From self-driving vehicles to the rate of urbanization to the buzz of car-sharing economy, it’s easy to suggest the downfall of parking in a modern world.

Yet – according to a recent analysis by Frost & Sullivan – the $100 billion worldwide parking industry is expected to attract institutional and strategic investments to the tune of $200 million to $250 million over the next three to five years, mostly to spur innovation and smarter parking. A big reason for this infusion of capital is to remedy the inefficiencies in the ways that we park today.

The future of parking will be designed by those able to develop innovative solutions to better manage demand, optimize supply and meet consumer needs with the continuous incorporation of constantly developing digital technologies. Succeeding will in part depend on the ability to a) address the challenges of today while b) preparing for the challenges that the industry will likely face in the future. Amongst others, new and important opportunities will likely materialize around:

Value-add services. Real estate companies and parking management operators could – for example – look to maximize their competitive advantage by adding services to existing parking space. These could include:

  • Electric-vehicle charging stations
  • Enhanced security features using new and advanced technology
  • Automated parking that uses sensors and lifts to place cars optimally and improve retrieval times
  • Vehicle servicing and maintenance

All of which provide opportunities for facilities to differentiate themselves and charge a premium. Airports in Houston, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere have already implemented valet parking services in recent years as a way to increase revenue.

Space management. Data analytics and GPS systems can form a frictionless process that – in real-time – matches cars with parking slots. Spanish company Urbiotica – for example – have already implemented an automated parking solution for the Audi factory in Ingolstadt, Germany, a business with more than 40,000 employees. Using sensors to detect cars entering and leaving the parking area, the system calculates occupancy data and communicates real-time availability via digital displays, in this way guiding drivers to free spaces while at the same time reducing congestion.

Cities such as Jacksonville, Florida, have used street sensors to launch mobile apps enabling drivers to find available on-street parking spaces in real time, as well as the locations of parking garages and lots.

Flexible facilities. With increased use of ridesharing and the coming availability of autonomous vehicles – that might rarely need to park – lot operators may be able to convert existing facilities or design new ones in ways that enable multifunctional use or repurposing as a response to a future with less need for parking. The structural requirements of a parking garage (load-bearing needs, floor slopes, etc. diverge in important ways from those needed for a retail or residential space, but some design firms are already planning for such convertibility. Ultimately, real estate developers and parking operators may need to make a difficult choice between spending more today or risking having an underutilized facility in the future.

Payments and pricing. Seamless payments (potentially integrated with other transportation costs such as public transit passes or tolling) and dynamic pricing can provide opportunities for both public and private operators. A pioneer in dynamic pricing, San Francisco launched a demand-responsive pricing program that manages public parking on a block-by-block, time-band by time-band basis.

In December 2017, the city rolled out the program to all 28,000 parking spaces on public streets and 14 city-operated garages, using a real-time, algorithmic methodology to generate optimal parking rates. Many cities are also embracing well-tested mobile payment technology. For example, Philadelphia’s meterUP app enables mobile payment at all kiosks and meters in the city, allowing drivers to remotely add time to their parking sessions, abort a session early to avoid wasting unused minutes, and prepay for parking. Such data could potentially be monetized: Local merchants, for instance, could be interested in leveraging it for planning purposes or to push offers to nearby customers.

Conclusion
To the uninitiated parking may seem like a staid industry immune to the dramatic technology-driven changes that have swept so many corners of the economy. But even in an industry that is – at its core – about physical space, digital technologies present not only a host of opportunities but also challenges as well. Today, there is a significant opening to apply technologies to create a more user-friendly, efficient, and valuable parking experience. Changes to parking options – and realizing gains – will not happen overnight, and moving to a smart parking environment will take coordination and cooperation among a variety of players. These include operators, governments, payments providers, technology companies and many more. For those willing to not only look at today’s needs but anticipate tomorrow’s challenges as well, they may find that parking can be an important enabler – rather than a victim – of the future of mobility.

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