Raleigh-Durham Int’l Makes Parking a Priority With New Online Reservation System

Raleigh-Durham Int’l Makes Parking a Priority With New Online Reservation System
Ronnie Wendt
Published in: 

As airports throughout the U.S. wrestle with growing passenger volume and heightened security concerns, parking sometimes takes a backseat. Not so at Raleigh-Durham International (RDU). The North Carolina airport recently introduced a new $7 million system to make parking easier and faster for customers. The multi-component system is also helping RDU recapture revenue that is lost when passengers park offsite or drivers drop them off at the curb and don’t park at all.  

For Mike Landguth, president and CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, the “passenger experience” begins long before customers board an airplane. It begins as soon as they pull up to the terminal. 

 A 42% increase in passenger enplanements from 2013 to 2014 prompted Landguth and other RDU officials to evaluate the customer experience as a whole. As they pondered the products and services customers wanted, parking rose to the top. Passengers did not see the airport as the preferred place to park, despite ample options: 22,000 parking spaces in four parking decks and three surface lots. The airport needed to change passenger sentiment, recalls Landguth.


Project: New Parking System 

Location: Raleigh-Durham (NC) Int’l Airport

Key Components: Online reservation system; revenue management system; license plate recognition technology; new access & revenue control system 

Cost: $7 million 

Parking Consultants: Lumin Advisors; 20/20 Parking

Marketing/Promotion Consultant: InnovAt

Parking Access & Revenue Control System: SKIDATA

Online Registration System: ADVAM

Revenue Management System: IDeaS, from SAS

Project Timeline: Initial planning began in 2015; new system went online May 1, 2019

Key Benefits: Passengers can pre-pay & book space in advance to expedite process & ensure parking in facility of their choice; online booking system allows airport to maximize facilities by using dynamic pricing & executing targeted promotions; more options & better experience for customers

“We started looking at our parking market share compared to enplanement levels,” he explains. “And while it’s not a 1:1 relationship, we saw market share had declined by 10% over an eight-year period.” He and other RDU officials attribute the decline to the rise of transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft. TNCs were capturing approximately 13% of the market, seizing a portion of the business from taxi companies and cutting into the airport’s parking revenue. 

“We have got to be able to compete with the TNCs and the other options customers have to get here,” Landguth says. “This requires us to provide a better experience.”

That realization led RDU to invest in a new parking system that includes an online booking system, a revenue management system, license plate recognition technology, and a new parking access and revenue control system (PRCS). 

After a soft launch in 2018, the airport rolled out the system to the general public this May. Coincidentally, the airport experienced a 10% increase in enplanements the same month. Typically, that would have led to a 3% increase in parking transactions; but with the new parking system in widespread use, parking transactions picked up 6%. “That’s huge,” comments Landguth. “My team is watching this very closely to see if we are starting to shift our parking market share.”

Inspiration From Across the Pond

RDU began its research by looking abroad, because European airports are far more progressive when it comes to parking technologies. 

“We traveled to Dublin to see their operation,” Landguth says, noting that the Irish airport has operated an online parking registration system for nearly a decade and offers consulting services about the subject. “Dublin’s business model is an online booking system with dynamic pricing, very similar to what you see with airlines and hotels. Those systems look at heads and beds or seats and butts, while a parking system deals with cars and stalls.”

After seeing the system at Dublin Airport, RDU jumped right in to adding online parking technologies. The airport invested in improving service for customers parking off site, but it didn’t work that way—at least initially. 

The airport quickly found itself neck deep in technology integration issues that delayed the online booking system’s launch for several years. “Our PRCS system wasn’t integrating well with our online reservation system, and was starting to crash,” Landguth recounts. “It would be 11 p.m., and we’d have a 30-minute wait for customers leaving the parking garage.”

Integrating with an online parking booking system proved more than the aging PRCS system could handle. So, airport officials took a step back and put the online booking system and other new parking products on hold until they could sort out the entire issue.  

