Rumors of the parking industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated
From self-driving vehicles to the rate of urbanization to the buzz of the car-sharing economy, it’s easy to surmise the death of parking. Yes, vehicle ownership is down and yes, the millennial generation values technology over cars. But the death of parking? Not quite.
According to new analysis by Frost & Sullivan, the $100 billion worldwide parking industry is expected to attract institutional and strategic investments to the tune of $200-$250 million over the next 3–5 years, mostly to spur innovation and smarter parking. One big reason for this infusion of capital is to improve the inefficiencies in the ways that we currently park, per recent findings.
For example, a 2011 study by Cisco revealed that just within the U.S., the total cost of personal transportation amounts to $3 trillion per year. Parking represented a staggering 12.5 percent of this total, or $374 billion. (This includes the actual cost to park and associated inefficiencies, such as the urban traffic created by people looking for parking). With numbers this large, it’s not surprising that automotive OEMs increasingly view parking as an important service that needs to be integrated within the vehicle’s telematics system to streamline efficiencies.
So why has the parking industry taken so long to innovate?
Until recently, parking and innovation have mixed like water and oil. This is largely due to the slow-changing nature of the two-headed parking industry, which is comprised of both on-street and off-street parking. On-street parking (i.e. parking meters), which represents about one-third of all parking-related revenue in the US, is typically controlled by cities and municipalities (see Figure 1). These folks are not the fastest moving when it comes to initiating technical change, and while there has been progress within the realm of mobile payments at meters, truly scalable, innovative parking availability projects that help drivers find spots when they need them are few and far between.
Off-street parking (i.e. garages and surface lots), which represents about two-thirds of all parking-related revenue in the US, is largely owned by private enterprise and therefore, theoretically, should be faster moving when it comes to innovation. But even this segment of parking has been slow to change, mostly because 1) off-street parking is a multi-layered ecosystem with many different players and 2) consumers typically delay parking purchasing decisions, usually looking for parking after they reach their destination.
In the US, there are more than 40,000 garages and surface parking lots. The owners of these properties range from commercial real estate developers to REITs and even some cities. Most of these asset owners rely on parking operators and equipment providers (that provide access and revenue control solutions) to manage their properties and maximize parking revenue. The result is a web of gatekeepers that control the parking supply regionally and often have conflicting objectives (even in regards to the very asset owners that they represent). In this environment, entrepreneurs attempting to put forth elegant solutions to disrupt parking are required to create harmony with each sell-side entity, which is no easy task (see Figure 2).
Consumer behavior is another reason that the parking industry has not yet tipped. According to a 2011 IBM survey, drivers globally spend an average of nearly 20 minutes per trip in pursuit of a parking space. Despite this colossal waste of time, the concept of pre-booking parking prior to arriving at a destination is still nascent. Most people continue to drive around searching for a spot, either on-street or off-street, typically unaware of what parking inventory is available to them (see Figure 3). In a perfect world, they would not only know what spots are available at any given time, but also be able to compare the price, location and amenities of those available spots, to find the one that suits them best.
The emergence of the online parking marketplace
Parking is an inherently transient activity in which the majority of drivers don’t think about parking until they’re in their vehicles headed to their destinations. However, there are a few types of parking that do seem to have tipped with regards to pre-planning and pre-booking. One is “event parking”, or securing a space that is tied to a particular pre-planned activity with a known start and end time, like a sporting event or theater performance. This type of parking activity now happens whether the parking space is at the actual venue itself, or simply nearby. Another type is “airport parking,” an instance when a driver also fully knows the parameters of his or her parking duration.
These types of pre-booked parking events make sense for the driver, who gets cost certainty and the benefit of guaranteeing a parking space amid a potentially stressful trip (nobody wants to miss a flight or the first quarter of an NFL game looking for parking). But they also make sense for event parking operators, many of whom open solely to supply parking for those events. These suppliers can premium price their guaranteed spots (it can cost up to $100 to park near Cowboys Stadium for a home game!) and improve their asset utilization without interfering with any regular drive-up customers.
