COVID-19: Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel
I think back to January 2020 and it seems like ages ago. January and February were record months for us. Every single day we broke records for new users and transaction volume. We hit the 18 million user milestone in February and we all celebrated. Things were going great, and there were no real signs of trouble on the horizon.
Even cities with existing mobile apps have added more options to make contactless payment easier.
Then we started hearing about COVID-19. At first, it didn’t really seem like a big deal. We had been through this type of “scare” before with swine flu and Ebola, but in early March things started getting really bad. Cases were increasing in the U.S. at an alarming rate. On March 11, Tom Hanks announced that he had COVID-19, the NBA canceled their season, and the WHO formally announced COVID-19 as a pandemic.
Suddenly, it was all too real. Cities shut down. States implemented “shelter-in-place” orders. Schools closed. Concerts and sporting events were canceled. We all started working from home.
This wrecked the parking industry. We saw transaction volume drop 95 percent compared to February averages. Yes, 95 percent! Cities lost most of their parking revenue. Garages were empty. The industry was in a freefall, and there was no end in sight.
We had to make some quick changes to our business in order to weather the storm. We reduced our expenses, cutting back on marketing and other initiatives. We also saw an opportunity to do some good. Since people were not using the app to pay for parking, we decided to convert our app into a fundraising tool to support the people impacted by COVID. Our users could easily make a donation right from the app, and we matched a portion of the funds raised. We ended up raising over $35,000 for organizations across the country supporting the hospitality community.
So, here we are, seven months later. Things are better in many ways. Our transaction volume is still about half of what it was in February. But down 50 percent is much better than down 95 percent. And the transactions seem to be picking up more steam every day. We are constantly saying, “Wow, that’s the best day we’ve had since COVID began.” Things are finally moving in the right direction.
Here’s what we’re seeing in the market:
• New users are now being added at the same rates as pre-COVID days. That’s a positive sign that parkers are coming back at a rapid rate. Over the past 4 weeks, we have been signing up an average of 95K new accounts per week. Last week we surpassed 100K weekly registrations.
• We recently hit the 19 million user milestone, and we are on-track to hit 20 million users in September.
• Transactions were up 13 percent last week compared to the previous 4-week average.
• Parking volume has recovered quickly for many markets once COVID-19 cases were under control. For example, one large U.S. city was down nearly 80 percent in transactions at the height of the crisis, but now is down only 37 percent as cases have dropped and the city has started re-opening.
Beaches have been resilient, as consumers have little else to do this summer and are looking for vacation options that allow for social distancing. Beach parking transactions have been above 2019 levels in several recent weeks.
While we still have a long way to go to get back to pre-COVID levels, it’s good to see parking transactions coming back.
Another bright spot is the recent adoption of contactless parking solutions in cities across the country. As COVID-19 spread, many city leaders quickly moved to add mobile parking apps to reduce people touching the physical parking equipment and potentially spreading the virus. It’s good to see so many cities using this time to modernize their parking programs with mobile apps.
For example, a city like Birmingham, AL, previously had only older coin operated machines. It now offers the app as an additional payment method, so consumers have a safer contactless parking payment option in the city. In just a few weeks since launch, almost 5,600 people have already downloaded the app and used it to pay for parking.
In the past few months, we’ve launched in 20 new cities. Needless to say, our Implementations team has been very busy getting all these new markets up and running. We were able to get one city live in just five business days - that’s a company record!
Even cities with existing mobile apps have added more options to make contactless payment easier. New York City has had the ParkNYC app for several years. The ParkNYC app has been very successful, but it requires a pre-loaded wallet and can only be used in the city. Amid COVID, NYC leaders knew this would limit the overall adoption of the app, so they decided to offer ParkMobile as an additional option. This has been particularly helpful for people who live outside the city where the app is widely available. Now, they can use the same app used in New Jersey or Connecticut in New York City as well. This will only help increase the mobile app usage over time.
It has been a tough six months, but our company and the industry has really responded well to these unprecedented challenges. We’re finally starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel. I believe we will all come out the other end much stronger than before.
I do look forward to the days ahead when we can gather together once again at PIE, IPMI, and NPA conferences to celebrate our resilience and march towards a bright future together.
John Ziglar is CEO of ParkMobile. He can be reached at email@example.com