A Niagara-on-the-Lake entrepreneur thinks he has the solution to the town’s parking problems.
And as the town will soon be collecting bids from the business sector for a project to overhaul the town’s parking services, it comes at an opportune time.
Grant Furlane, chief executive of LocoMobi, a tech company that works with towns to resolve municipal parking and transit issues, plans to throw his name in the hat once NOTL starts accepting proposals.
“You can’t not notice the parking problem,” said Furlane, who moved to NOTL for his retirement a year ago.
One of the issues is that many of the town’s parking meters do not accept credit cards, but it’s hardly the only issue.
The town allows drivers to use Honk Mobile to pay for parking in Old Town, but wifi is not freely available there – and not every person parking in Old Town has the cellular data to download the app.
Some retail workers have told The Lake Report they are frequently asked to break large bills for change because the town’s meters don’t accept bills, despite charging $5.25 per hour.
“It (NOTL) doesn’t have a parking problem, it has an infrastructure problem,” Furlane said.
And while the town’s population is small at only about 19,000 people, “It’s a busy place in the summer and it should be treated as a major city problem,” he said.
Furlane said the town has a lot of traffic and congestion as a result of infrastructure issues.
In fact, traffic was one of the reasons he decided to move to St. Davids and not Old Town, he told The Lake Report.
But he thinks automation can be a big part of the solution.
Rather than continuing to invest in parking meters, Furlane suggests the town could set up cameras with licence plate recognition at its parking lots.
Cameras track the coming and going of drivers and can be used to automatically bill them, he said.
And the same technology can be used to issue tickets to drivers who violate parking bylaws.
What people don’t seem to realize, Furlane said, is that the parking machines they invest in today might be gone five years from now.
In fact, he thinks the future will be meter-less.
Furlane said the town is “in trouble” if it only wants to replace its machines.
The town needs to think bigger about its traffic, network and ticketing problems, he said.
Furlane doesn’t know when the town will be seeking pitches to fix its parking problems, but said, “We will be one of the core companies probably bidding, whatever they do.”
Parking “should not be out on its own” but integrated with the town’s transportation plans, he said, and staff across departments need to discuss plans.
Another issue impacting the town’s parking services is its mobile network.
“You don’t have a strong network here. Your closest tower might be in St. Catharines,” he said.
Finding a signal can be even more difficult near the Canada-U.S. border, Furlane added.
“If I’m downtown and I want to use a mobile app, sometimes because I’m near the border, I pick up a different network.”
That makes it even more difficult for drivers to download Honk Mobile to park.
Furlane speculated that the town was not having a big conversation on how to resolve the network issues, even though it would make it easier for people to download Honk Mobile while searching for parking.
When he pitches the town on the parking solutions he offers through LocoMobi, he’s said he will “tell them what they need,” not what they want.
It’s the same strategy he used when he secured the city of Kitchener as a client, he said.
And if he can’t get the ear of the town, he said he and his company might go directly to council with his ideas.