Historically, daily and monthly off-street parking, which make up nearly half of all parking revenue in the US, have been left out of the pre-booking game. However, this type of parking transaction is becoming a much larger part of the online marketplace, with the growth of smartphone usage. Drivers may still not be thinking about parking before embarking on their trip (although even this is changing as the benefits of pre-booked parking permeates), but their mobile devices can now provide off-street parking inventory availability and pricing to them in real-time as they reach their destinations. The expansion of transient parking within the online marketplace will likely continue as more everyday off-street garages (and their complex pricing tables) come online. Another factor that should aid expansion of this type of pre-booking is the ability for the garages to accept mobile parking passes, the kinds that live on your smartphone until you arrive at the garage, and open the access control gate. And of course, the promise of a “connected car,” which makes these kinds of parking decisions for you – purchasing optimally and entering and exiting you from the garage without any friction, should expand this marketplace even further. Experts believe we’ll see those types of cars beginning with some 2015 models.
So, who is leading the e-parking revolution?
Currently, there are only a handful of companies that operate an online marketplace in the parking space. The story of ParkWhiz, which I co-founded in 2006 (see Figure 4), is a bit unique, especially for marketplaces, as it was bootstrapped for 5 years before raising its first round of capital in 2012. In the early days, ParkWhiz focused on event parking, and was able to build its business by signing parking locations around major venues and getting distribution through ticket sellers like StubHub and TicketsNow. Now, however, the Company is seeing the most growth from daily transient parking events (like downtown Chicago parking or NYC parking), a trend enabled by increased mobile usage, but also by its nationwide footprint and its integrations with the world’s largest access control and revenue management equipment providers. These things have made frictionless parking a reality (see video) and we expect the experience to get even better over time.
Of course, ParkWhiz is not alone in its quest to disrupt off-street parking, facing direct competition in a few of its target markets from SpotHero and Parking Panda. There are also several companies focused on data aggregation, creating a comprehensive database of facilities that include facility hours of operation, rate structures, entry and exit points, etc. These companies include Best Parking, ParkMe, and Parkopedia.
Lastly, there are a handful of companies focused on solving on-street parking. Cities have long searched for solutions that not only reduce traffic congestion, but create better enforcement of parking meters. Some of the hurdles facing companies in this space are the long sales cycles, financial shortfalls facing cities, and competing political agendas. Creating the “right” on-street parking solution may require a significant capital investment to support the infrastructure and sales process to successfully integrate at scale. Despite this challenge, several companies have surfaced as potential disruptors including Streetline Networks, QuickPay and Parkmobile.
What is the future of parking?
The future of parking appears bright. Just a few years ago, the theme at tradeshows focused on proper lighting and garage liability. Today, the themes revolve around innovation and technology. In fact, if you attended the most recent National Parking Association tradeshow this past October in Chicago, you couldn’t walk more than a few feet without hearing buzzwords like “big data” or “the Uber for parking.” To top it off, the keynote speech was delivered by Cisco and the subject was “The Internet of Things: Parking the Next Killer App.” Attendees included the likes of Google, Nokia, SAP, Ford, and Verizon. While some may argue parking lots are “destroying a city’s soul,” parking plays an integral role in the overall transportation ecosystem and will continue to do so, even as the automotive industry undergoes a paradigm shift.
Over the next few years, parking too will undergo a shift that will be a tipping point for the industry. Some of the changes we may see include a single source solution that combines off-street and on-street parking availability at the time you need it. Or it may include urban mobility solutions that will focus on getting consumers from point A to point B to point C, whether that involves taking a car, public transit, biking, or walking. Parking facilities will also integrate relatively low-cost technology solutions to streamline and better the customer experience through the smartphone and the connected car. Lastly, demand-based pricing will become a tenet to parking, maximizing revenue by matching driver to the right space at the right time at the right facility.
So is parking dead? Far from it. It’s just getting started.