Make life easier for customers and operators

Advances in technology, coupled with the rise of global standards and increased customer confidence in and acceptance of electronic payments, open up a range of opportunities for car park operators to streamline their operations while also enhancing the customer experience.

Q-Park is embracing these opportunities by introducing cashless payment solutions that will enable landlords to substantially reduce costs and increase revenues while at the same time strengthening customer satisfaction.

The evolution of cashless payment

Systems using tickets

The simplest form of cashless payment is already in use almost universally. The customer is given a ticket on entry to the car park. The ticket is encoded with the time of access.

When the customer wishes to exit the facility, the ticket is inserted into the payment terminal, the appropriate fee is calculated, based on the time elapsed since access, and the customer can then pay by inserting coins, banknotes – or a credit or debit card.

Depending on the amount of the fee and the arrangements that the parking facility operator has with the card companies, the customer may have to key in their PIN.

Many bank cards now incorporate RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) or NFC (Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality.

A chip and antenna embedded in the card enable the customer to wave their card over a reader at the terminal, rather than inserting it.

No PIN is required, and this speeds up the payment process considerably. In most European countries, contactless payments are allowed up to a limit of €25, and for parking up to €50, which covers the vast majority of parking fees.

As we move forward, credit and debit cards are becoming redundant and their functionality is being incorporated into mobile phones. It is estimated that mobile phone and tablet users will make 195 billion mobile commerce transactions annually by 2019, and many believe that smartphone payments will eventually replace payment cards and cash for smaller transactions.

With an enabled smartphone, the customer simply waves or taps the phone at the payment terminal, in the same way as they would for a contactless bank card transaction.

The transaction can be completed by their bank, by the phone manufacturer, by the telecoms service provider, or by a ‘digital wallet’ service.

Cashless payment options with tickets

  • Payment by credit or debit card, with PIN
  • Payment by credit or debit card, without PIN
  • Contactless payment by credit or debit card
  • Contactless payment by mobile phone

These options are certainly more convenient for users of the car park, as they don’t have to worry about having change for the payment machine, and the time spent queueing is greatly reduced.

The car park operator also benefits: the payment machines require less maintenance, and, with less cash on the premises, risk is lower and security is enhanced.

No tickets required

In the simplest ticketless solution, the customer presents a debit or credit card to open the barrier and enter the car park. They present the same card again at the exit, and the amount due is calculated, based on the elapsed time, and debited to the card. No parking ticket is required, and there is no need to queue at a machine. The system checks the validity of the card when it is first presented, and this reduces the risk of it being declined upon exit. If the customer is unable to pay with this card, he or she can present another card or select an alternative payment method.

Customers who pre-book their parking space online using a credit or debit card can use the same card to identify themselves at the barrier on entry and exit.

Car park operators can also produce and manage their own loyalty or season ticket cards, or facilitate value cards in conjunction with shopping centres or other retailers, in order to offer customers a wider choice of promotions and ways to pay.

The use of credit/debit cards can be extended by combining them with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). This enables the customer to present their card once only, on arrival at the parking facility.

Later, when they approach the exit, ANPR is used to open the exit barrier; the parking fee is calculated automatically and debited to the card.

These systems use the technique of tokenisation to ensure the security of the users’ bank card information. This means that the card details are never held anywhere in the system. Instead, the card details, when first presented, are translated (using hashing, encryption and secret keys) into a unique ‘token’.

This token is stored, along with the time of entry. The same card details, when presented on exit, generate the same token, and the appropriate fee can then be calculated.

However – and this is the critical point for security purposes – the token cannot be translated back into the card details: the translation works only in one direction.

To implement this, Q-Park is working with the CCV Group in Ireland, the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and with NETS in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Cashless payment options without tickets

  • Credit or debit card at entry and exit
  • Credit or debit card at entry; ANPR used to open exit barrier
  • Credit or debit card used to book parking space, identify user, and open barriers on entry and exit
  • Credit or debit card used to book parking space; ANPR used to open barriers on entry and exit
  • ANPR used to facilitate season ticket holders
  • Cars equipped with electronic tags linked to an account can open barriers
  • Mobile phone uses RFID or NFC at entry and exit

Car equipped with RFID tag

In each case, the fee is calculated automatically and debited either to the user’s credit/debit card account or the account they hold with the operator of the parking facility.

Cards and phones have the advantage of being personal – they generally go with the individual, and can be used by that person irrespective of what vehicle they are driving. Other payment methods are tied to a specific vehicle.

Vehicle recognition

For regular users of a car park who hold an account with the car park operator, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) can be used to completely automate their car parking experience. The entry and exit barriers can open automatically, without the need for any intervention on the part of the customer. The customer account is generally opened with a direct debit solution, and fees are deducted.

The customer can be sent invoices by e-mail at regular intervals, showing details of entry and exit times, or these details can be made available online by means of the My Q-Park customer portal.

As ANPR can be affected by bad weather and other factors, backup systems are available to ensure that customers are still able to avail of the parking services. These include the option of using a secundary access device such as a bankcard.

Unrecognisable number plate due to weather conditions

In many countries, toll operators issue their customers with electronic tags that are unique to a vehicle. These enable the motorist to pass through toll barriers without stopping. The relevant toll is debited to their account.

The same electronic tag can also be used, by arrangement, to activate the barriers in parking facilities – the vehicle tag is recognised by the system and the registered account holder is billed for the relevant parking fee.

Example of Irish Easytrip toll tag

Q-Park Control Room (QCR)

Wherever we install any cashless system and thereby reduce the need for on-site Parking Hosts, we ensure that the parking facility is connected to the Q-Park Control Room (QCR), so that customers have 24/7 access to any help they need with the system and to the broader range of help and information we can provide.

The QCR gives our customers immediate access to information, support and guidance from our multilingual and friendly QCR team members. The QCR team have access to our interactive ‘Knowledge Base’ and can provide customers with precise, location-specific information that is continually updated. QCR team members also have access to local parking management systems and to real-time cameras. This means that they can assess the customer’s situation quickly and respond appropriately.

This access is important in parking facilities using cashless systems, as these are unmanned or have considerably reduced staff on site. While there may be no Parking Host present on site, the car park is continually monitored by Q-Park employees. The immediate connection with the QCR provides the customer in the car park with a human contact who can assist with any issue that he or she may have.

And when needed, QCR dispatches a Parking Host who will be on site in less than 15 minutes.

The QCR is high-tech and sophisticated, but it is also hospitable and friendly. We like to think of it as technology with a human touch; it provides an essential platform for maximising the efficiencies of a cashless parking facility.

Cashless payment solutions

Benefits for car park operators

  • Reduced staffing requirements
  • Reduced security risks
  • Low installation & maintenance costs
  • No tickets, no ticket handling/stock
  • Parking fee can be based on a variety of time periods

Benefits for customers

  • No ticket to lose
  • Queueing reduced or eliminated
  • No need to carry cash

Suitable sites

Cashless systems are easily installed in any car park, such as:

  • Hotels
  • Hospitals and Clinics
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Shopping Centres
  • City Councils
  • Private Car Park Operators
  • Event Centres
  • Theatres
  • Residential Areas