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TNCs: Should We Fear or Embrace Uber and Lyft?

June 12, 2019

Matthew Gooley

At the Temecula Group last year, one of the key topics was this one.


The mayor’s aide closed the door0 to the makeshift meeting room in the basement of the courthouse. A table had been set up with folding chairs. Janitorial supplies filled a shelf on one side of the windowless room. The air smelled musty, but hints of cleaning products made their way to the noses of the four people surrounding the table. In addition to the mayor, the city planner and parking manager were in attendance, as well as a local parking consultant. 


The mayor briefly made eye contact with each person at the table with him, glanced at his assistant, nodded and began, “It’s worse than we thought, there was a similar closed-door discussion at the mayor’s conference last week and the situation is dire!”


Without being sure of what would come next, the attendees shifted in their chairs, each one beginning to feel a familiar uneasiness in their stomachs. Would their jobs be on the line? What would it mean for city businesses? The mayor interrupted their thoughts as he went on, “…Within just a few years there will be no need for parking. TNCs will own a majority share of all transportation in every major city in the U.S., parking garages will be rendered useless, no one will be owning their own cars or driving anywhere except for the TNCs operators!”


TIME OUT! If you’re having nightmares like the satirical dramatization described above you need to take a breath and rethink this topic entirely. 


Over the past couple of years, the topic of Transportation Network Companies’ (TNCs) effect on the parking industry has been discussed in large and small groups with increased regularity at trade shows and conferences. Some of the concerns or curiosities include ponderings on if they will eliminate the need to park because everyone will be using a ride sharing service to travel. Or  perhaps the percentage of users will increase enough to result in parking garages being too costly to operate due the drastic reduction of people seeking parking.


It doesn’t take much thought to debunk a theory that severe in nature. When business travelers are visiting a client or attending a conference halfway across the country, it is likely that they will be getting a ride from a TNC, however in their local region and communities it is much easier and more convenient to have the independence of their own vehicles. It would take a lot for the millions of current car owners/drivers to ditch that convenience entirely. That doesn’t mean that TNCs are not having an effect on travel behavior (and parking) in some areas, though. 


According to data provided by Chrissy Mancini Nichols and Erik Nelson of Walker Consultants, TNCs have accounted for approximately 50 percent of the rise in congestion in San Francisco between 2010 and 2016. They state, “Research has shown that TNCs have increased congestion in certain parts of the country, which is surely a function of volume. However, it depends on location. A quarter of Uber’s trips are from just five cities, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and São Paulo, so in those places, there’s an impact.”


Kenneth D. Smith, City Parking & Mobility Manager for Omaha, Nebraska shared his observations, “The Midwest and cities like Omaha haven’t seen the same impacts as coastal cities when it comes to utilization rates [of TNCs]. However, it also gives us insights and less of a learning curve when it comes to addressing TNC impacts. Therefore, we’re usually able to get ahead of these changes.”


With only a few major cities making up 25 percent of Uber’s trips, that leaves the rest of them spread throughout the majority of the country. Most of the U.S. is rural, and a lot of people still commute a long enough distance to eliminate TNCs as a viable option for transportation. The bottom line here is that when you’re ‘home’ it just doesn’t make sense to spend your money on TNCs for trips beyond a few miles.


Cities and airports alike are having to address TNCs through policy and regulations.


Looking back at the airport traveler example above, this is another situation where TNCs are affecting the transportation and mobility industry, but again not necessarily the parking side of the equation. Cities and airports alike are having to address TNCs through policy and regulations.


“Where we see congestion most acutely is in the drop-off and pick-up waltz. Curb space is often at a premium, and the management and policy associated with that limited resource is one of our areas of focus with clients,” said Walker Consultants’ Erik and Chrissy. They continued, “We’re seeing changes at airports and hotels in some areas. We have heard from some urban clients that their evening and weekend occupancies are lower, but weekday business doesn’t appear to have suffered as a result of TNCs for many of our clients. Cities, hotels, airports, hospitals, stadiums, arenas, campuses, and entertainment districts all have different usage patterns and potential impact points related to TNCs depending on their location. Helping our clients understand the TNC usage related to their service or model is a useful first step in the strategic or development planning process.”


In the City of Omaha, Nebraska, Kenneth D. Smith and his team are doing just that. According to Kenneth, “Areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as hotels, arenas or event venues are seeing a reduction in demand for off-street parking and finding the curb a valuable resource in accommodating their users. As such, managing the curb is becoming a valuable tool when considering design and use of this space.”The mobile revolution has digitized nearly everything we do, and has certainly disrupted more than a few major services in commerce, transportation, and even educational categories. No one can deny that Uber and Lyft have had some big impacts on traffic, public transit, curb space, and parking, but to what end and what scale?


TNCs will never eliminate the need for cars to have a place to park. Not only are there far too many people who live too far from the office or the airport for it to be practical to employ a TNC to get them there and back, but the majority of the country is too rural and remote to support the TNC system expansion. Pair that with the fact that municipalities and airport authorities are heavily restricting the-when-and-the-where they can operate, and you see clearly that there will remain a good supply of visitors and commuters who will always need a parking option.


This doesn’t mean TNCs can be ignored. “The increase in TNC use can have a big impact on a project, depending on the location and intended use,” said Walker Consultants’ Erik and Chrissy. They continued, “Our planning group considers how TNCs affect parking demand to help clients to understand and manage usage patterns to create policy and potentially monetize TNC utilization. Our new design business accommodates increased utilization through the addition of staging, drop-off or pick-up points. Our operations and technology practice can help with the implementation of policy through the application of technology.”


When asked if the industry should fear TNCs, Walker Consultants answered very definitively, “The parking industry should be responsive to consumer behavior, including the adoption of TNCs and any new mode or vehicle that the future may hold. As long as personal transportation exists, there will be demand for vehicle storage. There is no reason to fear TNCs, and in fact an opportunity to provide new services related to TNCs.”


Kenneth D. Smith agrees. He said, “I believe it’s a chance for the parking industry to reinvent itself. We’re already seeing this as organizations and cities look to address the curbside by balancing and regulating the right of way to meet multimodal demands in an efficient and safe manner.”


They may complicate city planning, add to congestion or volume on city streets (where most TNCs operate), and are definitely disrupting the standard taxi and car rental businesses, however, TNCs are not to be feared by the PARCS industry. 


Matthew Gooley is a marketing professional with SKIDATA. He can be reached at Matt.Gooley@SKIDATA.com



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