Guide to Choosing a Parking Management System

Parking facilities are complex operations with many moving parts. This makes the process of choosing the hardware and software systems complicated for owners of parking lot businesses. When choosing a parking management system, owners have many factors to take into account. Pricing is obviously an immediate concern. But you also need to consider maintenance, installation, user experience, levels of automation, and others.

All the factors can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why we created this guide to how to shop for a parking management system. Below, we’ll outline a couple of the major considerations you need to take into account. Then we’ll break down what you need to know for both the hardware and software aspects of systems sold by different providers. Lastly, we’ll give you some tips for how to go about the shopping process, and what homework you should do beforehand.

Know Your Provider: Key Aspects of Parking Management System Manufacturers

3rdParty vs. Direct Manufacturer

Some parking management systems are manufactured directly by the company you’re buying from, but others are manufactured by third parties. If you can, you should buy direct from the manufacturer. Sometimes you can find lower pricing from 3rd-party manufacturers, but the overall quality, maintenance, and customer service can suffer. Beware the temptation to pay a smaller upfront cost, only to be hit with high costs for installation, maintenance, and fixes if things break down.

Customer Service

When you’re shopping for the right company to provide your parking management system, customer service is extremely important. Parking systems require some degree of ongoing maintenance, which can include both mechanical maintenance and fixes, and software upgrades.

Find a company with a reputation for stellar customer service. Online reviews and trade publications are the two best places to start to find companies with the best service record.

You should also look at whether the company handles all customer service needs in-house, or subcontracts the work out to other companies. If they subcontract, proceed with caution. Companies that are most serious about customer service tend to invest in it.

If they subcontract the work out to others, it also means you might encounter service reps with less than comprehensive knowledge of the intricacies of the parking equipment. In-house customer service teams tend to be better trained in all of the products and how they work.

Hardware Components vs. Software Components

All parking management systems are made up of some combination of two things: hardware equipment and software components. The hardware includes aspects like pay stations, license plate readers, and entry/exit gates. The software is the aspect that allows the hardware to work and communicate. Without software, you wouldn’t have a way to automate payment collection, analytics, or other key aspects of your parking business.

In the next section, we’ll describe what you need to know when shopping for a manufacturer for each of these components, starting with the hardware.

Hardware

The physical hardware the makes up your parking management system forms the core of your business. The hardware components are what customers will actually see and interact with when they use your parking facility, so it’s critical that each piece of hardware is effective, and that its use is well-thought out.

Design: In-House or Outsourced?

The design of your parking facility will affect overall traffic, the number of passbacks that are attempted, and just about every other aspect of your business. That means that design is critical, and each decision you make will cut directly into your bottom line. The best parking management system providers have an in-house design team that is expert at working with individual facilities and usage needs to determine the best possible hardware components to place, and where to place them.

For example, is your space better suited to use an entry and exit gate with an integrated, stay-in-lane payment system? Or a ticket-dispensing entry without a gate, that integrates with a pay-on-foot station? These sorts of decisions play into how smoothly your business will operate and will affect overall profits for the life of your parking business.

Maintenance

As with design and customer service, it’s preferable for maintenance to be handled in-house. Find out if the company charges for regular maintenance or equipment breakdowns, as these are likely to be necessary at some point. Because equipment is specialized, not all maintenance will be possible to perform yourself.

Installation

Not all parking management system providers include installation, and others provide it for an additional installation free. Find out any installation costs ahead of time—if installation is not included by the equipment provider, you’ll have to pay a separate firm to install the equipment for you. If you aren’t expecting it, this cost can add up and quickly lead to going over your budget.

Ask about installation up front, and if you get so far as to receive a contract, carefully review what it says about equipment installation and maintenance.

Ease of Use

Ensuring your hardware is intuitive and easy for customers to operate is critical for avoiding missed revenue opportunities, avoiding maintenance calls, and keeping your operation turnkey.

Some hardware considerations while you inspect different equipment: are directions clear, and buttons clearly marked? Is each step easy for customers to decipher and link together? Are throughways and traffic patterns, for both vehicles and foot traffic, clearly marked?

Go through the whole process, as if you were a customer, and try to identify areas where confusion might crop up. Spending real time to figure this out before you finalize your purchase and install your hardware could save you a great deal of time, money, and frustration in the long run.

