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Parking Goes High Tech In Downtown Pensacola

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

In downtown Pensacola, a new digital parking system is up and running, using both traditional and higher tech payment methods.

New Orleans-based Premium Parking’s digital management platform covers on-street, public lots and parking garages throughout the 39-block downtown area.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to show what sort of modern approach to parking management can do for a municipality, both on-street and off-street to make parking simpler and more efficient,” said Premium President Ben Montgomery.

Montgomery adds that the future of parking in urban areas will be a mixture of ways aimed at making it faster and less frustrating for the parker.

“One thing we do realize in our industry is that everybody’s in a different spot along the adoption curve,” Montgomery says. “But you still need to offer ‘old school’ ways for paying for parking. But we also want to offer really, really seamless ways for those people that are willing to engage with the technology.”

For the Downtown Improvement Board, the issue was how to improve the parking experience. CEO Curt Morse says that involves helping visitors find the parking they need at an affordable price.

“We connect all those dots in a very formalized, systematic way,” said Morse. “So we consulted with Premium Parking Solutions, and they came to us and said, ‘Look, we can bring together a team of people; we can analyze the current status of parking and we can make some recommendations of how you can improve that.”

As Premium looked at the system, it found that the DIB had an opportunity to enhance parking management. So, Morse says, a Request for Proposal was produced and Premium selected with a three year contract.

The truth of the matter, contends Morse, is that what appears to be a parking problem downtown is actually a “walking problem.”

“People want to park exactly in front of where they want to be, and that’s not the reality in an urbanized core,” Morse said. “So we needed to understand a little more about consumer behavior, and that’s what Premium began doing: looking at the entire parking system and then trying to modernize it.”

Instead of tailoring a parking management system exclusively to downtown Pensacola, the plan contains elements which are an aggregation of Premium’s experiences in the other markets they serve.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Curt Morse, President of the Downtown Improvement Board.

“[Premium] manages the cruise terminal in Mobile,” Morse said. “Now while we don’t have that here, they certainly can bring that experience together because we do a lot of special events downtown. We do have parking garages and surface parking lots. And they’re bringing all of that intuitive nature of that industry together to maximize it here.”

The basis of the new parking system is Premium’s proprietary frictionless “GLIDEparcs:” the “parcs” an acronym for “Parking Access and Revenue Control.” Premium’s Ben Montgomery says it’s in place at the Jefferson Street Garage, and has eliminated the need for entry and exit gates.

“By going into a prepay, license plate-based system, you eliminate the queueing and the problem that arise from a mechanical system with gate arms,” said Montgomery. “Oftentimes, quite a few people backed up. That’s not going to happen anymore, whether you have hundreds of cars going out at once or you have ten cars.”

The parking system will not be run by absentee owners. A Premium office has opened on Palafox Street, as is the case in 11 other cities, and serves both Pensacola and Mobile. And there’s plenty of room to grow the system, and the DIB’s Curt Morse says look for some dramatic changes over the next 60 to 90 days.

“Our Board of Directors will approve the acquisition of more new equipment and the upgrade of existing equipment on-street,” said Morse. “So that we can really make that [parking] experience contemporary for everyone.”

Also changing are the hours for paying to park on-street. Depending on the area, monitored parking on streets used to endat 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.. Now, the hours are 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. across downtown.