They tackled this step with help from two parking consultants: Lumin Advisors and 20/20 Parking Consultants. 

The project that resulted proceeded in three phases. During Phase I, the consultants analyzed RDU’s existing PRCS and advised replacing it with a new system. “Our evaluation examined the airport’s future goals for their parking operation, and whether or not the current technology could support those goals,” says Jim Maglothin, president of 20/20 Parking. “We concluded that they needed to update their technology to achieve their goals.”

During Phase II, the RDU Airport Authority and its parking consultants solicited input from airport stakeholders, including key executives, information technology professionals, parking operations and maintenance. The information gathered enabled 20/20 to develop a functional specification for the new system. After the project went out to bid, 20/20 and Lumin evaluated incoming proposals from various PRCS vendors, and ultimately selected SKIDATA, formerly Sentry Control Systems.

Airport officials then set an aggressive 12-month timetable for the project. Typically, PRCS projects take 18 to 24 months from contract acceptance to completion, notes Maglothin.

“There were several features the airport had been promising customers for a while, and had been unable to achieve. They wanted to put those on the fast track,” he remarks. “SKIDATA was able to meet the airport’s goals and aggressive timetable for the project; and they also had existing integrations with ADVAM, the airport’s pre-booking system provider.” 

Ensuring Integration

Technology used in the new system includes license plate readers; the ADVAM parking online booking platform; QR code readers; cash and credit card pay-on-foot stations; automated exit lanes; PCI-certified, point-to-point encryption credit card processing; a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) intercom system; and LED dynamic message signage throughout parking areas.

Phase III of the project confirmed that the various technologies could synchronize without a hitch. “The communication between the online booking system, the parking equipment and the servers that control everything needs to be seamless, so that they are constantly feeding upcoming reservations into the system,” Maglothin says. “The transfer of data between the two systems updates the available parking inventory, so that the PARCS system knows how many spaces are already allocated.”

The airport also wanted proof of concept before the project could proceed—a step not typically required for other parking projects, notes Maglothin. So SKIDATA installed one lane of each type in an economy surface lot to demonstrate the features and functions of the system. “They had to prove they could successfully do this over 30 days before the airport gave approval for them to move forward with the rest of the installation,” he explains. 

After SKIDATA passed the test, 20/20 began technical design review and performed multiple levels of testing.

“As SKIDATA installed each lane of equipment, we followed behind and did an acceptance test of each lane to ensure it met the requirements of the functional specification,” says Maglothin. “The last test we did was a 30-day acceptance test, where you let the system run on its own to identify systemic flaws or reconciliation issues with revenue, and it was a success.”

Overall, he says it was the most successful and smooth PRCS installation he’s ever worked on. He attributes this success to stakeholders being on the same page. “They had a driving directive and everyone was fully supportive of achieving that directive,” reflects Maglothin. “The parking operations group, led by Jeff Slayton, was extremely responsive and knowledgeable about the project.” 

Open for Online Business

With a new PRCS in place, RDU could finally launch its online booking system—a key component for attracting visitors to its onsite lots. 

Passengers access the new feature by clicking on the ADVAM online booking system, identified by a parking icon, on the website, parkrdu.com. The online booking system integrates with license plate recognition technology in the parking garage and surface lots so the two systems can work in tandem with each other. Passengers use a QR code sent with their email confirmation to open the gate. “All they do is roll down their window, put their phone in front of the scanner, and the scanner reads the QR code and it pops the gate open,” Landguth says. 

“The license plate recognition serves two purposes: It ties the license plate number to the ticket or other credentials used to enter, and it verifies that the vehicle exiting is the vehicle that pulled the ticket, and that prevents fraud,” explains Maglothin. 

The airport also utilizes IdeaS, a SAS revenue management system that dynamically prices the parking products that are advertised on the online booking system. The technology is a key component in competitively pricing parking while managing yield within RDU facilities.

