The New Year – PC – and Some Predictions
John Van Horn
The parking world seems to be bubbling right along, thank you very much.
As we start the new year, we have much about which to be optimistic. Gas prices have leveled off, although they didn’t seem to affect our parking operations too much. The economy has gone from super-heated to “hot to the touch.” Maybe that will keep the Fed’s hands off.
Those involved in construction of parking facilities have only one major problem – not enough workers to build all the garages that have been “green-lighted.” (How’s that for Hollywood-speak?)
There is a confidence in the vendor side of the market. Manufacturers are predicting double-digit increases in their sales, and frankly, it seems that owners are looking to replace equipment, both on- and off-street, at record rates. (One told me he was expecting to double his already comfortable business this year.)
If you look at what has been happening in the past decade, it makes sense.
About 15 years ago, the concept of a computer-controlled garage had just gotten off the ground. Companies were racing to get the first non-PC (that’s personal computer, you knuckleheads) systems up and running. They had some success, but the market was suspicious. Then about 10 years ago, the PC-based systems came into play. However, they were a bit ahead of their time, and the market once again bought but took the products with a grain of salt.
OK, now comes about five years ago – PC-based systems came into their own. A lot of companies put them on the market, and they sold and sort of worked. Folks were beginning to feel comfortable with the new technology.
Today, such systems are routine, and the wonders of the Internet and PC-based technology are bringing control and information to the parking world unheard of a decade ago.
Another factor seems to be more prevalent – spending. It is not unusual for a city, university or developer to spend upwards of a high six or low seven figures for a parking control system, on- or off-street. We are not seeing the price reluctance or sticker shock we saw even five or so years ago.
Customers want information, they want control, they want ease of operation, and the marketplace is coming to the table. Of course, there are still problems. Of course, there are systems that don’t work “quite as well” as others. JVH’s law “Nothing works and everything works” is still in play.
However, many of the problems manufacturers and consumers faced a decade ago are now history. The problems that replaced them still haunt the unwary user, but today’s users, I think, have a bit more savy and caveat emptor. They know they must beware. And most manufacturers know they must perform.
All this leads to an exciting marketplace. And one that sees new equipment going in almost as fast as it can be manufactured. Innovation has meant that systems are being replaced at a rapid rate. A new feature that could reduce the manpower by five people in a large garage might be worth buying, even though the existing equipment is only three years old. And it’s happening.
My prediction – this will be the year of on-street parking. Cities and universities will start to move rapidly in the replacement of their existing (and sometimes nonexistent) on-street systems. The need to have information about their on-street space so they can maximize income, reduce labor and provide better service will drive cities to embrace technology that is just emerging.
The desire to increase parking rates and collect more of the on-street money will see equipment that accepts all types of cards and phone payment plans appear rapidly on the country’s streets. Ideas such as Don Shoup’s concept of leaving the money generated in the neighborhoods from whence it came will mean that the reluctance to charge market rates for on-street parking will wane.
So, to summarize – new construction and equipment upgrades will drive the off-street parking market, and technology innovation will keep on-street manufacturers rolling.
Cities will follow the lead of Seattle, Portland, Houston, Denver, New York, Chicago, and a myriad of others. These are no longer “unproven” technologies. They are here, now.
At least half a dozen or more companies offer sensor technology that monitors spaces and tells cities when and where violations occur. And this is the next step.
In parking, knowledge is king. Information is king. If you have it, you can ensure that your operation is doing what it should.
With it, you can change rates so you always have enough parking. You can ensure that your off-street garages are filled and that your on-street spaces remain convenient.
2007 is a bridge year. This is the time when technology is being proven, when those who fail will be shaken out and those who succeed will be the winners.
It’s a wonderful time to be in parking.