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Parking - Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

August 9, 2018

Richard Simpson

So, after sitting through our most recent IPI event in Orlando something became clear. Ask 10 people a question and you could get 10 different answers. There is an easy explanation for this: perspective. 


At this year’s PIE Show in Chicago I had the privilege of co-presenting a session with Devin Patel of Passport. Our topic was comparing the perspectives of a Millennial, Devin, and Gen-Xer, me. We brought the audience into the conversation about how parking and city planning is going to change in the next 5-10-25 years. 


Will there be change? About this specific thing, we were in agreement that the answer was a resounding “yes”! Well, nobody has signed us to the paid speaking circuit based on that... yet. But the biggest thing that everyone pontificates is the speed of change. 


The largest change I see in the near future for parking is digitization. Whether it is using the license plate or speaking directly to a car via the on-board diagnostics, most cities in North America would find a huge value in investing in this direction.


I am still surprised about all the commotion AV still garners. To this Gen-Xer it is a long way from being here and frankly I’m getting bored. Technology, insurance, human trust, human behaviour/desires, regulations and legislation are the most apparent hurdles yet to be overcome. Even so, I still hear people questioning the validity of owning and building parking facilities because parking is dead, even from my own Board. 


Will AVs create a reduced, increased or net neutral impact to parking demand in the new world order? Again, we must say “yes.” What happens to car ownership? Will there be fleets offered by the major car manufacturers? Yes! Will it depend geographically how and when an impact will be seen? The list goes on. 


 


Change will occur, however, given the make-up of North America with widely spaced sprawling cities, the change will be slow.


 


Change will occur, however, given the make-up of North America with widely spaced sprawling cities, the change will be slow. Cars have been entrenched in the North American psyche for too long. Autonomy of the driver, not the car, is the near future. Autonomy of the car will come later. Fleets, the shared economy and AV will likely travel a similar course as the EV. It will be a long road until the impact is seen and then it will likely be the growth of the hockey stick analogy.


But since we are questioning, a big question that comes up in this discussion is does the combination of the shared economy and AVs kill transit? Transit use had been on a constant rise until 2014 and has declined since. Most of the blame, in a Transit Center piece, came from poor or declining bus service. The interesting thing is they didn’t have the data to measure ride share or bike share impact.


 Not to get too far into transit but there is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Urban planning needs to change and transit needs to be improved to gain ridership. Transit is poor and has limited money to invest in improvements. It also can’t change urban design. Maybe this is where P3s will prevail providing the public with the private funding required to start the change.


While we are on the topic, another line of questioning I hear surrounds EVs. What do electrical vehicles have to do with parking? Why should a city put chargers everywhere for public use? If it does should it charge for the use? Well, they are a greener alternative and should make cities, like Beijing, nicer and healthier for the future. 


The interesting piece about chargers is that you can get them either free or subsidized, but they still need to connect to the grid and electricity isn’t free. But… what if chargers took three minutes to provide a full charge? Would cities need to build an install base and support the infrastructure? Cities don’t run gas stations today. In Europe and other places there is a push to ban combustion engines, but North America is currently not as compelled. The Business Insider offers some interesting perspectives around four factors of concern:


1- Governments must offer incentives to lower the costs. 


2- Manufacturers must accept extremely low profit margins. 


3- Customers must be willing to pay more to drive electric. 


4- The cost of batteries must come down.


In addition, they state “BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) isn’t anticipating a “hockey stick” graph, with EVs taking off in the 2020s; it’s more of a slow burn that will gain momentum and eventually undermine global demand for oil.”


Okay one more piece of the very large puzzle, connected vehicles. Smart parking is somewhat lacking a specific definition; however, I believe connected vehicles are a huge piece of that puzzle. Cars are already rolling computers. If we can track license plates and even speak to the car (we completed proof of concept two years ago) digitization seems to put the smart in the parking. Real-time occupancy (or close enough because it is a bit of a unicorn) using cameras and sensors is where it’s at. Digitizing streets by performing digital audits of your sign assets and connecting parking to ITS seems like an awesome opportunity. 


So where am I going here? Back to the beginning, change. It happens every day but sometimes we are too close to see it happening and sometimes it takes so long it is hard to perceive. What I can say is technology is evolving at such a rapid rate it is hard to keep up for municipalities. Managing the change let alone affording the change is a monumental task. 


Will the big telcos become the backbone to support city connectivity? Is the pay station dead in 10 years? Where will the automobile industry be? Connected, for sure! Autonomous? Clearly, in my opinion, but not in the near future. How will cities react? Parking is not dead, but it is changing. So, let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride. 


Richard Simpson is VP Sales & Marketing, ParkPlus System. He can be reached at Richard.simpson@getparkplus.com.



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