A few months ago when visiting Westfield Doncaster my partner and I noticed large signs proclaiming “ticketless parking, coming soon!” Yesterday, when we visited again, the system was installed and active.
Parking at shopping centres has always been a painful process: depending on the time of the year it’s easily possible to spend more time hunting for a park at a shopping centre than it is to actually spend the time in the shopping centre. There are natural pinch points within parking areas – around support columns, around ticketing machines, around ramps between floors in multi-storey parking, and of course, popping in and out of existence around anyone trying to park or leave a park.
Over the years, shopping centres have sometimes added features that help shoppers. At some point the ticketing machines started taking credit cards directly so you could replace a ticket with your card. Probably more useful for most people was the cameras and sensors installed throughout the parking to allow lights to show where free parks were, and larger counters at the ends of rows letting you know how many parks were available. Those sorts of conveniences that are definitely there for the shopper.
Ticketless parking: it’s a great idea. When you drive into the shopping centre your car registration is scanned, and when you leave your license plate is scanned again. If you are in and out in under 2 or 3 hours (depending on the centre), you don’t need to pay, otherwise your account will be deducted. You can if you want choose to go to a pay station just before you leave, enter your license plate and pay the fee, but the recommendation is to register your license plate and credit card details to make it a frictionless, hassle-free process.
A convenient process.
Westfield say on their FAQ that:
If you are concerned about remembering your number plate, then we recommend you register your details at parkwestfield.com.au. By registering you can choose to receive free of charge SMS notifications* upon entry reminding you of your licence plate number.
Registering a credit card is optional but allows you to avoid pay station queues at no additional cost. In fact, if you do register you’ll avoid credit card surcharges levied at the pay station.
Westfield do make a statement on privacy in relation to the system:
Further information on the FAQ tells us you can opt-in to receiving promotions and marketing messages if you choose.
I have a “frequent shopper” card at several stores I visit regularly: you make your purchase, swipe the card, and over time you build rewards points or discounts. And in the case of a few, you get extremely targeted marketing. One grocery company in particular is awfully keen to let me know whenever they have a couple of particular types of cat-food I buy regularly on special. But that’s not bad, right?
That’s the convenience-vs-privacy question in a nutshell: is it worth sacrificing X% privacy for Y% convenience/reward?
And that’s the same question people will need to ask themselves around this ‘convenient’ ticketless parking system. How comfortable are you in having a shopping centre know how long you visit for, how frequently you visit, and your overall visiting patterns? How comfortable are you having your name, car registration and credit card details stored on a database somewhere so that you can enter and exit a shopping centre without all the tedious waiting around boom gates and pay stations?
As privacy goes, there’s certainly some cautions around the Westfield ticketless system but it’s hardly entirely odious; if you don’t like the process you can always choose to keep your visits to the free period, or even setup and use a private credit card you charge with cash and pay manually each time you visit. In short, there’s several options to limit privacy exposure.
We’re being increasingly coached by corporations to yield a little privacy in return for convenience or reward. Where we have control over the process that’s fine, but it does serve as a valuable reminder that we have to be cognisant each time we get that convenience or get that reward it’s come at the expense of a degree of privacy.