Software

Without the software to run it, parking management equipment wouldn’t work. Software allows individual hardware components to integrate, becoming a cohesive system. The software is also what enables the hardware to communicate with the Internet, allowing you to process payments, view analytics remotely, and otherwise manage your parking facility business from afar.

Smart Software: Smartphone & Tablet Integration

The best modern parking lot software systems are “smart” – that is, they are connected to the Internet, and can integrate seamlessly with smartphones and tablets. This has implications both for managers and customers.

For managers, it means you can log into an app and view key metrics for your business in real time. Look for a software system that allows you to use a smartphone or tablet view live metrics such as entries, exits, revenue, overall traffic volume, revenues, and profits. The best software, in addition to live metrics, will allow you to view charts of each metric over periods of time of your choosing.

You may also be able to use the app to view live streams from on-premise security cameras, though, oftentimes, video security systems have their own separate apps for this.

Smartphone and tablet integration is meaningful for your customers as well. Certain software systems allow customers to book ahead of time online, use their smartphone as an entry or exit system, send mobile payments, and view live parking spot vacancies.

You may not need all these features. But in the modern era of parking management systems, the overall ability to integrate with a smartphone or tablet is essential to running an automated operation.

Automation & Remote Management

In the old days of parking lot facilities, all management had to be done on-site. Automation has changed made the processes of managing a facility much more turnkey, but some software systems offer more powerful automation capability than others.

The more automated your parking lot management system is, the less time, money, and energy you will have to spend managing it. Smart integration makes parking systems more automated than ever, but not all are created equal in this regard.

Look for a software system that gives you the most possible options for automation and remote management of your facility.

Analytics

We mentioned in the section about smart integration that you should choose software allowing you to view key metrics about your business. How important each metric is, and what level of detail you need, will differ for every parking facility. However, automatic analytics collection is essential, and it should be easy and convenient for owners and managers to get the information they need whenever they need it.

Deep analytics and data collection tools empower you to make major business decisions that increase revenues. For example, some software might allow you an easy way to dial into peak and off-peak days and hours, when your facility is least and most busy. You could then start charging more for peak hours such as nights and weekends, increasing profits. Without an easy way to automate the collection of this information and make it easy to analyze, you would have to figure it all out yourself.

Pre-Paid Reservation Capability

Some parking management software allows customers to book parking online ahead of time, complete with secure pre-paid online reservation systems. For some parking facilities, this feature isn’t necessary or helpful. If it is, however, be sure your chosen software offers it.

Making this determination will require some market analysis of the parking needs and customer demographics in your parking facility’s area. Spend some time doing this research before making a final decision on software, as pre-paid online bookings can have an enormous impact on profits in the long-term, but may not be cost effective for all parking facilities.

Security & PCI Compliance

Security is essential for all parking facilities. In the age of digital payments and payment cards, digital security is just as important as physical. Make sure the software you choose is fully PCI compliant. This ensures it is up to date with all the latest standards regarding secure credit and debit card payments, and payments using mobile apps.

In addition to PCI compliance, overall security is essential for software that integrates apps for manager or customer use. For example, if hackers were able to get into your management portal, they might be able to do anything from manipulate pricing to steal your business bank account information. Similarly, for hackers to gain access to the customer end of the software could end with your customers having their credit card information stolen.

Find out as much as you can about software security and PCI compliance with any given software system. Even a single security breach can cost you so much time and money that it has the potential to end your business.

Conclusions

With these hardware and software aspects in mind, you can shop for parking lot management systems with confidence. Before you begin, make a list of features you think you need or might enhance your business. From there, prioritize which are critical features, and which are merely ones you prefer to have but don’t absolutely require.

That way, you can rule out any hardware and software systems that don’t offer your must-have features. Then, only looking at the systems left over, you can narrow down which have your preferred features as well. This makes it easier to avoid long, unnecessary sales pitches for software and hardware you don’t need anyway, and streamlines your shopping process.

Good luck, and happy shopping!

Comparing Parking Management Systems

What are PARCS (Parking Access and Revenue Control Systems)?

