Follow this series of six posts highlighting content from the European Parking Association (EPA), presented by EPA President Nigel Williams. Nigel joins some of the EPA’s data experts and other thought leaders to bring you this content, published by EPA in September 2023, offering insight into the EPA’s data initiatives and highlighting the importance, value, and use of parking data, and shining a spotlight on the Alliance for Parking Data Standards (APDS).
Part 1: Parking – Digitalization, Data, and Interoperability
The phrase ‘data is the new oil’ is a bit cliché, but it certainly applies to parking. Data occupies a similar position to that held by oil in the 18th century in that it is an immensely valuable but untapped asset. Our sector is particularly rich in data; however, many of our colleagues still view their data infrastructure as a cost center. We need to help them transform it into a profit center by using the data for overall improvement and to enable interoperability in our extremely fragmented industry.
As the EPA President, I am very conscious of our need to recognize emerging opportunities to exploit our data assets and to identify potential pitfalls. We must do everything possible to avoid those pitfalls or mitigate their effects.
During the past 11 months, the EPA has started or expanded projects and initiatives concerning our parking data (EPA 2.0). As I hope everyone is aware, this burst of frenetic EPA data-related activity – as well as lobbying on cross-border enforcement, and electric vehicle (EV) and fire regulations – was made possible by the farsighted sponsorship of APCOA, Indigo, Interparking, and Q-Park. On behalf of all our members, I thank them for their investment and their trust in us to use it wisely.
Frank De Moor, CEO of Q-Park and one of the sponsors of EPA 2.0 believes the future of the parking sector lies in collaboration. ‘Parking has been an island in the past, but now we are a crucial part of urban mobility networks. If we really believe in a sustainable urban mobility system, where the role of the car is related to public transport and urban mobility, we have to realize that interoperability, standardization, and sharing data are the keys to success.”
Not everyone agrees with this open-data approach, and – without wishing to push the oil analogy too far – it is true that our data is the subject of much interest from powerful entities, such as the public transport lobby, that wish to control it and use it for their own ends.
Roland Cracco, CEO of Interparking, chair of the Belgian Parking Federation, and another EPA 2.0 sponsor, wrote to me recently, saying: “Belgian (and other) car park operators are very concerned about the confidential nature of their data. We do understand the pressure of the authorities to obtain our data, but this cannot violate our trade secrets and business confidentiality.”
While acknowledging the importance of Roland’s concerns, the EPA must show the way and tread a fine line between protecting our members’ business confidentiality and providing the necessary data to power new sustainable mobility.
Ronald Frijns, head of business intelligence/artificial intelligence (BI/AI) at Q-Park, believes it is a question of stakeholders in the sector adapting quickly and efficiently to the inevitable changes.
‘The parking game is changing. Every parking (related) company is taking its first steps in a new strategic, digital, and commercial era. Mobile, apps, digital, cloud, application programming interface (API) integrations, and real-time reservations are all ways to expedite data delivery to our customers, facilitating their journey and instant decision-making across different modes of transport, urban needs, and mobility.
“The only way to go is to share data on a common base standard, with a close eye on confidentiality and data security. Only standards and conscious data strategies can avoid unmanageable, architectural chaos and inefficiencies in development, data integration, and related data security issues.”
This brings us to an initiative close to my heart – the Alliance for Parking Data Standards (APDS). Industry experts developed the APDS specifications to meet our sector’s needs. They now constitute the global standard for parking data. This is a significant achievement in a period of only five years.
However, like all standards, the APDS specifications are only useful if people and organizations adopt, specify, and implement them widely. It is now up to the EPA’s members, and their members and clients, to do just that.