Carpark experience, learned behaviour betrays innovation

January 9, 2006, 6:09 pm

I’ve never really considered car parks as places for innovative ideas, yet such innovation exists in the Bentalls car park in Kingston. Every parking bay has a light indicating if it is rmpty or taken. As you drive along the floors you can see the vacant spaces before you get to them courtesy of the green light above the space. in addition, on each floor there is a sign notifying drivers of how many free spaces are available on this floor and the next floors. Excellent stuff!

The immediate question that comes to mind is “what would the business case have been for this?” This innovation can’t have come cheap. I presume there were two overiding factors – firstly to increase the throughput of cars. If drivers can see free spaces they won’t need to sit waiting for the driver of a car in a space to reverse out and eliminate the consequent hold up of traffic. The technology also should provide an improved customer experience – it should make drivers feel better about using this carpark and become repeat users (is there such as thing as carpark loyalty). Problem is, the reality is slightly different to what is intended.

The new technology fails to accomodate existing behaviours. So whilst drivers can see there are spaces available further down the level, when they see reverse lights come on, they still stop and wait for the car to reverse and take that space. There are still hold-ups, still hill starts on the ramps. And we had to wait 20 minutes before we found a space. Bottom line, the technology may be great, but how ingrained are user behaviours that it is designed to replace? Does your business case cover users un-learning those bad habits it is based upon?

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