PARCS, also known as Parking Access and Revenue Control Systems, allow parking lot owners and operators to collect revenue and control parking lot access using an automated system. They can contain numerous components including credit card payment terminals, gates, license plate readers, software, and others.

PARCS allow for full parking lot management and help minimize passbacks—that is, misuse of the parking lot wherein someone attempts to use access facilities out of order, or fraudulently.

First, we’ll run through the basics of each possible component:

Pay Stations

Pay stations are terminals where customers can input payments, print entry or exit tickets, and obtain receipts for parking. They allow for sales to occur without an attendant on-site. Some machines accept cash as well as being able to process credit cards, but others accept only credit card payments.

Pay stations can be either Pay on Foot (POF) systems, or Pay in Lane (PIL) types. POF systems require customers to park, exit their cars, and then approach the pay station on foot. Pay in Lane systems allow customers to stay in their cars, pay for parking, and then drive to their parking spot.

Entry and Exit Stations

Entry and exit stations can include a variety of features. They might dispense tickets, accept credit card payments, or both. They sometimes include a barrier gate that rises and falls for customers to drive through. These stations increase security and can result in lower incidences of stolen parking spots and missed payments.

Barrier Gate

As described above, barrier gates block access until a step, such as a dispensed ticket or a payment, is completed. After it is completed, the gate rises to allow vehicles to pass. The gate can be a bar or a pole. Barrier gates make it significantly more difficult for unauthorized cars to access the parking lot.

License Plate Capturing Systems

There are several types of systems used to capture and log license plate numbers of vehicles entering and exiting the parking facility. These can involve mounted or handheld systems, known as LPR and LPI.

License Plate Recognition (LPR) Systems

License Plate Recognition (LPR) systems use strategically-positioned cameras to capture license plate information. The results are then automatically searched in a database of legally-registered license plate numbers.

License Plate Inventory (LPI) Systems

License Plate Inventory (LPI) systems are handheld, requiring an operator to remain on-site. Instead of cameras, the handheld device scans license plates and saves them. The operator can then access the plate information later and cross-reference it with a database.

Software Systems

Software integrated with components like pay stations and entry/exit stations allow for smooth operation and automation of entry, exit, payment, and other components. Many systems allow owners to monitor operation with features like web integration, reporting, remote access control, and others.

In the next section, we’ll compare and contrast the features of a few of the most popular parking management systems.

Comparing PARCS (Parking Access and Revenue Control Systems)

Depending on your needs, you might benefit greatly from certain PARC features, but have little use for others. For example, if you require a completely remote system, you wouldn’t want to include a License Plate Inventory System, as these are handheld, and require an attendant to be on-site.

Since different parking access and revenue control systems offer different product lines and features, we’ll compare some of the biggest ones here: Skidata, Amano McGann, and Hamilton.

Skidata

Skidata’s parking management systems are fully integrated, with physical systems that can be linked with Skidata’s management software for turnkey operation. They offer both staffed and unstaffed, automated systems.

Skidata systems and software allow owners to accept a very wide variety of payments including cash, credit, debit, mobile payments, Apple Pay, and even coupons. They also offer a variety of technology in their ticketing systems like RFID, multiple barcode types, employee parking pass cards, mobile ticketing, and others. Industry-leading encryption keeps Skidata ticketing systems secure.

Amano McGann

Like Skidata, Amano McGann offers a full suite of parking management products and software. They offer entry and exit terminals that integrate with a payment station, requiring customers to take an entry ticket before they can pay via credit card at a payment terminal.

Their software is called the iParcProfessional Access Control Software. It includes a web client that allows owners remote access to reporting, real-time transactions, customer data, and other key information points. It also allows monitoring of the anti-passback system and alert you to potential passback attempts.

Hamilton

Hamilton is a leading manufacturer of automated systems for parking lots and car washes. Their systems use cloud-hosted software.

