, real time, 24 hour data. Real convenience is where the customers, the administrators and anyone in between feel that life is made easier, not more complicated.

The goal – and the end result – of a smart city should be happiness, where a vibrant, modern urban centre makes any visit enjoyable.

Smart Parking is playing a key role in ensuring that the smart city evolves from theory to reality – and it’s a role and theme I explored at PNX14, a conference for municipal decisionmakers staged in Christchurch, New Zealand at the end of May.

While I reminded my audience that Smart Parking’s technology and business was established here in New Zealand, the real focus of my presentation was about the future – and about how local government, here and overseas is making that future happen right now.

With tens of thousands of Smart Parking sensors already in the ground in deployments around the world, there is a rapidly growing recognition that drivers – who are also the residents, businesses and visitors that are at the heart of any urban community – want to be able to park more quickly, more safely and more easily, and that our solution is at the centre of bringing the concept of a smart city, integrated with technology, to life.

The prizes for all cities everywhere are worth securing.  Smart Parking’s technology can be instrumental in cutting congestion and vehicle emissions caused by drivers looking for somewhere to park, and filling unoccupied parking spaces.

My presentation at PNX14 reviewed the technical and practical advantages of our solution that is attracting the attention of city development professionals from around the world, and how it laid the ground for further future innovation.

And while it is understandable that the world’s global cities will secure international media attention for their smart city projects it’s also worth remembering that many other urban communities are incorporating exactly the same technology into their streets to meet their local needs.

Smart Parking’s solution, for example, is helping breathe new life into New Zealand centres like New Plymouth, Rotorua and Cambridge by opening up CBD spaces on a strictly time enforced basis to more visitors and ensure that shoppers and tourists are given another great reason to visit downtown, while commuters who wish to stay all day are encouraged to park on the fringe of the CBD.

Ultimately, a smart city should make life easier and more convenient for the people, businesses and organisations that use them every day.  The technology that is deployed in the street, the applications that underpin it and the communications that tie it all together are now all in place to bring smart city benefits to an increasing number of communities in the years ahead.

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New Zealand – world class parking solutions!

As many guys who grew up as a second son will tell you, living with a bigger brother close by can often create challenges. It’s occasionally difficult to be seen in your own light and get your voice heard.

Sometimes, countries experience just this kind of relationship.  Think Canada to the United States.  Think Scotland to England.  And, of course, think New Zealand to Australia. As a native born Kiwi, the last example is one that I feel reasonably well qualified to comment on!

We’re all aware of our neighbour across the Tasman Sea, and the fact that when we head for Europe or the US, nearly everyone mistakes our accents for Aussie.

So, it’s time to shout a bit louder about New Zealand, and, in particular highlight the way in which, in the shape of Smart Parking, Kiwis are playing their part to keep our industry and our company at the cutting edge of new parking and traffic flow solutions.

New Zealand is home to around 4.5 million people, but while that’s not a huge population, we are, for the most part, largely urban dwellers.  Just four cities alone – Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton – are where almost 60% of us live, so while we’re a small country, it doesn’t mean to say we don’t have big country parking and traffic flow challenges.

Think of New Zealand and you’ll probably consider that we’re famous for our agriculture.  If you’re partial to roast lamb and a decent Sauvignon Blanc, the chances are that they came from here.  But what’s also worth saying is that we’re also home to some sophisticated technology businesses, as exemplified by Smart Parking’s origins here.  Smart Parking can trace its roots to 2003, when it was a New Zealand-founded technology developer.  It’s a background that means we understand the true importance of innovation in our industry – and the value of using technology as a key enabler to help our clients achieve their goals.

It’s also this longstanding heritage in the sector, and strong professional relationships with parking providers here, that means Smart Parking has been able to secure a significant client base across the country, with local authorities and private car parking providers adopting our innovations to improve the quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of parking compliance.

