From the US: Parking and the Economy –
Is it Disaster or Opportunity?
This Article was written for the UK publication, Parking News. Editor
The status of the economic climate in the U.S. is anybody’s guess. It changes hourly with huge market swings and government intervention the order of the day. Therefore, prognostications on the future of parking as it relates to the economy are sketchy if not impossible. My best guess: “We’ll know more in February.”
The price of gasoline, “petrol” in English, has been falling like a rock. Unlike most of the world, gasoline prices in America change daily. Huge signs at filling station reflect those prices, and drivers check the Internet for locations that save them a penny or two a gallon.
Here’s where we stand (sorry, but I have to report the facts). In late October, gasoline prices were at, are you ready, 48 British pence a liter. Yes, that’s $3 a gallon, down from $4.50 (71 British pence per liter) just three months ago. Economists in the U.S. call this a “tax break” for all consumers in the country. (Yanks – Brits currently pay $5.70 cents a gallon.)
What does all this mean for parking? It means that fears of a driving reduction due to high gasoline prices have waned and people are back on the road in force. Parking facilities are holding to the high occupancies set late last year, and business is booming, at least for the moment. It also means that high goods and food costs due to transportation surcharges are beginning to drop.
Americans seem to see everything through the price of gasoline. As the price of gas goes up, the president’s rating goes down. As the price per gallon reaches $4, people begin to drive less and spend less in stores. The actual amount of money that the extra buck a gallon takes out of our pockets may not be great, but in the collective mind of the general populace, it reflects everything we do.
With gasoline prices still falling (reflecting oil’s drop and the dollar’s rise), the predictions are that people will loosen their purse strings and money will again begin to flow. A rising tide raises all boats, and parking’s future seems relatively secure.
The tightening overall economy is reflected in local governments seeing their tax revenue dropping. They look for new ways to find money, and one increasingly common is parking charges, both on-street and off. They also look to collect all the charges due, and to do this, they need new systems and equipment.
We see many local governments looking to upgrade parking meters, install systems that take credit cards and pay by cell phone, replace outdated revenue equipment in parking decks, and overall look closely at parking operations that had been allowed to lie fallow in the past.
This bodes well for parking equipment manufacturers, both on- and off-street.
The strengthening dollar means that imported equipment (from Europe and Asia) is less expensive in the U.S., and that overseas manufacturers, who up to a few months ago were fighting a horrible exchange rate, now see the U.S. as a market to be exploited.
The problem is that everything is moving quickly. The very short time it took for these changes to happen also means the reverse could happen just as fast.
This brings me back to my first sentence. No one has been right so far. Doomsayers have been wrong, but so have the Pollyannas. My feeling is that the market will do what it will do, and we will have to wait and see.
In the meantime, quality products, quality service and good marketing will continue to succeed, even in troubled times. Now is not the time to pull back, but to look for possibilities and take them. Difficult times frighten the weak of heart; however, they are embraced by the bold.
What do I think? Recovery will happen sooner rather than later, and all will be right with the world.
I’ll be back to you in the first quarter of 2009 either crowing about how smart I am or eating that black bird for lunch.
John Van Horn is Editor and Publisher of Parking Today magazine in the U.S. and Publisher of the recently launched Parking World in Australasia. He can be reached at email@example.com.