By: James Fedor, Director, PARCS Product Management
Originally published in Parking & Mobility, November 2019.
Sustainability means different things to different businesses and organizations. For a parking operation, sustainability can be summed up in three overarching objectives: increased efficiency, better customer service and experience, and becoming more environmentally friendly. But how does a parking operation achieve these objectives? Four steps can help you create a sustainable, long-term plan for your parking operation.
1. Set Your Goals
Goal-setting is the first step toward sustainability. Before digging deep into your long-term goals and plans, you first need to identify your primary objective. Do you want to maximize revenue first and foremost? Focus on providing the best customer service? Maximize throughput? Knowing this will help guide your goal-setting and ensure that your plans all point toward the same objective.
Next, you need to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of where the parking and transportation industry is trending as a whole, as well as where your own market is heading. For example, an urban parking operation will need to plan for the rise in demand for the curb, while a university will need to consider an increase in commuter students coupled with the rise of alternative forms of transportation. Researching and understanding these trends is essential to ensuring that your goals are in line with (future) reality.
Once your primary objective is set and you have a grasp of where the industry is heading, it is time to set your short- and long-term organizational goals. These should be based on a 15- to 20-year plan, with a focus on making your operation more efficient over time. This could mean reduced capital expenditures from installing gateless garages or leveraging mobile infrastructures, optimizing staffing by implementing license plate recognition (LPR) or remote cashiering, or developing green initiatives such as Parksmart certified structures or virtual permits.
2. Factor in the Community
In addition to looking at your own organization’s goals and needs, it is important to consider those of your community. At a base level, this requires knowing your patrons’ parking habits and needs. How willing are people to pay for parking? Does your customer base primarily consist of long-term business and residential parkers, or is there a greater need for short-term parking for retail? How many visitors/non-residents does your operation serve?
This goes beyond parking habits. Look at public transit use and the prevalence of ride-share and on-demand vehicles, and think about how you can collaborate, rather than compete, with those methods. Find out if there are any major construction projects in the pipeline that will affect traffic flows and, in turn, your garages or lots. Research the latest technology trends and ways that your operation can implement them. Planning around these factors will help you tailor your operation to your patrons and community, provide better customer service, and increase revenue as you grow.
It is imperative that you are in communication with the various stakeholders in your operation, such as local governments, university leadership, or influential businesses. If you do not do this and are unable to plan properly for changes around you, your operation will be reactive instead of proactive. For example, a university might build more educational facilities but not add parking to accommodate, leaving the parking department scrambling to find spaces for students and faculty. Getting a seat at the table and being involved in your community’s long-term growth planning will help prevent these situations and ensure a proactive planning process.
3. Consider the Environmental Effects
A large part of sustainability is becoming more environmentally friendly, so it is important to consider the environmental impact of your plan. With regard to infrastructure, sustainability should be at the core of any new construction or renovation project in your plan. This could include smaller, incremental changes such as installing energy-efficient lighting and natural ventilation systems, or large initiatives such as pursuing LEED or Parksmart certification. It is also important to consider traffic patterns when building a new structure or lot and place the entry and exit points in spots that will minimize congestion.
You should also consider the environmental effects of your parking solutions and policies. Gateless entry points and wayfinding systems significantly decrease idling time, which cuts down on emissions. You could also reduce idling by setting up your pricing structure to provide discounts as an incentive for patrons to enter or exit during non-peak hours or during specified time periods related to local business needs. Additionally, implementing virtual permits, on-demand reservations, or ticketless entry/exit reduces paper waste.
4. Determine the Solutions
After setting your organizational goals, looking at your community’s needs, and considering your operation’s impact on the environment, you can make an informed decision on what kinds of solutions you will need to reach your goals. For a municipality, this might mean a switch to mobile payments for on-street parking to reduce paper waste and appeal to a tech-savvy population. For a university, it could signal a move to virtual permits with LPR enforcement to improve staff efficiency and customer service. For a private operator, it may entail implementing a wayfinding or valet system to reduce congestion and emissions while also improving space utilization.
Once your plan is in place, it is important to reevaluate it every five to seven years and determine if you need to make any changes to accommodate your needs. For example, electric scooters have become a nationwide phenomenon in a very short period of time, and often the burden to manage them falls on the parking department. A plan set in place five to seven, or even three, years ago would not have planned for these scooters. Additionally, as new technologies are developed, there may be opportunities for you to implement them to make your operation more efficient or improve your customer service. With proper planning and a future-centered focus, your parking operation can be sustainable for years to come.