Shopping Centre

Right Direction

Published:  13 January, 2011

Information systems can make the most efficient use of available parking spaces, and improve the customer experience.

Car parks are a major source of frustration for many motorists and in an environment like a shopping centre finding a space quickly and easily can make or break a customer’s visit and determine whether or not they will return in the future.

Highlight Parking aims to revolutionise the way people park with a system that helps drivers to find spaces, allowing them to park quickly and efficiently and lessening the stress felt when car parks are busy and difficult to navigate.

Highlight is a bay monitoring system which involves the installation of sensors into individual parking spaces linked to a ceiling light - clearly visible to people in their vehicles – which illuminate green when the bay is empty. This is backed up by digital signage at decision points like ramps throughout the car park which direct the driver to the nearest available space even if it is hidden or difficult to find.

As well as helping customers, the system offers other benefits to operators. Highlight Parking owner, David Harrison, explains: “We offer a bespoke back office package which generates statistics on the busier and short-stay areas, and can send an alarm to the control room if there are any long-stay vehicles. There is a 3D fly-through so you can see level by level what the car park looks like as if you were in a helicopter. It can also help staff to empty floors for power conservation - there are lots of other goodies.”

The system has been recommended by national car park operator NCP and is ideally suited to multi-storey and underground car parks. And there is a long list of benefits. The most valuable being that it can increase both traffic flow and revenue. “In a multi-storey car park someone will see a car reversing and wait while it manoeuvres out in order to use the space,” says Harrison. “With Highlight drivers can see if there is a space further along the level, reducing bottle-necks at the entrance and elsewhere.”

The system was first installed at The Bentall Centre in Kingston, Surrey. According to Harrison, the centre requested to have monitors installed over the exit ramps. That way, when there is a backlog of cars an alarm sounds in the control room so a member of staff can go and investigate. If it’s a problem with the traffic outside they can make an announcement saying, for example, that there’s a tailback on Kingston Bridge restricting exit lanes.

It also goes some way to increasing revenue. When a car park is full the sensors will flag up a space as soon as a car leaves the space, immediately letting a car in past the barrier. As Harrison points out: “All these extra minutes count for a lot more revenue.

“In The Bentall Centre revenue increased almost from the day it was put in. When you have a queue of cars circling trying to find a space, people will rarely leave the queue to find a hidden space because if there isn’t one and they have to reverse back into the traffic flow there may be another ten cars waiting in front of them. With the system cars are more likely to park in unpopular or tucked away spaces and that extra revenue goes straight into the operator’s pocket.”

The system can also help centres with their Carbon Reduction Commitments because people are directed to parking spaces quickly, saving on emissions coming from exhausts when the engine is running.

A study commissioned for BAA Terminal 5 at Heathrow concluded that the quicker parking Highlight delivers saves the equivalent weight of two Jumbo Jets in CO2 emissions over the course of a year, creating a healthier environment for both customers and staff.

As an added benefit, studies have shown it could even deter vermin. There is evidence that the ultrasonic noise made by the system, whilst inaudible to humans, is within the hearing range of pigeons and rodents acting as a deterrent.

Feedback from Highlight’s customers has been consistently good.

Director of The Bentall Centre, Bob Ritchie, said: “Since installation the number of cars using the car park had increased by 20 per cent with a corresponding increase in revenue which was the direct result of the Highlight system.”

Ray Marquez, The Bentall Centre’s car park team leader, would recommend the system, adding: “The computer in the office shows us what spaces are available on every level of the car park so whenever a customer asks a member of staff where the nearest space is we can tell them immediately helping us to improve our customer service.

“It improves the service to customers because they don’t need to drive from one end of the car park to another to find a space and it helps to reduce traffic, blockages and build-ups of cars on the lower levels.”

And users have given similarly positive feedback. A recent poll found that 84 per cent of people using Highlight said that it “greatly improves” or “improves the ease and quickness” of parking with minimum stress.

Baywatch car finder is another system by Highlight Parking.  “In larger car parks such as airports or shopping centres, finding cars is a continual source of annoyance to drivers who forget where their vehicle is parked,” explains Harrison. “There are frequent instances of drivers walking around a multi-storey car park level by level pressing their car key fob and waiting for a response.

“In many cases car park security are called upon by drivers who think the car has been stolen and are asked to assist in locating it wasting countless costly hours in the process.”

The system – which has been developed over the last two years - watches every car in a car park and helps people to locate their cars. People tap in their registration number at a touchscreen kiosk and a picture of their car appears on screen with its location, Level 7 - Bay 69, for example. In a multi car park location Baywatch will also inform the motorist in which car park the vehicle is parked.

“In some car parks there might be 800 spaces on one floor so it’s difficult to pinpoint where your car might be,” says Harrison. “Baywatch stops all that can even be cross-transferred between car parks. It can also help security because the video feature allows the car park to be monitored.”

Bay monitoring systems like Highlight and car finding systems like Baywatch offer a range of advantages, helping customers to park quickly and easily and to find their cars, improving the driver’s experience and encouraging return visits. In turn these systems ensure that car park owners make the most of their asset by encouraging the use of all spaces and optimising revenue.