The following is the first in a three-part series discussing the future of the parking profession.
In October 2018, one of the largest parking associations changed its name from the International Parking Institute to the International Parking & Mobility Institute.
In November 2018, the National Parking Association released its findings from a first of its kind study that articulates how parking can be engaged as a shared mobility solution to reduce congestion.
In December 2018, ParkJockey became the first parking industry startup to rise to unicorn status when, with the holding conglomerate Softbank’s investment, it acquired Impark and Citizens Parking.
What do these stories have in common? They show that in the just last year, we have seen a significant shift in the direction of the parking industry and such events are indicative of what the future will bring. From the types of problems our industry must now be a part of solving to the way we go about solving such problems, the parking industry is much different these days.
For those of us looking forward to continuing a career in this space, it’s a very exciting time. We have seen an increase in investment and rapid technological advancements, as well as an opportunity to be part of the greater mobility ecosystem. Today, the parking industry’s impact on how people move about is dramatically increasing.
The parking industry isn’t one of the oldest industries by any means. What we consider to be the modern parking industry is centered around, at its very essence, storing an invention that only gained widespread adoption and use within the last 100 years – the automobile.
As car ownership grew rapidly in the 1920s, going from 8M in 1920 to 23 million in 1929 in the U.S., parking lots and multi-story garages sprang up. Early on in the industry, most job opportunities were for parking attendants who would park your car in garages – in the earliest parking garages drivers weren’t allowed to park their own cars.
Over the next 90 years, the processes, products and services, as well as types of careers and professions involved with parking advanced and evolved into a distinct industry. Parking soon included specialized companies to service its various segments and communities, professional specializations, and dedicated associations focused on meeting the needs of parking professionals and the organizations they represent.
As an industry, we have traditionally focused on providing a product – that is space or real estate – to various communities so people are able to store their vehicles and then get on with doing whatever they are trying to do. As more supporting businesses sprang up devoted to supplying products and services that enabled parking to take place, including gates, signage, pay stations and meters, the parking industry grew considerably.
And over time we got better at supplying more parking in more locations, with more ways to pay for and enforce that supply. We refined the art of providing ample parking for everyone who wanted it – we were so focused on providing parking for the exploding number of vehicles that many cities even made it a prerequisite to build a certain amount of parking as part of undertaking any sort development.
But one of the challenges of being good at something is that we get comfortable and complacent. And as a result, we tend to rely on practices, processes and preferences as they’ve always been, because that’s what works, or at least it did.
Let’s fast forward to today and the parking industry exists in a much different ecosystem than it did 100 years ago. There are powerful influences driving the transformation of parking and it’s important to understand these in order to understand where the opportunities lie ahead for professionals in this space.
Forces Driving the Parking Industry Forward
The first driving force is the growing complexity of parking. Not only is the curb becoming more complicated as various types of people are all competing to use the same narrow strip of land, but the demand for dedicated parking facilities is giving way to a growing demand for adaptive or mixed-use structures that do more than provide a place for you to park a car.
Whether a parking structure features space that can be converted to retail as needs change or is designed for modern mobility patterns that incorporate drop-off zones or rideshare staging – the parking facility isn’t as simple as it once used to be.
Which leads us to the next driving force – new and emerging technologies. Driverless vehicles may not be on our doorsteps yet, but technology has already brought about significant disruption in parking. You can see this clearly with the advent of ride-sharing, which is already affecting the way we manage parking. New technologies have changed how people pay for parking, how parking is enforced, how parking operations are managed on the back-end, how decisions about parking are made, and perhaps most interestingly, technology has changed the very players who are part of our industry.
We now have major automotive manufacturers owning key parking industry technology providers and significant amounts of venture capital investment backing an increasingly wide range of parking businesses. One thing is most definitely clear, those taking interest in parking have noticeably expanded in scope and numbers.
The last driving force leaving a significant mark on our space is the evolving mobility demands of society, especially as the transportation needs of the urban environment are changing with a preference towards more walkable cities. Also, as new generations come of age, they make up an increasing portion of the purchasing power, and their preferences for how to get from point A to point B may differ from earlier generations.
It is these converging forces that are all driving the changes we see as we try to imagine what the future of our industry will look like. It is really crucial as parking professionals today that we try to remain on top of what is going on within our industry. This not only helps you be more effective in your current role, but also in helps you to adapt.
In the next installment of Careers in Parking, we will examine the impact that these driving forces have on the types of opportunities and skill sets parking professionals need for a long and bright career.
This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Parking Today.