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Disruption Comes to Parking — Bring it on!

After participating in two major trade events in the past month I have been reflecting on a theme that wasn’t there in both cases. It was an undercurrent. While most attendees were happy with the knowledge they received, I noted at PIE that the seminar that had people lined up out into the hallway was “The Future of Parking.”

Parking pros where looking at their future. The young guns were wondering but not too concerned. They knew that if the company or organization they worked within changed or failed, they could get another job.  Easy Peasy.

However as the discussion moved to those with a bit more experience, the feelings were more like “OMG, Now What?”  Was there panic in the room? No.  I would describe it more as concern. Just what the heck is going on?

Disruption seems to the the name of the game. When more and more venture capital money comes into the industry, change is not periodic, it is endemic. VC managers are looking for return, and quick. Five and 10 year projections aren’t considered. “Let’s put some lipstick on this pig and sell it to Google” is what we hear more and more.

Companies are buying companies. New CEO’s are showing up almost daily. Every other story is about “Smart Cities” or “Smart Parking” or “Big Data.” The industry is changing at light speed. Its no wonder that our parking industry employees are stressed. Change isn’t coming, its here.

Autonomous Vehicles, connected cars, smart phones, parking guidance, gate less parking, ANPR, smart cities, on line reservations, Lyft, Uber, pick a disruptor. All these have potential to disrupt a portion of our industry. Some, like Uber, already have.

It seems to me that we have a choice.  We can continue to do what we have been doing. Plow that furrow. Produce the same old same old.  Those of a “certain age” can hunker down and keep the eye on the finish line and pray for the best. Or….

Or we can embrace the disruption. Become a disruptor ourselves.  Of course there is a risk. Some disruption isn’t going to work. Some are simply buzz words that will come and go like the breezes of a welcome spring. However many will turn our industry on its ear.

Can we see what will change and what won’t?  Are ticket dispensers and gates “so 1990’s?” Is the “Smart City” trend just a term in search of a definition or is it a wave of the future that is leaving parking behind? Are on street meters and Pay and Display the coming thing or just a bridge to a ‘connected car’ that pays for parking automatically? Have we really thought about it. Or are we just issuing that next purchase order because our predecessor did.

In the next few days you will receive a questionnaire from Parking Today asking some hard questions about our industry and the “Smart City” trend. Your answers will help direct us in our editorial policy, and in the types of seminars we hold next Spring at PIE in Chicago.

I have read a number of reports on Smart Cities talking about what municipalities are doing world wide and shockingly, parking is mentioned only tangentially, if its mentioned at all. Are we being left in the dust? Will be we swept along like sticks in a river with no input as to where we are going. My sense is yes.

If we don’t act quickly, become involved in change and demand a seat at the table, we will have no control over our destiny and the disruptors will have won.

Our only choice is to become part of the disruption.

JVH

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