Councils like Rotorua and Waipa are using our sensor technology to help breathe new life into their CBD and ensure that shoppers and tourists are given another great reason to visit downtown.  Retailers like The Base in Hamilton and transport providers like Auckland International Airport have integrated our SmartGuide solution to enable drivers to find a parking space quickly and easily.

Our expertise as an innovator in the sector also means that New Zealand is the perfect location for Smart Parking’s new technology hub. We recently secured new offices in the South Auckland district of Penrose to provide our research and development team with their own dedicated facilities.

The team focuses on developing innovations in the speed, efficiency and functionality of our applications.  They also ensure that the way in which our hardware that is deployed within a Smart Parking contract is fully integrated into the software to provide a seamless service.

So yes, New Zealand may be a small nation, but we’re playing an important role not only in helping make parking and traffic flow easier but also in developing and then deploying the solutions that will form the basis of tomorrow’s solutions.

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InterTraffic – a real success!

Late March saw us attend InterTraffic 2014 in Amsterdam – and we’re pleased to say it was a real success.

For those of you who haven’t visited the show, InterTraffic – which is also staged in Turkey, China and India – is arguably the world’s highest profile international traffic and transport trade fair.

Believe me, it’s a huge event.  We are talking about a presence from around 800 companies that are in all parts of the traffic and transport industries.  And it’s also a truly global affair – these businesses come from over 40 countries to attend the show and engage with peers, buyers and influencers from across the public and private sectors.

We knew we were going to be busy, which is why we fielded four of our management team at the show.  Group CEO Paul Gillespie, our UK management services business leader Susan Taylor, our EMEA technology sales manager Jim Short – and, of course, me! – were all on hand throughout the four day event.  We undertook discussions with businesses and municipal governments from around the world, and the focus of many of the conversations centred on our ability to meet the needs of decision makers seeking parking solutions within city centres.

In many ways, that’s no surprise.  Our SmartPark solution, and its placement either as a full deployment or as a trial within cities including London, Madrid, San Francisco, Sydney, Edinburgh and Prague, is now encouraging many other local authorities and their partners to closely evaluate the merits of what we can deliver.  The environmental and economic challenges that parking presents across the big cities within which we’re already working are relevant to many other conurbations around the world.  The full-scale deployment of SmartPark in Westminster, and the trials currently taking place within other key locations, highlight how our technology can deliver real, proven solutions.

InterTraffic also saw us meet with companies that were interested in becoming Smart Parking distributors.  These discussions were also very useful; we are in a period of expansion, so it’s important that we seek to develop relationships with businesses that are interested in partnering with us.  We’ll then be even better placed to meet the needs of parking providers and municipal authorities within the countries that they know well.

InterTraffic was an unqualified success for us, and we’ve spent the last few weeks sifting through the conversations we had and the contacts we made to fill our diaries in the weeks and months ahead.

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The great car parking design makeover

If you’ve ever bought a home, you’ll appreciate how important it is to make sure that your new surroundings reflect your personality and how you want to use that space.

Across the last few years, interior design has captured the imagination of consumers, and with more TV shows, more magazines, and more online and social media presence, many of us are increasingly confident in how we want our homes to look. We are also more able to share and learn from others’ ideas.

This evolution has been mirrored by the adoption of new levels of investment in interior design by the retail industry. Think Apple store, and you will know exactly what you’re going to experience. Think Starbucks, think Cineworld, think Lush, and it’s the same – brands strive to ensure that their customers are welcomed with a consistently high standard of appeal.

This is, of course, no accident. The brief to an interior designer is to listen to and interpret their needs and desires, create the right atmosphere, and personalise the space on behalf of consumers. The designers then form the store around the customer’s journey, which all, of course, helps to maximise their spending.

Unfortunately, the retailers’ passion and attention to detail for design can often stop at their shop door – and it’s frequently the car parking that suffers by comparison.

This is what Sir Stuart Rose, former CEO of Marks & Spencer and one of the UK’s leading experts on the retail industry said recently.

