Recovery, Hiatus, Dispersion


Recovery, Hiatus, Dispersion

As I write this in the first week in April, I pray that when you read it, we will have turned that famous corner. My prediction is that we will have done so. 

I’m preparing May issue of Parking Today and have come across an article we will be featuring. “How Will the Pandemic Affect Mass Transit?” (Page 38).” The headline is misleading. The title should be: “The Recovery of the Parking Industry May be Faster than You Think.” 

The article notes that ridership on mass transit is way down due to the pandemic. People just aren’t taking trains and buses like they were in the past. Sure, part of this is due to the ‘stay at home’ requirements, but also it is due to the fact that people understand that there is no place better to become exposed to the virus than in a bus or train. And that fear will remain, even after the travel restrictions have lifted.

 If the financial hardship faced by public transportation providers results in scaled-back operations, it’s imperative that commuters still be able to get to work and back simply and safely. Many prognosticators are predicting that in the wake of the pandemic, more people will take to personal vehicle use and commute in their own vehicles.

Predictions are informed guesses at this point, and there are no guarantees. Yet the statistical trends are hard to ignore, and there is little doubt that communities nationwide would be well served to brace themselves for a new commuter reality. Simply put: It’s time to prepare.

If commuters react to this event as they have in the past, we will see an uptick in the use of privately owned vehicles. And guess what, there will be a need to find a place to park them when the driver arrives at her destination. Seems like this will be a good thing for parking. A shot in the arm that we will sorely need.

The article points out that now is the time to prepare for that influx of new customers. Clean up our garages, get out the brooms and paint. Replace those outdated lighting systems, clean and seal those leaky floors, upgrade those outdated entry systems. Make your garage as welcoming as possible. We want to keep those customers coming back.

Rather than look at the upcoming month or two as the complete destruction of our industry, perhaps we could look at it as a hiatus. A temporary pause. A forced pause, granted, but a temporary one nevertheless.

Only the most pessimistic among us would believe that this interruption in our business is permanent. Painful, yes. In some cases, it means laying off staff members, and in others, a deep reduction in whatever resources that had been put aside for emergencies. Well, this is an emergency.

I doubt if this hiatus will be long term. My prediction is that it will be weeks rather than months. It will not end as it began, like the flipping of a switch. We were told that we must ‘social distance’ and in a very few days after our industry was brought to a screeching halt. There were no cars to park, no drivers to charge to park, no cars to valet, nothing, zero, zip. The tens of thousands of employees had literally nothing to do. There was not money to pay them. They, too, were forced into hiatus.

We shouldn’t forget that operators aren’t the only ones affected by the hiatus. Vendors, suppliers, consultants, all have their work slowed, and thus their income. There are no tickets to spit, few citations to write, no meetings to attend, (remember that pesky social distancing?), and because of this ‘SD’, extreme difficulty in making presentations about new products and services. We may think we can proceed without interruption digitally, but there is no replacement for face to face discussions.

When the virus withdraws, and it will, life will return to normal. But it will do so slowly, perhaps over a period of weeks, if not a few months. We won’t get an ‘all clear’ and head off to a bar or restaurant to celebrate the end of the pandemic. This may not be a bad thing. We will have the opportunity to end the hiatus in such a way that will remove the pain, not increase it.

If you look at the definition of hiatus, the key word is temporary. This is temporary. It is also an opportunity. We are being forced to take a look at our organizations, our people, and our industry and rethink just how we are approaching our business.

When we come back, we will be smarter, stronger, and better. It may seem cliché, as we take our dog for the fourth walk of the day, but when it is over, we will be gifted with a new beginning. Not a completely bad thing.

Make good use of this hiatus.

So, our betters have been telling us for years that living in cities, in small apartments cheek by jowl, is best. It means we don’t have to destroy the planet with automobiles, we can walk to work and play, and all will be right with the world.

Suddenly we are attacked by a pandemic and find that our most densely populated city is struck with the most severe course of the disease. Cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans and the like are seeing the virus attacking at will. 

Astrid has posted a long piece on Park News called “The Coming Age of Dispersion” which posits that perhaps we are better off living in small cities spread throughout the country, rather than in mega cities along the coastline. I strongly recommend you take a few minutes and read the article.

I live in Los Angeles, but am fortunate to live in a ‘neighborhood.’ LA is like a bunch of small towns that have grown together into a mega city. The density isn’t like a New York or London.

But we are seeing that many people are moving even from my neighborhood to more rural environments. Many smaller cities like San Antonio, Austin, Salt Lake City, and Grand Rapids are attracting the brain trust from Silicon Valley and the like, much faster than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Washington DC.

Frankly, it’s safer, even in times of no pandemic, to drive in your personal vehicle by yourself or your family, than take a subway or a bus. Are we seeing a paradigm shift in how we will be living in the future, away from megacities to country? And if so, what will that mean to parking?

It’s certainly something to consider. Do we focus on the vagaries of on street parking as determined by city governments? Are shopping complexes in more rural areas going to require parking structures, and if so, will they be as large and complex as those in New York or LA?

How will we as an industry have to adjust to these changes, if they happen at all?

Something to think about as we social distance…

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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