Here’s how each of the three PARCS systems measures up in key areas:

Skidata:

  • Cloud-based software platform with consolidated, centralized data reporting for multiple parking facilities or just one
  • Integrated credit card payment gateways
  • Mobile access to analytics for remote management
  • Automated data analysis
  • Credit card processing/point of sale features
  • Internal data hosting, storage, and processing meet the international ISAE 3402 standard
  • Real-time reporting of transactions
  • Web-based API
  • Offers online reservations, sending tickets to mobile for car park access
  • Full remote facility management

Amano McGann:

  • Cloud-based software
  • Powered by Microsoft Azure
  • Parking guidance systems include on-foot pay stations, pay in lane stations, and entry and exit terminals. Validation solution options include customizable online validation systems and encrypted QR barcode readers
  • Credit card processing/point of sale features
  • Analytics combine and aggregate information from multiple facilities
  • Real-time reporting of transactions showing card access, revenue, and entry/exit counts
  • eParc Suite software and hardware allows for full customization of access and validation systems

Hamilton

  • Cloud-based analytics and management
  • Integrates with netPark Parking Solutions software
  • Parking guidance systems include gated entry and exit solutions, self-pay terminals, and time-based ticket dispensing and reading kiosks
  • Credit card processing/point of sale features
  • Web development services for partner integration
  • No mobile payments

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing the right Parking Management System, it depends on your individual needs. Some parking areas will need to be secured with entry and exit gates, while others will not. Some facilities are better suited for pay in lane stations, and for others, a pay on foot station will be ideal. All major parking system providers come with advanced analytics. But ultimately, what features and equipment you choose will depend mostly on your particular facilities and budget.

Is High Risk Payment Processing Right for Your Business?

So, you’ve finally gone and done it. After years of hard work, random jobs, bouncing around career paths, you have finally got it together to start your own small business. Be your own boss. Make your own rules. And while a number of thins associated with that effort are challenging and fun, there is also the business aspect. And that is where your seemingly small decisions, including choosing payment processing for your high risk business will make a big impact on your success or failure.

 

Most business owners think of their bills. Paying their lease, utilities, vendors, employees and more. But what about ACCEPTING payment for your services? PayPal doesn’t really cut it for a brick and mortar business. And this day and age, only accepting cash doesn’t really cut it either. So how in the world does a small business owner get set up to process credit cards?

 

Payment Processing

Payment processing is important to businesses, as it handles how transactions are automated between the customer and the business. Payments are made around the world, all day, every day. And consumers rarely take a second thought about how that happens. However, payment processing is a vital part of any business and can build customer confidence if it is set up effectively.

 

It is important that business owners select a reputable and effective payment processing system. In additional to processing transactions quickly and reliably for consumers, payment processors are also trusted with a customer’s most personal financial data. Payment processing must include protecting that personal credit or debit card account information and safeguarding against fraud.

 

If businesses do their due diligence when setting up their payment processing system, it can be one of their biggest assets. A seamless system that inspires confidence from customers. And a shaky payment processing system can do more damage to a business’s reputation that you can imagine.

 

Merchant Accounts

First and foremost, you will need a Merchant Account in order to get started. A Merchant Account is a bank account that enables the account owner to accept credit card payments. It is an agreement between a retailer, a bank and a payment processing company that allows the retailer to accept credit and debit card payments and settle those payments accordingly.

 

When a business charges a customer’s credit card, the funds for that transaction are deposited into a Merchant Account. Once the transaction is settled, the funds are transferred into the business owner’s business bank account as a deposit. This is normally a scheduled transaction that takes place at regular intervals, normally daily or weekly.

 

Business owners must apply and be approved for a Merchant Account. And while there are a number of options available for Merchant Accounts, competition for the best customers is high and approval for a normal Merchant Account is high. Some factors considered in evaluating applications for Merchant Accounts include:

  • Length of time in business. The longer the better in this case.
  • Type of industry. Some types of businesses have been identified as being at a higher risk due to the frequency of charge backs or fraud in the industry.
  • Business financial history. Basically, credit report information for your business.
  • Record of previous Merchant Accounts. Have you had other Merchant Accounts in the past and if so, how did you manage them? Were they closed in good standing?
  • Personal financial history of the business owner. This is your credit report. Remember when mom said to pay attention to your credit report because you never know when it will impact your life? This is one of those times.

 

Consumers need to be aware of contract conditions and fees associated with Merchant Accounts. Common contract conditions include additional fees, pre-determined term, and minimum transactions. While these fees vary by provider, some common fees include:

  • Application Fees
  • Setup Fees
  • Monthly Fees
  • Transaction Fees
  • Rental Fees for terminals and other equipment

 

When applying for a Merchant Account, the review and approval process is similar to an individual applying for credit or bank accounts and different Merchant Account providers have different guidelines for approval, as well as different fees and terms. A very large part of the evaluation process involves assessing the risk of the business applying for a Merchant Account.

