Free-flow parking can use ANPR technology to scan plates of cars as they enter and exit a facility
The main use of ANPR equipment is to alleviate issues related to ticket payments

Many cities globally continue to become more congested, driving increased investment into off-street parking facilities. In recent years, automated number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras and software have started to be used as part of the overall solution which also includes barriers, payment machines, and loop detectors. The main use of ANPR equipment is to alleviate issues related to ticket payments, where a license plate can be looked up in the system to verify entry times, or for security purposes. However, what if ANPR equipment was the sole solution to automate parking structures? This trend is starting to occur.

Parking barriers and loop detectors are widespread and have been used for many years, but eliminating the use of these products in favor of barrier-free parking is slowly starting to gain traction. Free-flow parking can use ANPR technology to scan plates of cars as they enter and exit a facility, offering real benefits to parking lot operators and customers. One benefit of barrier-free parking is it can eliminate bottlenecks at entrances and exits.

These holdups are a real frustration for customers, where lines can back-up and create significant wait times to enter and exit. For entry, cars would now no longer have to stop to collect a ticket upon arrival and could drive straight into a facility to park. When exiting, payments would already have been made, allowing cars to leave immediately without having to stop to make payment. This would get rid of the need to have barriers, booth attendants or payment stations at the entrance and exit points.

Another benefit is it can be extremely expensive to build entry/exit lanes. With faster throughputs, fewer lanes would be required because cars would be able to easily move in and out of the structure. The additional space could be used for more parking spots, creating the possibility of lower costs and higher returns for parking lot owners.

"Parking structures need a way to distinguish themselves from one another to win new customers and to retain existing ones"

Finally, barrier-free parking is convenient for customers. Parking structures need a way to distinguish themselves from one another to win new customers and to retain existing ones. Reducing or eliminating wait times makes for better customer service and can keep users happier. Operators can also create convenience for everyday clients with parking payment subscriptions that keep a credit card on file to be charged each time the license plate is scanned. These customers would then never have to worry about payment when parking.

Today, the main barriers to widespread acceptance free-flow parking are ANPR equipment prices and the possibility of lost payments. Parking facilities that use ANPR cameras today typically install low-cost solutions because parking barriers are present. Cars are required to come to a complete stop in the entrance and exit lanes, which makes a low-end product sufficient enough to scan, read and produce an image of the license plate. If the barriers are removed, cars would be in motion when driving through the lanes, which requires a better and more expensive product.

Avoiding payments is also an issue where users could just leave without paying to park. The question is then, “How would operators collect the fee if this were to occur?” The simple answer is the fee would likely go uncollected and would become lost revenue. However, parking lot operators can store the license plate of the offender so this never happens with the same car twice. This then makes lost payments an issue only with one-time users.

"The key for ANPR equipment vendors is to educate end-users about the total cost of traditional parking systems"

The key for ANPR equipment vendors is to educate end-users about the total cost of traditional parking systems. ANPR technologies eliminate the need to buy traditional equipment making the free-flow parking option more affordable. Combine this with the benefits to customers, and the market could soon see change. While the trend to barrier-free parking is unlikely to occur in the short-term, in its latest report World Market for ANPR and Detection Sensors, IHS has stated it expects free-flow parking to gain momentum during the next five years. This will occur as end-users recognize the benefits and manufacturers push the solution as an alternative to the traditional systems used today.