Do Parking Apps Really Alleviate Parking Problems?

Everyone’s been there. You’re circling the city block, head on a swivel, to catch any sign of white backup lights – an indication that the stars have aligned to free up a single parking spot. This slow and frustrating search for parking accounts for an estimated 30% of city traffic, and it’s not doing drivers, cities, businesses, or the environment any favors. That’s why leveraging innovative mobile technologies to improve on-street parking is the holy grail – for everyone. Mobile apps have emerged over recent years in attempts to combat the urban parking conundrum. As more and more cities adopt smarter parking solutions, we’re seeing the ways in which this technology is succeeding, falling short, and revealing future opportunities.

Many parking apps provide real-time information on parking availability, accept mobile payments, send reminders when your meter is low, and allow you to extend your allotted time. They often work by registering your license plate number, and then inputting your parking location with a unique code. Interestingly, it’s not only in the world’s densest urban areas that these apps have been implemented. Parkmobile, a domestic leader in the space, is used in over 600 locations across 37 states. Internationally, ParkMe boasts availability in 4,200 cities across all 7 continents – though that raises the question of whether Antarctic users are human or penguin. These types of apps can be found everywhere from college campuses to Main St. in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Drivers and cities must both benefit if parking apps are to succeed. For drivers, this technology can give peace of mind, create a more streamlined traveling experience, and help save money on gas and parking itself. From reserving a spot in advance to viewing available street parking in real-time around your destination, apps are delivering measurable value to drivers every day. On the other hand, cities benefit by reducing traffic congestion and harmful fuel emissions. Additionally, parking management has the opportunity to implement dynamic pricing based on demand by harnessing data analytics and utilize smart management systems that allow for easy monitoring of an entire parking network.

Perhaps the strongest draw for cities, however, is increased revenue – a result that doesn’t always excite users. Some intelligent parking technology can detect when a car leaves, clearing away any unused time to optimize income. Greater user compliance will also make cities more money, according to Parkmobile’s Chief Executive Jon Ziglar. Ziglar seems to suggest that drivers would be more likely to pay for on street parking if a few keystrokes on their phones replace the chore of digging for loose change under the seat. While these may be aspects of the profit equation, Parkifi, a Denver-based startup, transparently advertises that their app will increase revenue by up to 20% through parking violation enforcement alone. With smarter, easier enforcement, cities can crack down on violators. But the greater goal is that parking apps’ ease of use will decrease the number of violations overall.


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Of course, with benefits come speed bumps – technically enabling on-street parking is no joke. There is an array of different technologies, but no one solution that fits every city. Some users are running into inaccurate information on their apps – spots showing available on the app but full in reality. Then perhaps the biggest complaint: parking enforcement issuing undeserved tickets due to confusion over whether a spot was paid for with a mobile app or using the physical parking meter. With any new technology, there’s a learning curve that needs to be considered. Transitioning from quartered meters that clearly read, “EXPIRED” when time is up, to a system that requires enforcement officers to navigate mobile software is a significant change. To keep users happy, cities need to invest properly in training, and further down the line, in updated infrastructure.

So imagine this: you check your transit app in the morning and reserve a parking spot near the train station. After parking, you take the train into the city and order a Lyft to drive you the last mile from the station into work. Everything is paid for through the same app; you never even touch your wallet. Parking apps are a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to the future of connected cities and transit, especially considering that 86 percent of the U.S. population still relies driving their own vehicle alone on their commute. Collaboration between public and private sectors will be key in coming years as cities and companies explore and navigate smarter solutions. Transit agencies are already working on integrating additional transportation options like rideshare, carshare, and bikeshare services within their mobile transit apps. The result for commuters is a more convenient and flexible travel experience. Many of these agencies would also like to allow their users to pay for parking within the same app using their transit funds account. In short, parking apps will help complete the seamless commute.

Parking app developers saw a need, or more, a frustration and have already taken notable strides in making city parking more efficient. Users are empowered with on-demand information and mobile payments, while cities are seeing greater compliance and decreased operational costs. As the bugs are worked out, the learning curve surmounted, and adoption becomes more widespread, we’ll see smart parking technology span beyond the confines of private apps and integrate into the broader vision of connected cities and transit.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


As a transportation scientist, my research examines the factors that influence people’s travel decisions – for instance, whether or not they own a personal vehicle or which transportation modes they are likely to use. Experts in the field of transportation know that daily travel choices often boil down to a... View Article

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