“If you go to the average shopping centre these days, and you’re driving in, mostly the car park is pretty grotty. It’s difficult to get round, it’s poorly lit, it’s often a bit damp, and often it’s expensive. Until you get to the theatre upstairs, nothing actually happens. It’s all about giving customers what they want. It’s all about investment.”

That’s pretty damning stuff, isn’t it? Even if Sir Stuart is perhaps generalising to make a point, it’s a view that’s likely to reflect what a lot of drivers think whenever they go shopping.

It could be argued that Sir Stuart is provoking the providers of retail car parking – whether that is the retailers themselves, or the owners and managers of car parking linked to a retail location – to understand the critical importance, not just of the aesthetic appeal of a car park, but also the functionality of the space.

When retailers are competing with online for shoppers’ business, it’s vital that the theatre of the experience, as Sir Stuart puts it, is extended into the car park. It needs to be seen as of equal importance to the interior design within the retail or entertainment space. The car park is the customer’s first impression and, especially if they are spending money to park, they want to know that they are paying for something that will enhance their experience every time they visit.

Smart Parking is playing its part by developing solutions such as Pay & Walk and SmartGuide, which make car parking much simpler, quicker and easier to use, alongside clearer, easier to understand signage – so drivers are positively encouraged to return and recommend others. As Sir Stuart says, it is all about investment – and we look forward to talking to decision makers about how we can help them maximise the return on their investment in their car parking facilities.

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That winning feeling

March is the time of year when the UK parking and civil enforcement sector stages its very own awards ceremony – the British Parking Awards.

The Awards have become an important date in the diary for many professionals within the industry, as a panel of expert judges seek to recognise and reward excellence across a broad range of categories.

This year’s event was no exception. Staged at the Lancaster Hotel in London, and hosted by Iranian comedienne Shappi Khorsandi, the awards lunch saw almost 600 attendees from across the private and public sectors eager to find out who had been successful.

While it’s always interesting to see who wins which category and how the judges make their selection, there is more edge to it when you are involved in an entry submission.  Win, and you are elated.  Lose, and you have to wear a brave face!

Smart Parking was in this position as our client Westminster City Council was a nominee in the prestigious Parking Technology category for our deployment of SmartPark, our solution that helps drivers find a parking space quickly and conveniently.

While we were all cautiously confident, we were also aware that this was the event’s most competitive category.  To win, we would need to beat off nine other entries shortlisted from 15 entries.

It was with baited breath that we waited while the winner was announced.  You can imagine the delight when we heard that we had won.

It’s worth remembering that our project with Westminster is seeing us deploy up to 10,000 SmartEye sensors in two phases across the city, with an initial phase of over 3,400 bay sensors installed in spaces across the West End.  The scheme will take the stress out of searching for a parking space for millions of motorists in some of the busiest parts of Central London.

Our client was, of course absolutely thrilled that the scheme won, underlining their confidence in how SmartPark will make a genuine difference to motorists searching for a parking space in Westminster.  For us, it was more vindication that the solution is receiving recognition from experts, and that it is the Smart Parking system that is now becoming the blueprint for how every large city will be managing parking in the future.

We will certainly be shouting long and loud about this success at InterTraffic and at Parkex later this year, as it further reinforces our message that SmartPark is now the number one choice for municipal authorities around the world where cutting congestion, lowering pollution and managing access to parking more cost-efficiently are high priorities.

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When imagination and engineering come together

If you’re ever persuaded by family or friends to visit one of Disney’s theme parks, you can’t help but be struck by the mind-boggling amount of detail that they have gone into to make your visit just about as perfect as it can be.

From the moment your car comes within the park’s vicinity, right up to when, some twelve hours later, you head wearily for the exit gates, there’s an overwhelming sense that everything that could have been thought of has been thought of. It’s accurate second-guessing, but on an incredible level.

And actually, it’s not necessarily just the rides or the set piece attractions where this comes out most. It’s often in the smallest element where you stand back and admire the care that’s been taken. The joys of the Fast Pass system; the way litter disappears before you notice it’s there; and how thousands depart from and return to enormous parking lots swiftly, efficiently, and with no sign of a lost guest in sight.

