California businessman and inventor Carl Muirbrook was late for an appointment when he had an epiphany.
Muirbrook found himself trapped in a public parking garage, rooting around for money to pay the tab.
Surely, Muirbrook thought, there must be a better way.
Eighteen months and $300,000 in development costs later, that better way — the QP QuickPay cellphone app — was on display for the first time Thursday at Caesars Palace, where Muirbrook showed it off as part of the National Parking Association’s annual convention and expo.
“We think it’s a completely transformative opportunity,” said Barney Pell, QP’s chairman. “Our vision is that every single person who parks a car will be able to use QP to pay for parking from their mobile phone wherever and whenever they park.”
The app could change the parking industry because it will bring garages into the digital age, Pell said. Many garages don’t accept credit cards because installing card readers costs thousands of dollars. QP is free to garages, so it will enable parking operators to tap into credit card payments.
The company officials said they are close to announcing QP system installations in the Las Vegas area, but declined to say where.
Here’s how QP works: Consumers download the free QP app on their iPhones, BlackBerrys or Android-platform phones. When they arrive at a parking lot that accepts the system, they hold their phone up to a QP scanner that can read it from three to five feet away, and users don’t even need to roll down the window. GPS tells QP what garage the driver is using, timestamps his arrival and lifts the entry gate arm.
When the driver leaves, he scans his phone at the exit kiosk. The program flashes the parking fee on the phone and asks the consumer to OK the cost. Once the user confirms the sale, QP deducts from his credit card or Internet-based payment account, lifts the arm and sends him on his way.
Using QP takes less time than paying with a paper ticket, Muirbrook said.
The company will either take a cut of parking fees or charge a transaction fee of about 35 cents per sale. QP could be a $75 million-a-year business, Pell said.
QP also can offer promotional deals, sending ads and discount coupons for neighborhood coffee shops or restaurants. The coupons drive repeat traffic into garages, Muirbrook said.
One garage operator is already sold on QP.
Oakland, Calif.-based Douglas Parking, which manages 140 garages across the West, has installed QP to beta-test the program at 45 locations, and plans to roll out the system at all of its garages in coming months.
There are a few parking apps on the market similar to QP, but none simplify the parking process with GPS identification, said Douglas Parking partner David Douglas. Nor does QP’s competition lift the entry gate’s arm.
QP has been so popular with consumers that Douglas Parking’s garages lure repeat business even when competing garages lower fees, Douglas said.
“We’re getting additional customers because people like the option of not having to carry money or dig out a credit card,” Douglas said. “Before, there wasn’t much loyalty (among customers). They would go where parking was the least expensive. This product enables some loyalty.”
It’s also eliminated human cashier errors, he said.
Douglas has no plans to lay off staff because of QP, Douglas said. The company needs as many employees as ever because it double-parks cars and needs workers to shift vehicles around. And instead of working the cash register, some employees can become greeters or concierges, he said.
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