The Parking Industry Speaks Out
PT reporter Ann Shepphird interviewed a number of parking industry stalwarts.
What follows is their take on what is happening on the ground in the parking world.
Principal, Dixon Consulting
There are so many unknowns right now that it’s hard to know what the broader implications are going to be. We are trying to take this day by day — writing and helping to implement action plans, policies and releases — and also doing some long-term planning.
The municipalities we work with are mainly dealing with health and safety issues. In some instances that means waiving permit and street sweeping restrictions to keep people inside while in others it’s upholding street parking restrictions to help keep the curb clear. Kudos to the staff that is out there in the elements wiping down meters while the rest of us sit comfortably in our homes. One thing the parking industry is going to have to examine as we move forward is its stance on sanitation and keeping our enforcement officers and frontline staff safe.
The nice thing about our industry is we have had highs and lows before and have always been able to come together to figure out how to make it work. We’re all resilient and adaptable and will figure it out. One lesson I’ve taken personally is the level of gratitude I have for those who are stepping up and helping neighbors or shopping for the elderly. You see the compassion in humankind coming out in the generous support of each other.
That same generosity and support is happening in our industry, which has been very proactive in terms of offering resources. As colleagues, we may compete on certain projects but we’re all in it together and support each other.
The truth is, it’s a scary time and we can’t predict what’s going to happen. We just have to ride it out together and do whatever we can to be there for each other.
Parking Services Manager, City of Las Vegas
The COVID-19 pandemic basically brought our city to a standstill. Everything just ground to a halt. Parking reacts to demand and since everything is closed nobody is parking, especially in the downtown areas. People are still parking at home so we are getting more requests for enforcement in the neighborhoods.
Las Vegas has an emergency operations center, where a lot of the focus now is on public safety, including the safety of our enforcement officers and limiting their contact as much as possible with any potential hazards. One of the things we were able to do quickly was develop a capacity for as many people as possible to work from home. I am glad we had planned for that contingency ahead of time.
The city also acts as a parking operator and leases lots from private owners. Luckily, we structured the leases so that we pay rent based on a percentage of the gross revenue. While we might not make as much profit as other operators in a booming economy, now that things have stopped we aren’t having to cut any big checks.
Where we go next will depend on how long it all lasts. I feel like the biggest lesson in this pandemic has been having the flexibility to adapt to conditions as they change — and they changed so quickly with this one. Honestly, that’s something the parking industry is uniquely suited for with its ability to multitask and react quickly to conditions.
Hang in there everybody. We will get through this eventually.
Owner, ACE Parking
The parking industry went from very strong activity to zero activity. The difference between this and events like 9/11 or the Great Recession is that in those cases the spigot on the faucet tightened. In this case, the spigot has been turned completely off. It’s not as if the house is burning. The house burned down — within 72 hours — and the repercussions keep changing on a daily basis.
I feel such gut wrenching sadness for my team members and the way we had to restructure and realign our business to survive. Some of our operations are still running — about 15 percent and mostly in the airport and commercial real estate sectors. We are helping the rest of our team members navigate what resources are available for them while continuing to communicate with our clients and hunker down to weather the storm. It feels like we are in the middle of a really bad storm but it will pass and we will get through it.
My hope is that this is a temporary moment in time and, similar to after 9/11, our business units will come back stronger and at a quicker pace. One of the things an event like this provides is the opportunity to change the way people think about their patterns and behaviors. It also helps us learn to be resilient and work on communicating properly with our team, empowering leaders within the organization to make decisive choices and be accountable and, ultimately, to have more civility and grace with one another.
I pray for everyone in the broader parking industry that relies on this for a living — to put a roof over their heads and meals on their table — that we get through this together and continue to assist one another.
George Baker Sr.
Founder, Chairman & CEO, ParkHub
The parking industry is patron-driven. Until autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous, parking requires people and, until the spread of COVID-19 is controlled, people are wisely staying home. I have seen data points that the transitory and commuter sector will be hit hard. I’ve also seen encouraging trends percolating to the top of the industry’s consciousness, including making lots available for medical or government use.
We’re all in this together. I am currently speaking with several executives — from startups to large enterprises — and we’re hoping to push change to the market for the benefit of all affected by this virus. I expect that thought leaders in the parking space will continue to deliver ideas for the betterment of businesses and communities.
Once life begins to normalize, operators will need consultative guidance and data-backed insights to guide their hand. Predictive and prescriptive analytics will help operators to quickly stabilize and we feel that ParkHub’s technology, particularly Suite (our widgetized business intelligence platform) will empower our customers and partners do just that.
ParkHub’s customer base includes parking operators, sporting venue owners, universities and entertainment venues. Our relationships are the heart of our business, and we are empowering our foothold across verticals to provide our partners with enhanced tools, unique data points and timely updates.
Every challenge brings an opportunity for learning and growth. I am reminded of the words of Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Because the change we face will be universally realized, I believe it will guide us to form stronger bonds within our industry and our communities. We cannot go back to our old ways of thinking.
Principal, IntegraPark LLC
he COVID-10 pandemic has brought about several obvious short-term effects that I’m sure the readers of Parking Today are already aware of: transient parking is way down because people are staying home when they can, and special event, restaurant and valet parking is almost non-existent.
As the back office or accountants of the parking world — our software bills for monthly parkers and tracks financial results of the parking lots — we are not as affected as other entities, at least in the short term. The parking staff and operators would be the most impacted, likely followed by people who print tickets and monthly tags, followed by the equipment vendors.
