Operating a parking facility with an automated payment system in a town centre is usually a highly profitable venture. In fact, it takes an average of just two years to secure a return on investment. One potential problem, however, is that the car park will often have to be placed within the confines of pre-existing historical buildings, and must therefore be structurally adapted to fit in with them and, sometimes, must also comply with regulations for the protection of architectural heritage.
During the planning and installation phase, it is possible to make mistakes that have the potential to reduce future earnings. The economic loss is not only considerable, but it is also very difficult to recoup once the project is complete. The negative impact of mistakes can be divided into three categories:
Serious inconvenience for users, who may well decide to park elsewhere if they experience:
manoeuvring difficulties caused by wrongly sized turning spaces;
manoeuvring difficulties caused by excessively narrow parking bays;
poor signage, which results in the inefficient use of available space.
Reduced revenues arising from flaws in the original layout, such as:
access and exit ramps occupying room that could have been used for parking;
ticket dispensers placed at the wrong distance from the entrance/exit boom barriers;
the incorrect positioning of magnetic loops at the entrance/exit points.
Higher costs and lower revenues caused by damage to fittings and installations, such as:
cars hitting entry/exit units;
the excessive wear and tear of protective devices.
So the issue is pretty clear-cut: bad initial planning combined with poor diligence in the construction of the facility will inevitably lead to economic losses for the operator. Worse still, if the parking lot is centrally located and therefore bound by specific building regulations, by the time mistakes are discovered it is very costly and often practically impossible to rectify them.
Yet these pitfalls can be avoided as long as preventative action is taken at the design stage and the installation work is planned in advance. It is simply a question of following five basic rules that will maximize profits over the long term and minimize losses arising from design oversights.
Carry out a preliminary study on external and internal traffic flows
A sound analysis of the traffic flows both outside and inside the parking facility will have four beneficial results:
available space can be optimized through the correct sizing of the access ramps, which will leave more room for extra parking bays;
the boom barriers can be optimally placed to expedite the entrance and exit of vehicles. This is particularly beneficial for park-and-ride facilities, which have peak usage periods at certain times of the day;
traffic flow at the entrance and exit ramps can be redirected in accordance with variations in demand at different times of the day. For example, a park-and-ride facility should be able to increase the number of exit routes to accommodate the large outflow of motorists at the end of the working day by repurposing entrance lanes that would otherwise be underutilized;
tailbacks can be reduced and the enhancement of vehicle flows will benefit the traffic situation outside a parking lot situated in a town or city centre.
Profile the type of customer most likely to use the facility
Identifying in advance the typical user of the parking lot makes it possible:
- to adopt the most appropriate pricing solutions and thereby obviate the risk of setting charges that are misaligned to demand and competition. This is a particularly important consideration where customer turnover is high, and will ensure the maximum exploitation of the parking lot throughout the day;
- to make sure the right technological solutions for the expected customer type are included in the original design. For example, airport car park customers are comfortable with automated boom barriers that open upon receipt of a prepaid ticket, or are integrated with other systems such as the on-board Long Range reader as for toll-payment ssytems. Customers of a car park near a hospital, on the other hand, will be more appreciative of clearly visible entrance ramps, large and clearly illuminated horizontal and vertical signage, the presence of a parking lot attendant, an easily comprehensible pricing system and a general ease of use of the car park as a whole.
Conduct a thorough analysis of accident risk
The purpose of this type of analysis is to ensure the correct positioning of any fittings or units that cars might bump into while manoeuvring inside the parking area. The benefit accruing from such an analysis is lower accident risk and, consequently, less damage to parking lot structures whose replacement or repair would entail considerable costs.
Essentially there are three types of structures that need to be considered:
- raised curbs;
- protective posts;
- vertical and horizontal directional signs and markings.
Put magnetic loops and traffic sensors in the right place
Magnetic loops are located along the entrance and exit ramps as well as next to the boom barriers. They are essential for traffic monitoring because, by detecting the position of a vehicle, they determine whether to permit or not crossing the gateway once a ticket is dispensed at the entrance or a prepaid ticket is inserted into the reader at the exit. The improper positioning of these detectors can lead to:
- vehicle miscounts: the number of vehicles with the right to enter is miscalculated, which can lead to losses of occupied parking spots;
- tailbacks at entry and exit;
- increased risk of users taking advantage of raised barriers to exit without paying.
Fifty percent of mistakes in the positioning of magnetic loops are ascribable to inexperience. For instance, if the loops are installed before the entrance/exit units and boom barriers have been put in place, the distances may be wrongly calibrated.
Include a parking guidance system in the original design
In car parks with more than 1,000 bays, guidance systems can help motorists find a free space. Such systems facilitate fast parking by reducing the time spent hunting for a space and by resolving possible issues caused by a confusing layout. The system offers at least five advantages, all of which have clear economic benefits.
- energy savings of more than 30%: when a parking guidance system is in place, lighting needs to be switched on only in the presence of a car, as the floors of a lot are filled progressively;
- the ability to reserve certain sections of the parking lot for particular customer types (such as the disabled, pregnant women or holders of season tickets);
- enhanced safety: all spaces can be monitored from a single control panel that automatically signals problematic events such as a prolonged delay or the stoppage of a vehicle;
- pedestrian flow control: this is of particular strategic relevance in parking lots attached to malls and shopping centres where changing the entry points can determine the order of arrival of customers at different retail outlets;
- the speed and simplicity of finding a parking space: this has a significant influence on the purchasing decisions of customers using a parking lot that is attached to a shopping centre or mall whose peak times coincide with breaks from work or with holiday periods.
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