From Arizona to Asia, airports are becoming increasingly innovative and futuristic when it comes to parking services.
While Heathrow’s spage-age pod system may have grabbed the global headlines, there are plenty of other examples of airports investing in state-of-the-art facilities and pioneering new services in a bid to boost operational efficiency, customer service levels and, of course, revenues.
And it is not difficlt to see why, as car parking is the biggest source of non-aeronautical revenue for airports in North America – where it accounts for 39% of all non-aviation related income – and, is a major bottom line booster in Europe and Africa.
Below are five examples of how airports are reinventing their car parking operations and the impact this has had, and continues to have, on customer satisfaction levels and income.
America’s friendliest gateway
As America’s self proclaimed ‘friendliest airport’, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport takes pride in providing customers with world-class customer service from the moment they arrive in the parking garage.
With over 21,000 parking spaces for customers in five facilities, the parking facilities are staffed by a contracted parking management company that provides in-person customer service 24/7.
At each facility, customers can take advantage of free motorist services that include locating lost vehicles, fixing flat tyres, charging dead batteries and vehicle lock-outs. Petrol is also provided for a small fee for customers who are running on an empty tank.
“Customers can ask for assistance by pressing a button on our blue assistance call boxes, found near elevators and throughout parking areas or by calling our 24-hour parking hotline,” said the gateway’s acting parking manager, Alisa Smith.
The East Economy Parking facility offers customer amenities such as family friendly parking spaces, early bag check, and even a pet park.
Additionally, customers can scan QR codes on the signs at the Economy Parking bus stops and receive a reminder message about where they parked, making it much easier for them to return to their cars after their trips.
“We also have an interactive parking status tool on our website and mobile website which advises customers on where to park based on the airline, desired price and availability,” says Smith.
With the young and social media-savvy serving as a predominant demographic, Liverpool John Lennon Airport in the UK knew a mobile app was a spot-on strategy.
“We wanted to do a minimal cost app for the airport, and we knew our demographic to be a younger profile,” says Peel Airport’s group retail director, Lucy O’Shaughnessy
“Car parking is one of our biggest revenue earners, and we wanted people to be able to transact on the app. So, the real driver for the design was to convert to booking through the mobile.”
With the engineering expertise of Airport U Ltd, the myLJLA Mobile Passenger App provides Liverpool passengers with a range of advanced services including ‘One Button Check-out’ for car parking.
“We have the first fully enabled m-commerce mobile application,” says O’Shaughnessy. “When you interact and input your details through our app, we are already ticking the PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance boxes. We are integrated into our already live parking system, as opposed to going to a mobile site and interacting with the booking system.”
Launched in June 2012, O’Shaughnessy said myLJLA is processing car parking transactions as people are getting more accustomed to the app.
“I think it is a little ahead of its time in terms of people being cautious with credit card details on an app,” says O’Shaughnessy. “I do think that it is going to grow, and we want to get to the point where customers are booking fast-tracks through security whilst still in security.
“This is Stage 1, but we can already see the ways to improve it quite a lot. We have quite high expectations for the app, to be honest.”
UK airports have been early adopters of online booking principles, and London’s Heathrow International Airport is no exception.
Seeing the benefits in terms of revenue generation and managing yield and prices, Heathrow has been adjusting car park prices to meet demand, with higher prices prevailing during peak holiday periods, and lower prices dipping during the quiet winter months.
If the business is doing particularly badly, prices may be reduced almost overnight. And if the lots are running at capacity, Heathrow can opt to increase prices and choke off demand.
And, if the lot happens to be the Terminal 5 Business Car Park, the latter is the popular response, as it is served by Heathrow’s popular pod people mover system.
Fraser Brown, UltraPRT’s managing director at Heathrow, said the installation of the futuristic personal rapid transit system linking passengers from the T5 Business Car Park to the terminal itself has achieved a demand increase that allows the airport to achieve a higher day rate, more demand to pay the higher day rate, and, a markedly more content customer.
The pod system of sleek, driverless electric vehicles with four tyres, an electric motor and batteries drive autonomously and are effectively choreographed and moved in the same way that an air traffic control system manages aircraft in airspace.
“The car park is now busier,” says Brown, referring to the futuristic draw of the 21-vehicle PRT system that offsets the difference in cost of the now retired diesel bus circuits.
“The additional cost versus the bus is covered by the fact that the car park has been able to draw in more passengers.”
Since its debut in April 2011, Heathrow’s PRT system has carried more than half a million passengers, all of whom have waited less than 15 seconds on average for their transport vehicle to arrive.
With automated features to include automatic ticket dispensers and stations, as well as car-finding kiosks powered by a license plate recognition (LPR) system, Incheon International Airport’s parking process is arguably amongst the most advanced in the world.
The parking location find-system is an advanced and integrated parking management system that is LPR technology-based. This system supports parking guidance by display of vacant spaces in each block or floor, parking location finding by kiosk, and parking lot security by video recording function.
“The parking location finding system helps drivers find vacant parking spaces quickly, and if necessary, find the parking location of their car on return. With our system, there is no need to memorise the parking location of your car,” notes Yong-Kun Kim, general manager of Incheon’s security facilities team.
Kim explained that in the parking space, the LPR camera detects vehicles and recognises plate numbers. The bay lamp colour changes to red based upon occupation, and the data is saved in the server to provide parking location information to customers.
With the system managed with a management server, LPR server, guidance server and storage server, the floor and block guide display indicates available spaces on the block or floor and guides the moving direction to vacant spaces.
The kiosk provides customers with the parking location of the car by simply inputting the license plate number and also guides the user’s route to the car via map.
Going it alone
About five years ago, Bristol Airport in the UK broke with tradition and brought the entire car parking operation at the gateway back in-house, and claims not to have looked back since, commercial director, Simon Preece, enthuses: “There are lots of things that we do that are not unusual or special or untypical, but one star point is that we do run the whole car park operation in-house. In the UK, that is quite unusual because most airport operators have a number of car park operators.
“We employ all of the staff in all of our car parks and operate it ourselves because it gives us an opportunity to communicate with our passengers.
“From our point of view, our car park operation of 50 people is part of our team and part of our culture. We like to select our personnel ourselves, and train them and induct them in our culture and what we believe in.”
Since Bristol’s car park regained its in-house functionality, Preece says there has been an increase in engagement from staff that has been demonstrated in survey results.
Following the trend of other UK and European car parks, Preece says most of Bristol’s parking is pre-booked. Accordingly, Bristol has invested in a website that enables the airport to gather information about loyal car park patrons and offer specials to frequent users.
“Because most of our bookings are done online, we send customers a welcome home email a few days after they return. We ask for feedback on the user’s experience, and receive an average of 2,000 responses monthly that allow us to monitor how we are doing.”