A possible longer-term effect may be to increase the number of people who work from home, but I don’t really think that will be huge. As someone who has worked from home for years, I know that it takes a particular personality to do that successfully, and a lot of people who are working from home over these next few months will be very happy when they can get out of the house and back to the office.
I do think that one of the changes that this will amplify is the trend towards gated operations with no cashiers and remote administration.
I look at this “pause period” as a time when companies can plan for increasing their efficiency — and thus profitability — and perhaps address maintenance issues that they couldn’t when the garages were full. Improvements made now in processes, software and equipment will pay off once the crisis is over.
President, Toledo Ticket
As the parking industry deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been widespread cancellation of events causing a dramatic reduction of parkers and parking-related income, as did the onset of people working at home.
In our business, we have been helped by our preprint and warehouse inventory management program. Many of the customers that normally would be drawing from their inventory more regularly have slowed down and minimized what they are taking. Although some customers are putting orders on hold, many are anticipating the future by ordering tickets to avoid what could potentially be a rush once all restrictions are lifted and things go back to business as usual. We are well prepared to do this with no interruption in their business practices but think more companies will work closer with us on their inventory management programs in the future.
I believe that the uptick seen in personal driving and less public transportation will continue until people feel more comfortable in the fact that this particular pandemic is over and precautions have been put in place to help prevent another. I also believe that professional sporting and event centers are going to evaluate the way they do things and the capacity they seat in the venues. Those changes may effect parking but whether that is a positive effect or a negative one is yet to be seen.
I think the lesson we have all learned is to add better and more frequent hygiene practices, both personal and in the workplace. And I hope that the world has realized the importance of a Love Thy Neighbor attitude and will become less selfish and more supportive of one another. When we all work together, peacefully and selflessly, we can solve the world’s challenges one day at a time.
With our real-time visibility into thousands of parking assets, we were able to watch minute-by-minute as the industry was devastated by the immediate drop in volume brought about by COVID-19. We have always believed that it’s crucial to focus on what you can control. In this case, that meant adapting to working from home and finding new ways to support customers remotely.
One of the first hurdles was the restrictions on bars, travel and restaurants. Since those accounts operate on a month-to-month basis, we allowed them to be put on hold. Shelter-in-place mandates affected our installs. And we have seen increased demand for alternative purchasing options (like our Hardware-as-a-Service) that reduce upfront costs. Communicating consistently with customers has proven to be the key in these evolving situations.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken is this: We are being thrown curve balls and can either dodge them or hit them out of the park. Luckily, we’ve been training and are not only ready but continuing to look ahead. One thing that is for sure is the future is arriving sooner than we had anticipated. A few weeks ago touchless and frictionless were major points of differentiation. Today, touchless is the only option.
I think we are going to see the parking industry’s resilience. As an industry that has already seen so many of its paradigms shattered by a changing world, we are no stranger to the scrappy adaptability necessary to survive.
We are lucky to have the digital tools to connect, collaborate and create solutions as we face this unprecedented global crisis. Let’s take advantage of our ability to come together and strategize ways to support our industry, our communities and each other so that we can weather this storm and make it out stronger than ever.
CEO, North America, PayByPhone Technologies
I have been checking in with my colleagues and friends and what surprised everybody is just how fast everything happened. We had such a great start to the year and this basically erased everything that had been accomplished.
We know some employees are starting to lose their jobs and have been hearing about some companies laying off almost 70 percent of their workforce. We are an industry that really cares about its employees and understand that they are our best resource. It’s concerning when livelihoods and families are affected.
We are fortunate in that we had a resiliency plan in place that we enacted in February and early March. We grounded all non-essential travel when we started to see the effects from a health perspective. The plan has worked well, the employees responded well and we haven’t had to lose any of our employees. We are lucky we had something to follow and the opportunity to put it in place at the right time.
As far as the effect COVID-19 is having on the industry, it will depend on how long the slowdown continues. We might see more people driving for fear of catching another virus that may be spread through public transit. We also may see pandemics being added to force majeure clauses in contracts.
The positive is we have been more collaborative and inclusive, both with our internal teams and external partners. Collaboration is key and relationships with clients and consumers are going to be stronger because we realize what a complete halt can do.
I’m a strong believer that “this too shall pass” and that we will be a better community from having gone through this. Ultimately, we will be more resilient, agile and flexible — and understand there are things that are more important than our every day jobs.
don’t think anybody anticipated not only the depth but also the longevity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our primary customer base is airports and the last time the airport world dealt with anything on this scale was 9/11. At that time they took all of the aircraft out of the skies but within a fairly short period of time airplanes were flying and airlines rebuilt their schedules. Now we are looking at sustained low levels of activity for months.
Our customers have been very sensible about implementing contingency plans in terms of staffing levels. With the PARCS technology deployed today you can manage and monitor many parts of the system remotely but if there is a physical problem in a garage then obviously you still need to be on site.
We’re lucky in that we haven’t had to laid anyone off. It requires a reasonably high skill level to be able to manage and maintain the equipment so our challenge is to not lay off staff if at all possible because when the economy does rebound, it will be difficult to find that level of skill quickly. Should it become necessary, we are examining alternatives such as reduced hours and furloughs, depending on how long this situation lasts.
As soon as we have passed the peak of the infection curve and start coming down the other side I think business will pick up broadly as people start going back to the office and getting on airplanes.
Although some companies may find that more people can work remotely than they expected, the flip side is realizing the benefit of the interaction that occurs when people are in an office. We are doing a lot of teleconferencing and while it is very productive, it’s not the same as walking into someone’s office for a quick chat.
Ann Shepphird is a tech writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at email@example.com