By Kevin Uhlenhaker
More than six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the parking industry is still reeling. Canada has done better than its neighbor to the South, but the measures that were required slow the spread of the virus (at least relatively speaking) have also had a major impact on parking and transportation. The combination of government-enforced lockdowns and corporate work-from-home policies decimated parking demand, and while people have begun to venture out again and the economy is showing signs of rebounding, public experts tell us to prepare for a very difficult winter.
In fact, the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. Parking revenues at least in many locations will likely be down for the foreseeable future—at least into next spring and, perhaps summer—as public health will be a primary consideration in how owners and operators manage their parkades.
New Approaches to Staffing
One of the most obvious impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on parking operations will be found in staffing. As parking lots and parkades begin to fill up again, parking owners and operators will need to find ways to minimize interactions between staff and parkers. Many experts believe that the Coronavirus is still going to present an on-going risk even after there is a widely distributed vaccine. Without draconian governmental intervention a non-insignificant portion of the population will opt to not get the vaccine and for others, it may not be 100% effective or long lasting.
Parking owners and operators can help to protect their customers and employees by limiting face-to-face interactions. That begins with moving staff out of areas of the facility where they are likely to come into direct contact with parking customers. The most obvious place to start is at exit booths. When staff are taking payment directly from parkers, the risk of transmission rises exponentially. A second area of potential risk is enforcement. If enforcement personnel are required to travel throughout a parkade or parking lot, they are bound to come into contact with parkers. Masks and other protections will cut the risk to your staff, but not nearly as much as eliminating the interaction altogether.
Time to Automate
The answer will be found in technology. The parking industry was already increasingly leveraging technology, even before the pandemic. Over the past decade, parking owners have been installing advanced PARCS, parking guidance, LPR, prebooking, and other technologies to enhance the efficiency of their operations while improving the parking experience. The Covid-19 crisis has increased the need and sped up the process.
By automating operations with equipment that permits pre-payment, mobile payment or automated credit card payments, owners and operators can minimize staff/patron interaction while making the parking process more customer friendly.
Automation also permits the reallocation of staff to perform other essential functions. Not only does this provide scheduling flexibility, but it also helps mitigate the uncertainty that inevitably results from people getting sick, going on vacation, or moving on to other jobs. When employees aren’t needed to staff collection booths, they can be available to help out when their co-workers aren’t on the job.
Automation also permits operators to manage multiple parkades from a single location. In fact, modern parking management technology has improved so much over the years that, today, operators can manage their parking facilities from anyplace in the world—from the office, from home—even while on vacation. Today, operators and parking managers can use their mobile devices to view parkade occupancy, oversee revenue performance, and manage any operational issues.
This automation trend is good news for parkers, as well. The last few years have been dominated by frictionless parking, which makes the parking experience simpler and more convenient by letting drivers prepay for parking or have a credit card on file; admitting drivers to the parkade automatically, without having to pull a ticket; and allowing the driver to exit automatically upon payment verification. But even in non-frictionless systems where people decide to use a credit card to pay and exit, the process just requires the driver to insert a card and be on his or her way.
Other technologies also improve the parking experience. The benefits of parking guidance, for instance are obvious. By leading drivers directly to available parking spaces, the technology can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes a driver to find parking. And prebooking platforms can assure a space will be waiting for the driver, which can be a lifesaver when you need to find parking in a busy lot or parkade.
Managing Parking in the Post-Covid World
While these automation trends were already on their way to becoming entrenched, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the process. Automation is a sensible solution in the post-Covid world because it helps parking owners provide a safer, healthier experience. It also provides more flexibility to owners and operators in how they allocate staff to assure that their parkades and parking lots continue to run smoothly.