There’s a lot of speculation today about the future of parking and transportation, particularly in the automotive space. Predictions around autonomous vehicles and rideshare services are rampant, and while they are still just that — predictions — it’s easy to start playing the if/then game when it comes to second-order consequences. Parking, an everyday, habitual task for millions of people that’s also directly connected to driving, is at the top of that list.
As the CEO of North America’s leading parking reservation service, my position in the space is unique: I hold an insider’s view of the current business of parking while simultaneously working to edge it into the future.
Parking is a $30+ billion industry, and driving is quickly changing in ways of which we’d never have dreamed. Not long ago, learning to parallel park was a rite of passage. Today, many of our cars do it for us — and we’re shockingly comfortable with it.
Still, parking, as both a function and an industry, isn’t going anywhere. But it certainly will evolve significantly, and that change will come in waves.
Here’s what we can expect from the future of parking.
Phase 1: Parking Gets Smart…er
Technology is already evolving parking, from online booking apps to advanced hardware like scanners and license plate recognition systems. Today, the parking marketplace is already vastly different than it was a year ago, let alone five. For drivers, it’s become digitized and ecommerce-capable, which means more transparency and control over the experience of getting around. Of course, digital means data — inputs parking companies can use to make better decisions about pricing, inventory, and overhead while continuously improving their consumer experience.
And improving this experience is, indeed, critical for parking’s survival. Today’s savvy customers not only want, but expect, smarter, more efficient ways to do the same old thing. They want choice and agency in their outcomes. Luckily, many creative minds are attacking the parking experience problem from different angles — take on-demand valet versus online reservations, for example. While each model has its merits, it’s rapidly becoming clear which best serves most drivers and will stand the test of time.
Phase 2: From Parking Cars to Cars Parking
Soon, we can expect more “connected” cars on the road, increasing not only in numbers but in capability, too. We’ll still need to park, but our cars will deal with the logistics. For drivers, parking via the connected car will be a smooth and natural transition. With a prescribed understanding of our predictable needs and behaviors, the connected car will keep us plugged in while handling our entire commuting experience — including end-to-end parking. The connected car will be able to confidently match available, preferred parking spaces to drivers’ routes without them ever bothering to open an app.
This will be so convenient to the average driver that with time, those who always parked the traditional, take-your-chances way, will start to shift to pre-booking through their cars. More and more parking transactions will be conducted online, tech interface to tech interface. This wave will enjoy a good ride, too: the average car on the road is more than 10 years old, with business-owned fleets turning over as infrequently as every 15 years. The era of the parking-capable connected car can last at least that long.
Phase 3: Superhuman Parking Garages
Eventually, we all know what’s coming: the autonomous vehicle (AV). The difference between it and the merely connected car will not be how, but where it parks, because minus a driver, the “where” becomes much more flexible. Some suggest that AVs will either drive around on their own all day as shared, on-demand or subscription-based assets, or park in city outskirts to be summoned only when needed.
These ideas are far-fetched for a few reasons:
1) Cars driving around when not in use would consume massive amounts of energy — no matter how efficient — and exacerbate traffic congestion.
2) Parking a great distance from the owner would be, to many, totally inconvenient, because of how much time it could take to call it back on demand — negating the flexibility and control that makes car ownership appealing in the first place.
3) Shared rides don’t easily fit into every lifestyle, and demand would likely outweigh supply during rush hours when vastly more people are trying to get to different locations all at the same time.
More likely, the real change to parking brought on by AVs will be to the parking facilities themselves.
Removing people from the equation means AVs will be able to park in evolved, hub-like structures that better utilize space and resources, and offer added benefits to make productive use of the time spent there. From charging stations for electric cars to detailing and servicing to meeting places for rideshare customers, the parking garage of tomorrow will be redesigned for multi-tasking, connectedness, and efficiency. In these hubs, parking will be at once not only effortless but empowering.
The future of parking is bright. It will lead to more empowered drivers, better use of parking space and resources, and opportunities for parking operators who are prepared to keep pace with this rapidly evolving market. No matter who does the parking.