Will LocoMobi Be The Uber Of Parking?

What if getting and paying for parking spaces could be as easy as the famed car-hailing app? A new merger of parking innovators could bring that about.

Two parking entrepreneurs are joining forces in an attempt to disrupt the world of parking. QuickPay, led by Barney Pell (whom Fast Company profiled in 2012), has acquired another parking innovator, Nautical Tech Solutions, led by Grant Furlane. They are joining forces under a new brand, LocoMobi, and have aspirations to become what they call the “Uber of parking.” Furlane will be CEO, while Pell stays on as chairman and chief strategy officer.

Barney Pell

Each company had separate strengths: QuickPay, for one, had developed consumer-facing products for mobile devices, while Nautical had expertise in license plate recognition and parking management software. Together they become what Pell calls an “cloud-based real-time system that really works.”

What exactly does that mean? And what does the cloud have to do with parking, anyway? To understand what LocoMobi aims to achieve--and how it plans to make money--it makes the most sense to think about parking from the point of view of a parking lot owner.

You probably don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether parking lot owners can make more money. But parking lot owners do, and ultimately, they’re the ones making the big decisions that transform the way ordinary people park.

Like anyone in business, parking lot owners are seeking to maximize their profits. They have an asset--parking spaces--but all sorts of things conspire to reduce the value of that asset. For instance, metered parking lots invite freeloaders. There are the regular parkers who get savvy about when the meter maid (or man) is coming round, and make calculated risks about when to pay or not. Even if someone is ticketed, there’s always the possibility they won’t pay. And if someone pays for three hours of meter time but decides to leave after an hour, you can be sure the next driver pulling into that vacant spot will happily take advantage of the free two hours left on the clock.

Grant Furlane

LocoMobi will offer systems that purport to solve those problems, as well as others. LocoMobi offers a suite of options to parking lot owners, but consider one of its most high-tech systems. In this system, LocoMobi uses cameras that scan and recognize license plates as they pull up to the checkpoint to enter or exit the garage. Those cameras are then connected to software in the cloud that can automatically keep track of how long that car parks, and how much its driver owes. In its most frictionless incarnation, a driver could pre-register an account with LocoMobi and cruise in and out of an equipped parking lot with the ease of an E-ZPass user. Billing could be handled automatically, on the back end.

“There’s no ticket” that the driver has to deal with, says Pell. “There’s nothing to lose, there’s no wear and tear, there’s nothing to cheat and lie about.”

That cloud-based software--together with other cameras LocoMobi can place around a parking lot--also reduces a number of headaches that are mostly hidden from drivers, but well-known to parking lot owners. Furlane cites cases where old, time-delayed software systems sometimes led enforcement officers to accidentally ticket, and occasionally even tow, cars that were actually parked legitimately--an event that ends unhappily for everyone involved. But since LocoMobi’s cloud-based system shares knowledge about cars’ whereabouts and the legitimacy of their parking in real-time, foul-ups like these are avoided. The system can also lead parking lot managers to be smart about how they allocate one precious resource: enforcement officers’ time. A smart system can direct an enforcer to a corner of the lot where 10 cars are derelict on payments, ignoring for the moment the corner with the lone freeloader.

Rendering of the LocoMobi Camera

Pell and Furlane first connected in January of 2013, and began working together informally shortly thereafter; QuickPay's acquisition of Nautical was formally announced last week. Initial tests of their systems has proved beneficial to parking lot owners, they claim: in Toronto, for instance, there were a pair of adjacent lots, one of which used the license-plate recognition system, and one of which didn’t. The lot that did use the system increased the rate at which drivers paid by 10%. Furlane says, though, that the lower price of LocoMobi systems will be what win over lot owners initially. He claims that a traditional parking system now costs about $120,000, while a LocoMobi system will run around $30,000. Use of their cloud software can be “as low as $200 a month,” he says.

Just 10 or so lots are using the LocoMobi system, but these range from Toronto to Pittsburg to New Orleans to Houston. Furlane is focusing on building a dealership network, hiring salespeople to pitch LocoMobi regionally to lot owners.

Furlane says, too, that he and Pell have ambitions beyond mere parking, and that the cloud software system he’s developed can have applications in any scenario involving identifying cars in a time-sensitive situation. “In the U.S. right now, if I steal a car and my plate is reported at 10 a.m.,” says Furlane (proposing, one presumes, a hypothetical scenario), “an officer can pull up right behind me” and have no idea that the car’s stolen, since he says alerts for stolen vehicles aren’t always put out in real time.

That should change, says Furlane, and he thinks LocoMobi software could be the key. “I didn’t develop this cloud software just for parking. We’re living in a real-time world.”

[Image: Flickr user Yasser Alghofily]

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