Amid a Year of Change, What Hasnít Changed in Parking?
The quote “change is the only constant in life” comes from the ancient philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. He wrote it more than 2,500 years ago, but it’s safe to say that there are few years for which it has been more appropriate than 2020.
So, amid all the turmoil, what hasn’t changed? Specifically, what aspects of the parking industry have remained consistent?
People Still Drive
To start with: “Well parking, really,” said Brandy Stanley, Parking Services Manager for the City of Las Vegas. “People are still going to drive. When and where they drive might shift, but the automobile isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.”
The continual striving to improve products and services is a constant in the parking industry.
Roamy Valera, CEO North America for PayByPhone Technologies, agrees. “We remain a car-centric culture,” said Valera. “The demand may be shifting, but the need will remain.”
There are signs that demand has begun to grow again. “Vehicle utilization is increasing faster than alternate modes of transportation — which, on a relative scale, has increased parking utilization,” said George Baker Sr., founder, Chairman & CEO of ParkHub.
People Still Park
A big part of that parking utilization still lies at the curb, according to Julie Dixon, Principal at Dixon Consulting. “The curb has a direct impact on access,” said Dixon. “People still want to park in the most premium locations.”
Dixon points out that the while the ability to provide short term, curbside pick-up and drop-off for delivery services has become more prevalent, drivers still seek convenience and access. “The curb will continue to be a priority,” said Dixon. “The topic has simply escalated as a more prominent and visible impact.”
People also still often pay to park. “There is still a fee associated with the storage of a vehicle,” said Baker. But, as with many services, “you have to provide something in return, which leads to customer experience.”
Looking forward, Baker said he thinks we will see a repurposing of parking assets, higher rates of storage and lower durations for the stay of the vehicles. “I often say the landscape of parking is not tied to the stripes that once were on it,” said Baker.
Valera suggested that while parking needs haven’t necessarily changed, the shift in demand will require the industry to become much more agile. “Demand-based pricing and the digitization of the curb have to shift drastically in order for the economic recovery to happen in our cities,” said Valera.
Parking Still Improving
The continual striving to improve products and services is another constant in the parking industry. “Our messaging that we started using in January 2020 was ‘70 years of innovation,’” said Keith Jones, owner of ACE Parking. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that messaging would be more relevant than it is right now.”
Jones pointed out that before the pandemic, there was a lot of consolidation going on in the parking industry. He felt this led to the commoditization of services and products, and that one of the positives that has come out of the past few months is that the good operators are being recognized for their service.
“Warren Buffet famously said ‘only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,’” said Jones. “It’s been very apparent which parking companies and leaders were never fully clothed.”
Keeping an eye on the parking experience, then, remains paramount. “Service providers are looking more critically at the parking experience and how the transaction occurs,” said Baker.
Kyle Cashion, Principal of IntegraPark LLC, said that many of the things that parkers and parking operators have been requesting for years haven’t changed, but are now being emphasized.
“Parkers want easy, low-contact transactions and operators want efficiency, reliability and audit trails,” said Cashion. “It’s also important to have back office systems that work with multiple equipment vendors.”
Stanley mentioned that many cities and larger companies have been using this time to push forward with new technology, RFPs and capital investments. In a lot of places, even construction is going strong.
“Companies and agencies that have the capital reserves are thinking forward and taking advantage of the down time to push forward some key projects,” said Stanley. “The path is now clear for some providers in our industry to release new products — most related to automated or touchless parking — that haven’t gained a ton of traction up until this point.”
Collaboration Still Valued
Collaboration between entities in the parking industry has also not waned. If anything, the need for the parking community to work together has
“The pandemic has forced companies and organizations to recognize that surviving this shift will require the collaboration and inclusion of many involved in order to remain viable,” said Valera.
“I have learned to put even more trust in the people I am working with,” said Laurens Eckelboom, Chief Revenue Officer for ParkHub. “They have shown dramatic versatility and adaptability, and I have seen them become even more effective and successful as a result of the challenges.”
Tom Carter, president of Toledo Ticket, noted that the sharing of information, the working together and the camaraderie within the industry — between not only operators and institutions, but also vendors and employees — hasn’t changed, even if the modes of communication have.
When great minds and great friends work together with a common goal and share ideas, technologies, cultures and best practices, it continues to benefit and strengthen the industry,” said Carter. “These are things that have always happened, but are now happening through new and innovative means of communicating.”
Community Still Important
While the new and innovative means of communicating (we’re looking at you, Zoom) have kept people connected, they have not lessened the desire for something that has been a constant since the time of Heraclitus: face-to-face communication. “I really miss conferences,” said Stanley, “and can’t wait to get to PIE next year.”
“I look forward to getting back to a situation where we can meet with people again — even if we are in masks — and laugh, talk, share stories and collaborate,” said Eckelboom. “The parking industry is a community where there is a lot of camaraderie and friendships. We are all in this together and, as a community, we are bigger than the sum of individuals.”
And that, ultimately, is the parking industry’s biggest constant. “The industry will rebound, regain its strength and continue the path of technological advancement and the development of new or improved best practices, including health and safety and security,” said Carter, “all while providing the customer with a positive and memorable experience.”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.