What’s underpinning all this is something that The Walt Disney Company call Imagineering. Disney trains its teams to conceive the boldest idea and then develop it in absolutely convincing detail. While clearly this approach is at its most vibrant when it comes to creating the next attraction, it also ensures that Disney people are alive with thinking through, clearly and vividly, all aspects of the customer journey – big or small – and then challenging themselves to ask, “well, can we make that any better?”

The challenge to live in a customer’s world and use Imagineering to make an experience a better one should not just be the preserve of a company like Disney. It’s just as important that businesses like Smart Parking, together with our consumer-facing clients, adopt this way of working to enhance the service we provide in the world of car parking.

By continuing to ask “how do we make their experience better?” we will really make progress – with the real prize for our clients of maximising loyalty and nurturing advocacy amongst consumers.

One of the other characteristics of Disney’s approach is that they are restless, relentless improvers. It’s a bit of positive paranoia, if you like, which, if applied sensibly, is a very strong attribute to possess within our market too.

So, how could the world of parking management services take a leaf out of Disney’s Imagineering book?

Here are some ideas:

  • Signs that encourage drivers to use quieter parts of car park at busier times
  • Rewarding an extra 30 minutes parking further away from central locations
  • Creating VIP premium parking spaces, pre-bookable for regular/loyal shoppers, or simply for those who want to pay a little extra
  • Establishing extra-wide spaces for larger cars/light vans/caravans/motor homes away from central locations
  • Signage using bespoke language to add personality and friendliness to messaging
  • Allocating and publicising a proportion of store fines revenue to charity

While Disney has their Imagineering, Smart Parking is developing its own flavour of this approach: the Human Touch. It’s a way of working that harnesses our technology lead with our experience as providers of managed services to car parking clients to develop new solutions – but they are solutions that are built round the premise that it’s the human dimension to our business methods that make the difference.

By also adopting the habit of restless, relentless improvers, we can work with our customers proactively to suggest new ways of making the guest experience special. After all, the prize of consumer loyalty and advocacy is one that’s definitely worth securing.

To find out more about Smart Parking’s Human Touch programme contact Gavin Mullen at


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The differentiation game

Almost every market that you can think of has its heroes. They’re the people that lead by example; the professionals that their peers and even their competitors look up to. They might have created or led their business onwards and upwards to greatness. Or, they could be the latest to head up an organisation that, from generation to generation, performs in an exceptional way.

One leader who fits this description is Andy Street. Street is the managing director of the John Lewis Partnership, an employee-owned business that has for decades set new standards in excellence in UK retail. Whether it is their department stores, or their Waitrose food supermarkets, JLP continues to be the benchmark by which the retail industry is judged, and the standard that most of the rest of the market aspires to achieve.

So, when Andy Street says, “sexy car parks will be coming”, it’s vital that the specialists in the parking industry sit up and take notice.

This is the full detail of what Mr Street said on a recent episode of the BBC’s business in focus programme, The Bottom Line.

“Watch this space – sexy car parks will be coming. You want a sign that says ‘welcome, Mr Davies – this is your car park space’. All I am saying is that this will come, because everyone has to think about differentiation.”

While that is quite a bold (and, for the sector, a very encouraging) prediction, the broader context of Street’s comments within the rest of the show is even more compelling.

The programme considered how retailers should be developing new strategies to survive and thrive in a future in which online is set to take an increasing share of sales for both food and non-food offers. The contributors to the programme, which also included former Marks & Spencer CEO Sir Stuart Rose, spent time spelling out that while the demise of the traditional store and shopping centre had perhaps been exaggerated, it was time for retail businesses to really accelerate the way they innovated their offer, and how the importance of all aspects of the retail experience were key.

That’s when the debate turned to examining just how vital car parks were likely to be in the fight for future consumer loyalty and advocacy.