What is a Low Risk Merchant?

Low risk merchants are coveted by Merchant Account providers because they are generally the basis of a more successful, hassle-free business relationship. Low risk merchants have some common characteristics:

  • Process less than $20,000 per month, with the average transaction being under $500
  • Low chargeback ratio
  • Business is based in a low-risk industry (online clothing, parking garages, books, household goods) and is incorporated in a low-risk country

Low risk merchants often earn better fees and contract terms, as well as a faster application process.

 

What is a High Risk Merchant?

High risk merchants are another story and some Merchant Account providers shy away from them due to the uncertainty of the situation. High risk merchants typically have some of these characteristics:

  • New merchant with little or no credit history or poor personal credit history of the business owner
  • Excessive chargebacks. Chargebacks occur when a customer is not satisfied with a purchase, doesn’t receive a product paid for, or the business closes before delivering a product. They are different than refunds, as chargebacks are given directly by the bank, without business owner involvement. Chargebacks can also result from fraud.
  • Sales are seasonal or inconsistent for some reason
  • Process more than $20,000 per month, with the average transaction being over $500
  • Business is based in a high-risk industry (marijuana-based stores, adult products and services, dating services, magazine subscriptions) or is incorporated in a high-risk country

 

High risk merchants face a unique set of challenges. While low risk merchants can generally get set up with a Merchant Account with proof of a solid business and financial responsibility, high-risk merchants are not so fortunate. High risk merchants often face the following challenges:

  • Higher processing rates and fees, as well as extra account charges intended to protect the Merchant Account institution.
  • Rolling reserves may be required. This arrangement allows the Merchant Account bank to hold back a certain percentage of sales in order to ensure they are covered in the case of chargebacks or the business closing.
  • Volume caps may be instituted that only allow merchants to process a certain amount of transactions in any given month. The cap is usually between $25-$50,000, which limits the business’s ability to expand and grow, but protects the Merchant Account bank.
  • Finding the right Merchant Account. High risk merchants have a harder time finding acceptable payment processing solutions. There are a number of reputable businesses out there, but sifting through it all is more difficult than walking in to your traditional bank.

What if you are a High Risk Merchant?

The good news is that there is a solution out there for you. There are many payment processors who specialize in high risk merchants. They are often able to set up arrangements, including lower fees and waiving rolling reserves, that make processing payments less cumbersome that with a traditional bank. The most important thing for you to do is your research. Find the high risk Merchant Account that best suits your individual business needs.

 

Keep in mind also that there may be nothing you can do about being a high risk merchant. If you are in an industry identified as high risk for merchants. You aren’t going to change your business model to meet payment processing requirements, so you will need to find a work around, one way or another.

Impact of being a High Risk Merchant on Your Business?

It is going to cost you more to process transactions if you are a high risk merchant. It just is. Merchant Account institutions have to do something to protect themselves and it comes out in fees for everything and rolling reserves. However, if you find the right provider, you may have an opportunity to prove your business and lessen some of those fees. As far as customers are concerned, however, they will not know the difference between a high risk and a low risk business.

 

While there are a number of high risk merchant processing solutions out there, it is best to do your research to make sure you are getting the right fit for your business in the payment processing realm. One example of such a payment processor and Merchant Account provider is GAM Payments. This boutique payments provider that specializes in high risk Merchant Accounts. While focusing on partnering with selected merchants to deliver top level customer service, GAM Payments prides itself on being transparent and affordable for high risk merchants. The small, dedicated, caring team at GAM Payments will be there to support your payment processing needs. They know the ins and outs of the payment processing industry and seek out high risk merchants to help provide effective solutions and enable business success.

 

Determining your business’s payment processing needs plays a vital role in business success. From inspiring consumer confidence to seamlessly cashing out your earnings, such companies facilitate it all and are the key to getting in the game. And even if your business is identified as a high risk merchant, you will survive. There are payment processors who specialize in the needs of high risk merchants and will help you get on your feet.