The Evolution of the Parking Experience

Parking in 2016 is something that seems to be the bane of most downtown experiences. It can be frustrating when there aren't that many parking spots available, and for the spots that are - you have to parallel park. No thank you. The cost of parking and the methods of payment can also be quite annoying, there aren't many of us who carry $6.00 in change. And if we do, it's usually fueling the coffee/tea fund.

But on the flip side, it is one of the best feelings to find an open parking spot right in front of the restaurant you're about to get lunch in, or local boutique you're planning to go shopping at - the prime parking real estate with your name on it. The cherry on-top of finding this parking spot? Checking the meter and seeing that there is still an hour of parking available, paid by the shopper who was parked at that spot before you.

It's safe to say there are many pros and cons to parking today and over the last 100 years, we've evolved significantly.

Rewind to 1938. This is what parking looked like:

*Retrieved from http://old-photos.blogspot.ca/2015_06_01_archive.html

Here is someone who pulled up to the local general shop with their horse and buggy, tied it up to the nearest fence and did their shopping. Seeing that most folks lived rural over urban, 7:30am/5:00pm rush hour wasn't really a thing, nor scouting down a parking spot or paying for that spot. Maybe a bit of change to the nearby stable boy to check on the horse. What remains consistent from parking in 1938 through to today? We still need space for parking our cars (or horses) in the downtown cores in order to interact with our downtowns.

Fast forward to the 1960s. Bay and Yonge, south of Front.

*Retrieved from http://www.blogto.com/city/2011/10/that_time_when_toronto_was_a_city_of_parking_lots/

In this time frame, there are more people moving to the urban centers and more people buying cars. In fact, the most popular car of 1965 was the Ford Mustang with approximately 75,000 models sold. It's clear in this photo that finding a parking spot wasn't all that difficult. BlogTO recently wrote an article titled "That Time When Toronto Was a City of Parking Lots"- case and point. It was during this time period that driving into work became something of the norm. We etched it into our daily routines and have continued to ever since.

Parking in 2016. Marina Towers, Chicago, IL.

*Retrieved from:http://chicago-architecture-jyoti.blogspot.ca/2009/01/marina-city.html

With urban centers sprawling, parkades have become more and more common - even architecturally pleasing, like this photo of the Marina Towers in Chicago. But how does this impact the users experience? Well, based on the two previous examples of parking - we know that having space to park is VERY important in drawing people downtown, whether it's for their jobs, to go shopping or to check out local restaurants. To have booming and bustling downtown cores, people need to be able to access them with some level of ease.

When the demand goes up (more people in urban centers with cars) and the supply goes down (not as much parking space as their once was), parking becomes an annoying and frustrating experience. But what if it doesn't have to be? What if our technologies were geared to make parking the most effortless experience possible? What would we think about parking then?

Picture this - you drive downtown to do some shopping. You park your car in a 2h on-street parking stall, pull your phone out and pay for your parking. When you open the app to pay for your parking, you see the ads of businesses closest to you and you're intrigued by Lilly's Shop who is selling sweaters for 25% off. You walk into the store and start looking at the sweaters - within 2 minutes, you get a notification to your phone that Lilly's just covered your parking for 1 hour and credited that money back to your account. How do you feel then?

Or picture this, you've parked downtown for 1h, thinking that lunch wouldn't be longer than 50 min or so. You run into 2 old friends at the restaurant and end up chatting with them for 30 minutes or so. Imagine getting a notification to your phone to top up your parking? Or a notification that your parking provider saved you from a parking ticket because they knew you had run out of paid parking time?

In both of these scenarios, the pain point is removed from the parking experience and the user is left feeling satisfied.

We've come a long way with parking in the last 80 years, but that doesn't mean we need to stop. By embracing technology, the dream of an efforless parking expereince can become a reality.