Technology, Uber, and our Front Cover


Technology, Uber, and our Front Cover

According to Wikipedia, the word Technology (“science of craft,” from Greek τέχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and –λογία, -logia[3]) is the collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Technology also can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, etc., or it can be embedded in machines, computers, devices and factories, which can be operated by individuals without detailed knowledge of the workings of such things.

Note that the original Greek can be translated to include the “knowledge” of techniques, processes and so forth, or it can be embedded into machines that can be run by folks without detailed knowledge of such things.

So, if I know the inner workings of my smartphone, it can be said that I am using technology, even if I don’t have a phone in my hand. On the other hand, technology placed in the smartphone enables those without an understanding of its inner workings to use it to the benefit of all.

Just how important is the understanding of the underlying technology?

I don’t know how electrons flow through silicon in my computer, but I do know that if it gets too hot, bad things happen.

When I was selling technology to parking facilities, we had an installation that wasn’t running all that well. We sent technician after technician to try to fix it but to no avail. I went to the site and found the computer locked in a storage cabinet, slightly larger than the machine itself. I opened the cabinet, took a screwdriver and removed the door, and the problems magically disappeared.

Some technology knowledge is important. If your phone doesn’t work on the 4th floor of a garage, you know enough to go to the first floor and try again. You know that the radio waves that carry your voice won’t go through 4-foot- thick concrete.

A number of articles in this technology issue of Parking Today can be scary to the uninitiated. However, it’s important to remember that with all the technology at our fingertips, we still need to be able to run the garage with nothing more than a good staff and a cigar box.

When the electronics on a 747 go out, we can only hope that the pilot knows how to land the sucker, just as he did with his Cessna in training school. Pilot “Sully” Sullenberger was able to land his plane in the Hudson River when he lost his engines. His knowledge of the technology of how airplanes fly was certainly foremost in his mind.

The technology we are beginning to use in garages make them more appealing to parkers and lower our costs, but when the system goes down, you still have to be able to park cars and collect money.

Remember how you feel when you are at the store with a loaf of bread in your hand and they tell you they can’t sell it to you because the computer in Duluth is out.

Last year about this time, I had meetings in Chicago.  I drove to LAX, dropped my car nearby at The Parking Spot, took the shuttle to the airport and flew to O’Hare, where I rented a car.  I drove it 10 minutes to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare and parked in its giant structure. I crossed the bridge to the hotel, pulling my bag, entered the lobby and checked in. The process from plane to room, about 45 minutes.

The next morning I drove downtown – an hour and 15 minutes on the Kennedy “Expressway.”  I parked in one of the many SP Plus-run garages in “the loop” and walked to my meetings. I later reversed the process and returned to my hotel. (I stay at the Hyatt O’Hare because it’s the location of PIE and I get a cheap upgrade.)

The following morning, I checked out, drove to Budget, turned in my car, and took the shuttle to the terminal. Transferring my bag four times (room to car, car to shuttle stop, stop to shuttle, shuttle to terminal. Total time, room to terminal: 40 minutes. At LAX, I caught Parking Spot’s shuttle and picked up my car. Total cost, car rental plus parking: $325.

This week, I had meetings in Chicago. I decided to try something different. I took Uber to LAX and was dropped at my terminal.  I arrived at O’Hare and took the hotel shuttle to the Hyatt. Total time, plane to room, 30 minutes. Bag schlepping: twice – on and off shuttle.

The next morning, I took Uber from the hotel to my meetings downtown. A relaxing ride of about an hour and I had time to check email and return a few calls. I was dropped in front of my meeting. I walked a few blocks to the second meeting, then caught Uber back to the Hyatt.

The next morning I took the shuttle to the terminal – total time, room to terminal, 20 minutes. Total cost for Uber: $150 (OK, I splurged on Uber X.)

A week ago, I interviewed Jerry Skillett of Manhattan’s Icon Parking (and four other parking companies) and asked him about the effect he saw that Uber had on his business. “Minimal,” he said. “Uber and Lyft touch parking companies significantly in only two places: hotels and airport parking.”

People are taking Uber to the airport, he told me, and that’s causing problems for airport parking companies. Car rental firms are taking a huge hit, too, but that’s another story.  Jerry went on to say that hotel valet and self-park were in decline, because those cars that weren’t rented weren’t parking at the hotels where business people stayed.

He noted that although I stayed by the airport and drove downtown to my meetings, most business travelers stay closer to their meetings and then after parking their car at the hotel walk or cab it to their business.  So the loss of local parking business due to Uber was minimal.

From my point of view, the ease and convenience of Uber-like services far outweighed the fact that I was actually saving money. And, according to Jerry, with the exception of hotels and airport parking, he is seeing virtually no reduction in his business.


I was in Chicago for a photo shoot for the cover of this magazine, our Parking Technology Today issue. On the cover are four “young guns” representing three new parking companies: Mark Lawrence of SpotHero, Wen Sang and Diego Torres-Palma of Smarking, and Harlan Karp of Parkonect.

This Uber-oriented discussion came up over a post-shoot lunch.

We could learn from the taxi industry, and why it is failing.

First, don’t panic.  Second, be nimble enough to change with the times. (I use Uber because it’s easy, fast, and the cars are clean. The drivers are good, too. I wonder why taxi companies can’t have an app, clean cars, and drivers that don’t snap at you when you want to go from LAX to the Marina.)

If people use apps to take Uber, why not use apps to find parking? SpotHero, Parking Panda, ParkWhiz and the rest are there looking for garages to sign up. We need to rethink our business model. Do we want full garages, or do we want to increase the per space revenue?  Smarking might be able to help with that.

It was a great time in Chicago, even though it did rain on our outdoor shoot. These young men didn’t seem to care. My umbrella worked just fine. PTT

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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