Four Things I’ve learned from Veterans in the Parking Industry
A “Newbie” Learns; A Veteran Comments
Change begets change
Some of the best advice I ever received was to pay attention to technological developments in all industries, across the board - because you never know what may end up affecting the way our streets are configured, or how we park. For example, we might not have foreseen that the iPhone would radically transform the world of parking, but we now have the capability to view every open spot within a chosen radius and pay for it with the tap of a finger via apps like Passport and Parkmobile.
More visibly, e-commerce, ride-hailing, and food delivery trends all have a significant affect on parking logistics. Monitoring these industries is part and parcel of any parking or curb management professional’s job. More importantly, those making decisions about the curb need to be prepared to adapt to these trends to consistently improve city life.
The pandemic, for instance, created an unprecedented rise in ecommerce deliveries that shows no signs of plateauing, so competition for delivery truck parking has become a lot stiffer. Here, a window opens up for technology dedicated to making parking easier and more convenient for delivery fleets. When applied effectively, this kind of technology can markedly improve delivery vehicle efficiency and create savings for fleets by reducing time spent at the curb. Less idling at the curb also means less emissions and pollution.
Be on the lookout for unaddressed problems
It can often be tempting to direct your energies towards making existing technologies and ideas incrementally better, but I learned that creating new solutions to unaddressed problems is often far more valuable for the communities you’re trying to serve. Every city is different, so identifying these problems involves diving deep with those who are most affected by the problems and along with that, performing thorough data collection and analysis.
By monitoring activity at the curb, for instance, we can draw a direct connection between parking violations at a specific location and slower bus speeds, increased commute times, and poorer air quality - all resulting from cars spending time circling for parking. The collection of data allows us to pinpoint exactly where problems exist, and be savvier with where we direct our time and energy. With cities, seemingly isolated issues have major ripple effects, and by arming planners and policy makers with accurate, up-to-date information, we empower them to craft solutions that have a tangible impact on city dwellers’ daily lives.
You can’t understand a city’s problem set without engaging the entire community
Revenue collection is important in the parking industry, but it’s also important for professionals to remember that the ultimate goal is to serve a community that is both unique and diverse. To serve a community effectively, the needs of all of its members must be considered. In the past, however, convening a large group of people to discuss their needs was an onerous task requiring a good deal of time and labor. Moreover, in-person meetings were often self-selected for participants that had the means to make a commute or take off work, potentially leaving critical portions of city dwellers without a voice when key decisions were made.
Parking veterans often still made every effort to conduct these meetings, knowing that you can only truly understand a community’s problems when you listen to all of its members. But technology such as Zoom meetings, Google Forms, and online forums make community participation in planning conversations much easier and less time-intensive, allowing parking professionals to have a more accurate and up-to-date idea of public opinion.
Inclusionary technology should be leveraged as much as possible, as it can yield projects that take a variety of problems into account and aim to solve each of them. In Santa Monica, for example, delivery companies, technology startups, climate experts, small business owners, and community leaders were all able to collaborate to create the nation’s first zero-emissions delivery zone. My company, Automotus, participated in the project, and I can say for a fact that it would not have been possible without the consistent communication we had via Zoom.
While cities change, good communication remains
The pandemic alone has drastically altered the American city; restaurants now stretch out into the sidewalk, rush hour is almost a thing of the past, cars are being blocked out of huge swaths of downtown streets for pedestrian use, etc. Moreover, with social and racial equity moving to the forefront of planning conversations, new ideas are taking hold - such as the 15-minute city or Mobility as a Service. And, as touched on above, the introduction of new technologies and infrastructure will consistently change the game. In reality, over the span of 5 years a planning professional could be looking at two entirely different cities, no matter where they find themselves in the U.S.
However, the way we work with people remains largely unchanged, and the fundamental goal of a parking professional should always be to create convenience and reduce frustration in city streets. There will always be certain political and regulatory frameworks to navigate when working with city governments, so balancing the needs of city governments and citizens is a timeless and invaluable skill. Ultimately, there is a lot to be gathered from technology, and we would be well served to apply the lessons we’ve learned from being able to collect data at greater scales. However, respecting the bureaucratic systems at work within a city and listening to its constituents will always be a parking professional’s most valuable asset. In this vein, technology can be a useful tool to understand cities more thoroughly and then apply the evergreen lessons learned from veterans in the industry.
Jordan Justus is CEO of Automotus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org