The Evolution of Paid Parking

Did you ever stop to think about the evolution of the parking industry: why we pay for parking or when paid parking first began? This is not something I had given a great deal of thought to until I accepted a position at Impark Health providing parking solutions to healthcare facilities. What I’ve learned since is fascinating.

We have Carl C. Magee to thank for coming up with the idea of paid parking, which was first implemented in, of all places, Oklahoma City in 1935.

Local downtown businesses were expanding as demand for goods and services increased. With the growing popularity of automobiles, downtown streets quickly became overcrowded. Cars would be parked in front of retail locations for hours, sometimes for the entire day, blocking potential customers’ access to the businesses.

Magee’s idea was to charge for parking (just a nickel per hour) to discourage motorists from leaving their car in one location too long and encourage increased accessibility and consumer turnover for downtown businesses. To facilitate this, he invented the world’s first working parking meter — the Park‑O‑Meter. But Magee didn’t just invent a device; in effect, he invented managed parking services.

When I began my career in this industry, I was amazed at how complex the world of parking services really is, involving so much more than what Magee first envisioned. It’s about efficiencies, limited space and capacity, tracking, auditing, reporting, maintenance, valet, shuttles, customer service, and more.

In addition to the expected revenue collection duties, parking operators are often responsible for maintaining the entire physical property they manage. Everything from changing light bulbs, equipment repair, and integrating new technology to signage, marketing, and staffing come under the purview of parking management providers.

The technology used in the parking industry has certainly evolved as well. Magee’s original invention, the Park-O-Meter, has been superseded in favor of electric, battery-, and solar-powered meters. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Growing demand along with ever-increasing space limitations, has spurred the parking industry to seek out and adopt myriad new technologies. License plate recognition systems that automatically open gates for registered cars, parking apps that allow parkers to prepay and reserve a spot, and video monitoring that connects stranded motorists in self-park garages to technical support or customer service representatives via live video stream are no longer merely ideas for the future. These technologies, and so many more, are already available and in parking lots and garages around the world, making parking easier and more efficient than ever.

Paid parking has evolved far beyond what Magee began in 1935, and it’s a far more complex, demanding environment than most imagine.

By Allison Abma, Director, Business Development, Impark Health (USA)

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