A Case for Optimism
May 20, 2020
Uncertainty in parking and mobility is the reason Parkwell exists. Our company was founded in 2016 while the industry was on the verge of massive disruption and innovation. “Autonomous Vehicle” was a new buzzword and many industry veterans were beginning to hedge and make doomsday predictions. I recall friends and family asking me, “isn’t it a bad time to start a parking business?”. The truth was and still is, this is a great time to be in the parking and mobility industry. In 2016, we saw several social, economic and technology trends converging that provided tremendous opportunity. Almost 4 years later, and in the middle of a pandemic that has brought our industry to a halt, we’re still seeing these trends strengthen and solidify:
- The Densification of Our Cities and Buildings
- The Explosion of Mobility Services
- The Growing Cost of Driving
- The Dominance of Mobile
- The Scaling of IoT (Internet of Things)
- The Importance of Business Intelligence
The Densification of Our Cities and Buildings
Today, people want to live and work in or near urban cores. This is especially true in well-planned and vibrant cities such as Denver and Boulder. As the infill activity increases, our cities become more dense, more diverse, and more vibrant. Gone are the days when driving through downtown on a Sunday felt like a ghost town. But as cities become denser, they become more congested. And as real estate becomes scarcer, the highest and best use of property eliminates or reduces the parking footprint.
While cities are getting denser, so are their buildings. Micro unit apartments, open-concept offices and coworking have all contributed to denser buildings. 10 years ago it was common for an office building to have 2 employees per thousand square feet, now it’s common for 6 employees per thousand, or even higher. Studios and micro-units used to be very rare, now almost every new multifamily tower in downtown has a decent percent allocated to these smaller units.
In this environment, parking and mobility services need to be more creative and holistic. They need to be integrated in order for dense cities to work.
The Explosion of Mobility Services
Technology in recent years has enabled a flood of new mobility solutions to hit the marketplace. Big Tech and Big Auto have poured billions of dollars into trying to solve parking and mobility problems. Between personal vehicles, rideshare, carpooling apps, micro mobility services, transit, peer-to-peer and short-term car rental services, and electric vehicles, commuters now have more options than ever for getting around. It’s true that many of these business models have yet to be proven, and many will undoubtedly fail, but the underlying technologies that make them possible will endure. After all, Facebook leveraged the same tech and social trends as its failed predecessor, Myspace.
With so many mobility solutions, and with increased demand from tenants for mobility amenities, property owners need a partner that can source, implement and manage the right mobility solutions.
The Growing Cost of Driving
The average American spends over 52 minutes a day commuting to work. If time is money, then daily commutes are very expensive and getting worse. Additionally, it’s no secret that vehicle congestion is a massive and growing pollutant. In fact, Transportation is the single largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. And last but not least, driving is hard on the wallet. When factoring in vehicle payments, maintenance and gas, plus the cost of parking, the average American spends well over $700/mo to drive to work. Curious what your commute is costing you?
There is an increasing consciousness that driving is costly in terms of time, carbon and money. Americans want and need more efficient solutions for getting around. Parking operators control some of a city’s most important infrastructure. Parking enables development, growth, densification, and the ability to freely move around a city. It is the first, and perhaps most important piece of the puzzle in solving the congestion problem.
We must transform our parking infrastructure into mobility hubs so they can better serve the needs of sustainable multimodal transportation.
The Dominance of Mobile
Consumer expectations for the goods and services they use have changed dramatically in the last 5 years. We are now conducting more of our business online and on our phones than anywhere else. Parking and mobility services are no exception. Mobile and web apps are the preferred method for customers to find, book and pay for parking and mobility services. For regular repeat customers a mobile offering is even more important since it streamlines their daily routine. But in the last 5 plus years we’ve also learned that consumers do not want another app to download. The over saturation of apps, especially for those apps that are unique to one brand, service, etc. are not consumer friendly. If you are going to ask a customer to download an app, it should be something they can use frequently and pervasively. Consumers want choice and market visibility, a single provider cannot offer that.
At Parkwell, we believe it is critical to leverage existing technologies and market places where the consumers already are instead of trying to convert them to our proprietary platform. At the end of the day, what’s best for the customer should drive our product offerings, partnerships, and mobile strategy.
The Scaling of IoT (Internet of Things)
The IoT market is predicted to grow at 21% per year over the next five years. Connected devices are incredibly important for the future of parking and mobility. Connecting phones with car dashboards and bluetooth beacons, cloud connected sensors, charging stations, payment kiosks, license plate readers, cameras, etc. These are all key to understand occupancies and yield, and implement value-generating practices such as dynamic pricing. Scaling up IoT in parking and mobility also allows us to manage the ecosystem as a whole and with greater automation instead of managing it disparately and manually.
As the Internet of (every)Thing continues to scale, it’s imperative to have bullet proof security measures in place as well as a comprehensive operating platform to make sense of the countless devices and data points.
The Importance of Business Intelligence
Reiterating the point above regarding IoT, in a world where data is the new currency, it’s imperative to have a business intelligence platform that can compile, sort and present data in compelling and actionable ways. Data drives good decision making. But good decisions aren’t based on data alone. There is still a very key and very human element required for good decision making. It’s called intuition. Some call it sub-conscious intelligence or discernment, and some just call it leadership. Regardless, it’s absolutely critical when building and managing business intelligence tools.
COVID-19 and The New Normal in Parking and Mobility
Personally, I’m not a fan of thinking in terms of the “new normal”. It’s true that our industry needs to respond quickly and decisively to this pandemic and implement new operating procedures, etc. But will it overhaul everything and create entirely new services and products? I don’t think so. For example, this emphasis on “contactless” or “touchless” payments is not new. It’s just mobile payments and bluetooth access points being cleverly marketed to appeal to everyone’s heightened sense of safety and hygiene during these times.
There’s a lot of predictions about the decrease in public transit as a result of the pandemic. This is warranted, but this is also not new. Public transit in most cities has been declining for years. Working from home is similar – a trend accelerated by the pandemic, not created by it. Is this the death of coworking? No, it will continue to morph to accommodate both large and small businesses. Will dense downtowns and central business districts still be attractive for employers and employees? Yes, where else will we find the cultural amenities and vibrancy? It’s absolutely clear that commuters will want and need more flexible parking and mobility options as we all head back to work. But again, this is not new either.
In summary, COVID-19 is only accelerating pre-existing trends, not creating new ones. The Fundamentals of our business remain the same.
At Parkwell, we’ve suffered profoundly like many other businesses during these times. Yet, we remain optimistic and enthusiastic about the prospects of our business and industry. These accelerated trends further highlight the need to be people driven, customer focused and tech forward. We built our business around these principles and they will make all the difference as we endure this current challenge and others in the future.
Parkwell provides parking and mobility management for today and tomorrow.