The airport tested the process for three months before promoting the new online option. During that time, airport personnel worked with parking staff to help them learn the system and how to properly address customer concerns or questions.  

“We put the product on our website and people who came across it used it, but we didn’t advertise its availability right away,” Landguth explains. “We didn’t have a lot of bookings during that time, but we were able to demonstrate that our team was able to hold the stalls for online registrations, and operationally make it work. I’d rather start with 20 customers and do it right, and then roll it out to everyone, because we want to deliver a world-class parking experience to our customers. On May 1, we went live with a full-blown online booking system and began marketing our parking products and services to customers.”

A New Menu of Options

RDU’s marketing staff worked with InnovAt International to develop new parking products based on previous parking data and customer input. 

“We looked at the numbers,” says InnovAt CEO Jenna Buckner. “We looked at the products, the pricing, the brand, the look and feel, and staffing.”

Branding and staffing were key areas, she emphasizes. “These online booking systems must be branded and have an airport look and feel, and someone from the airport needs to oversee that. They also need someone who can create the products and pricing. Then, you need someone looking at the data and feedback from the online booking system and adjusting messaging and pricing more frequently than if you had a straight drive-up parking system. Finally, you need an admin, who inputs new prices and products into the system.” 

InnovAt’s analysis led RDU to restructure its existing parking products and develop new pre-booked options:

  • The Premier Section on the first floor of the parking garage is targeted at business travelers. As the closest option to the terminal, it is RDU’s most expensive parking product at $3 per hour (with a four-hour limit) or $22 per day. And the airport made sure the area had a premium look and feel. “We cleaned it up, re-painted and re-marked the spaces to reflect that it’s a higher end product,” Landguth says. 
  • Park Central makes up floors two through seven in the parking garage. It is part of the airport’s terminal parking, which is in the center of the campus. There are also Economy 3 and Economy 4 lots, which are remote lots that offer shuttle services to the terminal.
  • Park Express provides “trunk-to-curb” service. When customers pull up to the lot, personnel transfer their luggage to van and drive them to the terminal curb.  “We added this service when we noticed we were pushing about 600 customers a week from a $15 product to an $8 product when we closed the deck. We had nothing in between to offer customers,” says Landguth. “That product is a $12 product, so now I offer a $22 product, a $15 product, a $12 product, an $8 product and a $7 product to meet the needs of every visitor.”

“All of our online parking prices are cheaper than the drive-up prices. Just like with an airline ticket. If you want the best prices, you book online,” he adds.

The airport’s marketing team worked with InnovAt to identify times when parking is slow and introduced competitive rates and ways to entice customers to upgrade. Upon learning that the parking garage is often only 50% full during Memorial Day weekend, the airport offered a $10 daily rate to anyone who booked online. (Typically, the same space costs $15 per day.) “We encouraged people to move up to a higher product and fill our parking deck,” explains Landguth.   

RDU’s initial promotion for Memorial Day only saw 60 customers take advantage of the offering. Landguth expects better results in the future as the airport works further out to advertise holiday parking promotions. “We had very little time to put the Memorial Day promotion into play,” he says. Better results were realized with the July 4th promotion, when 349 customers took advantage of the offering. “These promotions enable us to generate additional parking income, while customers get a better parking experience.”

More highly-targeted marketing promotions will also follow as RDU further develops its business mindset. “We have to develop products and services just like concessionaires or airlines do,” remarks Landguth. 

The airport will base future promotions on customer feedback. Every time a visitor books online, the airport sends that customer a survey. So far, 82% of those who have used the system say they will book online again, and 14% say they might. Convenience is the No. 1 reason customers say they book online, followed by reduced rates and special offers at No. 2, and ensuring access to a chosen parking selection as No. 3. 

“Booking online will continue to grow,” predicts Landguth. “Our community is exploding with growth; everything is at capacity. Parking is at capacity, checkpoints are at capacity, and people have very little time. Online parking allows them to know for sure how much time it’s going to take them to park and get into the airport, and they can build their schedule around that.”


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