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Uber, Lyft and Other Mobility Options are Shaking Up Parking

The 2018 Emerging Trends in Parking report by the International Parking Institute points to a growing need to think of parking facilities as more than just places to park cars.

Technology and changing mobility habits are upending traditional parking business models, prompting industry officials to consider parking as part of a holistic transit and transportation dynamic.

A recent survey released by the International Parking Institute found that transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft are having a significant effect on parking, leading to reshuffled priorities within parking organizations. Some 62 percent of survey respondents said the “explosive growth” of TNCs are leading to “huge shifts” in how they do business, according to the 2018 Emerging Trends in Parking report.

“I think the biggest trend we’re seeing is just rapid change,” said Mike Estey, a spokesman for IPI and manager for parking programs in Seattle. “And that means change in the types of services of vehicles that are servicing, especially our big cities.”

Large providers of parking, such as airports, are experiencing revenue declines among their parking garages and lots, as fliers opt for Uber or Lyft to get to and from airports.

Parking revenue at Los Angeles International Airport fell from more than $108.5 million in 2016 to $102.8 million in 2017, a drop of 5.2 percent, according to LAX financial reports. In that same span, the airport's revenue from TNCs rose from $8.9 million to $33.7 million. 

Parking revenue at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is projected to be down 6.3 percent in 2018, compared to the year before, according to DFW financial documents.

“I think right now, from a revenue perspective, they’re doing okay,” said Estey, referring to airport parking programs. “But I think the model for how that revenue comes in is changing.”

In Dallas, “the TNC access to airports for customers has gone way up,” he added. “At the same time, their revenues are doing OK, because there’s enough overall demand, I think, for parking. But they’re very conscious of how things will look two, five and 10 years into the future.”

Drop-off, pick-up and delivery demands in cities are putting perhaps the most pressure on curbsides. Managing these areas has become a top concern of parking officials, as they try to strike the right balance for accessible parking, and the many other uses demanding a spot in the public right-of-way.

“If there is this tremendous demand there for new ways of moving around and accessing places to visit — restaurants or for commercial goods delivery — it puts a lot of pressure on us to think about how we’re actually utilizing the right-of-way and curb in the most efficient way possible,” said Estey.

About half of those responding to the nationwide survey said the need for curb management strategies ranks as a top emerging trend in parking.

“Whether you call it the curb or the flex zone or the transition zone, it’s important that you figure out how you’re going to get people to and from all of these different options that they have,” said Estey.

As technology and mobility options evolve — and become increasingly tethered — parking officials will need to become a more essential part of the planning process in cities, particularly when thinking about the complex choreography among transit, car-sharing, bike-sharing, package delivery, autonomous vehicles and other mobility options.

“What often happens is you may have a big capital project, and they’re complex, there’s a lot going on, and at the last second folks will come in and say, so what do we do with parking?” said Estey. “I think we’ve shown that having someone at the table that has expertise in that area is helpful in making for a much smoother project.”

The widening buffet of mobility options means parking professionals are gradually becoming “transportation experts,” according to the survey. In fact, in the last five years, 32 percent of parking departments have been renamed to better reflect their parking and transportation roles.

More than 60 percent of survey respondents “predict parking lots and garages will become transportation hubs where people park cars before selecting other transportation options for the last leg of their trip,” according to the IPI report.

Which is why parking professionals today, “see themselves as transportation mobility professionals, by a wide margin,” Estey remarked, commenting on the changing roles of parking professionals. “And I think it just reflects what’s going on out there. We don’t just store vehicles anymore. We are fundamental to how a city is going to function, in terms of its mobility, congestion, economic development, and how you make that transition from a vehicle to wherever a person is actually trying to get.”

A look at the future of parking trends would probably not be complete without considering self-driving cars and how they will affect the amount of parking needed, the placement of parking and other factors. Thirty percent of survey respondents believe autonomous vehicles are 10 years away.

Estey said parking officials should aim to get ahead of the EV curve, “and not be too reactive to the future. But try to understand what your core principles are going forward, as a city, and then acting accordingly, instead of reacting to change as it happens.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.