Both Sir Stuart and Mr Street highlighted the point that for many shoppers’ point of view, their retail journey started and ended with the quality of their parking experience.

Rather than regarding parking as a commodity that should be delivered for the lowest possible cost, it should be considered as an integral element of the total mix. Recognise and invest in the value of this facility, and it could add thousands of pounds of additional revenue each year from every shopper.

Underappreciate its importance, and risk seeing customers migrate to competitors or transfer their loyalty to online competitors.

So when Andy Street focuses on “sexy car parking”, my view, quite naturally, is to give him three cheers. After all, he is a retail professional who is not only at the top of his game; he also happens to be leading one of the UK’s – one of the world’s – most successful retail operations. He should know what he is talking about, and the fact that he has recognised the value of car parking as a key component to retail differentiation should be a clarion call to the parking industry to respond in an imaginative and positive way.

The scenario that Street describes is exactly within the compass of what a business like Smart Parking is able to offer both to retailers like the John Lewis Partnership, as well as to operators of multiple tenants shopping centre locations.

What’s more, Smart Parking can overlay our technology capability with an in-depth knowledge of car parking management.

By combining the technical know-how with our experience in making the car park operate efficiently and cost-effectively for our clients, we are in an ideal position to make a contribution to the way in which retailers can secure the differentiation that Andy Street has so clearly identified as being key to the future.

For more information on how Smart Parking can transform the experience of your customers, contact Gavin Mullen at

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The full solution

Having just returned from the latest Smart City Expo in Barcelona, there is a clear sense that cities and large infrastructure providers are searching for solutions that offer both tangible benefits and a strong business case.

While many of the concepts surrounding smart cities are seen as “nice to have”, it’s more difficult to judge whether they offer a significant return on investment. In these times of austerity and significant economic challenges – especially in Southern Europe – the likelihood of an investment into projects that don’t increase efficiency, raise revenue and lower costs is more than unlikely.

In contrast, city administrators, in partnership with their on-street enforcement providers, are now really focusing on how best to manage access to on-street space. With limited kerbside capacity and pressure from motorists and businesses alike there are high levels of interest in the technology that allows the best and most efficient use of this finite resource.  The ability to create shared use public and residential parking spaces, monitor real time compliance in those zones and direct motorists clearly to the nearest available on-street public parking is hugely beneficial.

The prizes for a city encompass reduced levels of congestion and pollution, better rates of compliance and an uplift in enforcement parking revenues.  Additionally, costs can be reduced through more effective and efficient enforcement.

The feedback from visitors to our stand in Barcelona is that they have been watching the advent of parking sensor technology with great interest. They understand the benefits. What they haven’t been able to find until now is a provider who can deliver a complete end-to-end solution. The reality is that they are not just looking for a sensor manufacturer; rather, they are seeking a provider that delivers a full management information and reporting back office, offers a free app to the motorist for guidance to available spaces, enables payment data association from the leading suppliers of payment terminals and cashless parking, and delivers the capability to send real time contravention alerts to the attendant’s handheld computer.

That someone exists in Smart Parking. This combined with the reassurance that the company have deployed more than 40,000 sensors globally & that this organisation has been chosen by the biggest authority in the UK to deploy more than 10,000 sensor in the heart of London created a real buzz around the stand.

Clients and potential clients alike had the opportunity to see and touch the sensors, review real time on-street data from the installation base, and receive a demonstration of the management information and reporting capability of the SmartRep back office.

The show saw over 200 companies attend our stand over the three day event. There was interest from some of the world’s most recognised names in the automotive, IT & telecommunications industries.

We welcome interest from potential clients who identify with these issues, but also crucially for the European market, parking operators or technology providers who are interested in a reseller partnership. Smart Parking welcome contact from such organisations to understand their domestic markets requirements and how we can provide this technology to both companies benefit.


You can contact Jim Short, Technology Sales Manager, EMEA at or call him on +44 7827 083801.

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