Many repair shops across the country that SP Plus, a Chicago-based company, manage use hands-free systems at gates and mobile payments “to create a touch-free experience,” said Jeff Eckerling, the company’s chief growth officer. Overall, the company looks after “more than two million” parking spaces at several thousand locations, including more than 70 airports, he said.

Despite the contactless technology, the stay-at-home restrictions imposed more than a year ago because of the coronavirus have ravaged the parking garage business. An empty parking lot is like a subway car without a driver, a baseball stadium without fans.

“Our entire industry has been hit very hard, from hotels to airports to event venues,” said Eckerling.

Unsurprisingly, he said, New York was among the first cities to recover from parking. “If you go back four months, we were almost at pre-Covid levels,” he added. “So many workers have been using public transport, but it only takes a small number to get back to the office and drive, which is a real win for our business.”

The history of the parking garage in the United States is not particularly romantic. Most reports date the first public garages to the early 1930s when car ownership began to grow. Car “jockeys” handled the matter, and cars were often placed on platforms and taken to available places.

In the 1950s, a construction boom had filled city centers with garages, giving people more convenient access to shopping and business. The middle of the 20th century also saw the introduction of multi-storey garages with ramps and “do-it-yourself” parking spaces.

Some parts of the Flash vision recently went into effect in Hoboken, NJ, where the company partnered with LAZ Parking in one of its garages. High-tech cameras at the two entrances are programmed to read license plates to identify cars whose drivers may have prepaid online, have a monthly rental agreement, or just want an hourly ticket. (No need to pull one out of a machine; just wave at a screen and the ticket will be issued.)

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