Sunday, January 12, 2014

(An Almost) Perfect Parking Experience in Oakland, California.

The smart way to park.
Scrambling for change before driving to a different location where you have to allow for parking has been a painful phenomenon. Until recently, that is.

I'm not talking about using a credit card to pay for the parking at a curb; this method, while definitely better than scrambling for change, doesn't come close in convenience. What if you need to extend the parking duration? Do you have to call the toll free number, and get into voice-mail jail? Pain.

Enter Parkmobile.

Swami Vivekananda 150-yr Celebration
Recently, on Jan 11, I had occasion to attend the culminating event of the year-long Swami Vivekananda 150-year birth anniversary celebration at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. (Aside: This is the same place where Swami Vivekananda addressed a gathering in 1900).

If you are equipped with a smartphone — these days, who isn't? — you have nothing to worry about, almost. (I'll get to the 'almost' in a minute). You get to an empty parking spot; download the app if you don't already have it on your phone, setup your payment method, and off you go.

It gets better. The app initiates an alarm 15 minutes before the expiry of the parking session. You can extend the session right from your mobile app. That's it.

What's the 'almost', then?

Original parking session.
Extension of the parking session.
When you activate a parking session, as shown on the left, the app charges a transaction fee. Seems reasonable. But, when you extend the parking session, as shown at right, the app promptly charges you another transaction fee.

Why do we have multiple transaction fees? It should be, from a customer's perspective:

One parking session, one transaction fee.

This is why I regard this parking experience as almost, but not quite, perfect.


I understand, of course, why this is the case. Every time you make a transaction with a credit card company, the credit card company promptly charges the merchant a certain transaction fee, and the merchant has resorted to passing on the transaction fee to the customer. What I'd prefer the merchant do is to pass a single parking transaction fee to the customer and handle the mechanics of multiple transactions behind the scenes. Using a meaningful average of extensions that all customers will request, the merchant can charge a single parking transaction fee by accounting for the extensions. For example, if the average extension for all customers is 0.4, the merchant can charge a single parking transaction fee, in this case $0.35*1.4 or $0.50.

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