Opinion: Capital companies hope to build on pay-and-display

Imagine a city where your vehicle can talk to pretty much every other machine. Without stopping and rolling down your window, your car automatically sends out signals that open access control gates, buy time from parking pay-and-display machines and pay road tolls.

That’s the world a group of local businesspeople are hoping to be at the forefront of creating.

Take Tom Keeley, the Ottawa-based director of business development for national firm Precise ParkLink. His company started with a 10-year agreement that saw it deliver 700 pay-and-display machines (each costing more than $10,000) to the City of Ottawa.

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“Right now, pay-and-display is the leading edge of technology in our industry,” says Mr. Keeley.

However, he adds, it is only a matter of time before smartphone digital wallets take these systems to a new level, automatically providing access to parking garages as well as seamlessly debiting a customer’s account as they pass through a Tim Hortons drive-thru.

“But you’ll still have to wind down your window to get your coffee,” Mr. Keeley concludes wryly.

Abdul Haseeb Awan, a local entrepreneur and former MBA student at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, hopes to be first out of the gate with ChipTag, his system that uses data to optimize one’s digital wallet.

“I saw cars getting stuck trying to get out of or into parking lots and garages. Drivers were rolling down their windows in terrible weather or they were too far for their fobs to work and I thought, ‘Hey, we can do better,’” he said.

His low-cost solution allows drivers to monitor their spending across various parking lots and spaces while giving garage and surface lot owners similar access to real-time data about their revenues and capacity utilization.

Mr. Haseeb Awan believes this will allow owners to increase their revenues and reduce delays for drivers by directing cars to unfilled spaces.

Precise ParkLink’s Mr. Keeley says his involvement in the business is the result of what he calls his “no-plan plan.” He planned to go to university to study law but became sidetracked when a part-time job as a bylaw enforcement officer with the former City of Nepean led to a position as director of bylaw enforcement with the City of Kanata at the age of 23.

“The pay was amazing so I never bothered being called to the bar.”

After going on to become the manager of licensing and enforcement for the City of Ottawa, Mr. Keeley was looking for a new challenge.

It came along in the form of an opportunity to become the director of business development and a partner with Montreal’s AutoVu, whose automated License Plate Recognition Systems made chalking tires by parking enforcement officers redundant. AutoVu also sold the system to police forces in Los Angeles, Dallas and elsewhere, enabling cruisers to recognize and run licence plates through their databases even when both vehicles were moving at high speeds.

When AutoVu was sold to Saint-Laurent, Que.-based Genetec, Mr. Keeley left. It was 2006 and he knew that there was an opportunity to propose a pay-and-display system to the City of Ottawa. Mr. Keeley met with the owner of Precise ParkLink, Peter Groccia, and they talked about the situation in Ottawa – a place where Precise had no presence at the time. Since that meeting, the company’s Ottawa staff has grown to 27 local employees.

In addition to its citywide pay-and-display system, Precise ParkLink currently manages two city-owned garages in the ByWard Market and 30 other parking facilities in office buildings, outside hotels, on surface lots and at the Ottawa International Airport.

Mr. Keeley says Precise is positioned to be part of a national solution that turns vehicles into moving payment platforms.

You could say Mr. Keeley and companies such as Precise are ‘driving’ change.

Bruce Firestone is a broker with Century 21 Explorer Realty and the executive director of Exploriem.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ProfBruce.

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