The chaos caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has been devastating, and the parking industry has been hard hit by the crisis, as have many of the industries we serve. Airports are struggling under travel bans; universities are closed; office buildings are empty; hotels are halting operations and municipal and private parking has come to a standstill.
Yet, as grim as the current economic situation is, this economic slowdown is unique. The foundation of our economy is fundamentally strong, and the government continues to pass stimulus bills. When the threat posed by the virus dissipates—hopefully, later this spring—the economy should come back. So as bleak as things may seem now, the future should be bright.
As painful as these times are for many parking owners and building and complex owners with parking assets, this crisis does present an unexpected opportunity. For cities, this is a good time to install the PARCS and guidance suites they’ll need to succeed as smart cities. For private parking owners and organizations with parking assets, it’s also a good opportunity to invest in planned parking infrastructure upgrades or install smart parking suites.
Many cities have already begun the process of developing city-wide parking infrastructure grids as part of their evolution to smart cities. They are installing smart parking technology suites that include PARCS and parking guidance technology, and many are mandating to private owners that they install similar smart parking suites and connect them to the city grid. The ultimate goal is to create city-wide resources that will guide drivers directly to available parking spaces close to their downtown destinations. Ultimately, these systems will foster cities’ progression to smart cities, promoting mobility, reducing traffic and roadway congestion, and providing safer streets for pedestrians.
It’s not a question of if parking owners and owners of complexes with parking assets will have to invest in smart technology suites, it’s a matter of when.
And of course, the smart city movement isn’t the only reason to invest in smart parking technology. It’s also a tremendous customer service amenity. Modern PARCS makes it easier to quickly and conveniently get in and out of parking facilities, and parking guidance equipment can drastically reduce the time it takes to find a parking space. That makes smart parking technology a good investment anytime because, by improving the parking experience, it gives parking facilities a competitive advantage of parking facilities that aren’t as technologically advanced.
So, why does the current economic crisis present an opportunity? Primarily, it’s because of the extent to which parking volume has decreased. Parking owners and operators are reporting that parking demand has decreased more that 70%. Based on reports by public health officials and leaders, the social distancing strategies that are causing this reduction in demand will likely continue through May, and perhaps into June.
Obviously, this trend is terrible news for the immediate bottom line, but it does present the opportunity to pursue planned parking without disrupting parking operations. Typically, owners need to close lanes when installing new PARCS equipment. Likewise, it’s often necessary to rope off entire parking sections to install parking guidance equipment. If not handled properly, these disruptions can lead to short-term revenue losses and long-term loss of customers. It makes sense, then, to pull the trigger on smart parking technology at a time when installing that equipment won’t disrupt operations.
The flexibility provided by installing now allows parking technology partners to build entire suites comprised of PARCS, Guidance, and other technologies that will be essential parts of smart city development. Installing a variety of disparate technologies and combining them into smart parking suites is more complicated than installing a single type of equipment. It can be more labor intensive and disruptive to operations, and technicians may need to work simultaneously in several different areas within a parking facility.
Even in this time of enforced lockdowns, parking development work can still continue since transportation industry employees are considered essential by most states. Still, it’s important to have policies and procedures to protect your customers and employees, as well as the professionals who are completing the installation.
As we’ve all heard by now, social distancing is the key to remaining safe and keeping those around you safe. The Coronavirus is extremely contagious, and it’s important for people to keep their distance from one another. In fact, some states have even banned get-togethers of more than two people.
It should be possible to install new parking equipment while adhering to social distancing guidelines. The typical installation requires just two technicians, and during this public health crisis, we are instructing our technicians to practice social distancing when completing installations. We are taking additional precautions, as well. For instance, technicians no longer drive to jobs together, since it’s practically impossible to adhere to social distancing while riding in a truck with another person. Additionally, technicians are wearing gloves to reduce the chance of inadvertently picking up the virus from contaminated surfaces, or contaminating surfaces themselves. Finally, we’ve developed a comprehensive process for wiping down workstations at the end of each day.
Parking technology is critical infrastructure. At a time when three-quarters of the country is largely shut down, parking projects are still being completed across the United States. For many parking owners and building owners and developers with parking assets, the current crisis offers an unanticipated opportunity to complete or commence planned smart parking technology suite development and installation projects. Those who address their parking infrastructure needs will be in a great position to take off running when things are back to normal.
Chris Scheppmann is president of Access Professional Systems and managing member of EnSight Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected]