By Yona Shtern

When I write the words “parking garage,” what comes to mind?

If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have likely said the following: A large structure. Often gray and cold in the winter. Perhaps not the most inviting place, but a place I need to go to store my car for some period of time – out of necessity.

Today? It would be a completely different response. Let me explain.

Ten years ago, parking garages were essentially passive real estate. They were large structures (often built and left alone) simply waiting for use. Sometimes packed with vehicles during the day or peak evening hours, causing drivers to circle block after block in traffic looking for a garage with an open space or an acceptable price. Other times, they could be eerily empty, especially during the overnight hours.

Today, things have changed. Now, I like to think of parking garages as hubs for connected mobility services.

Virtually every vehicle coming off the assembly line now has a modem with internet connectivity. 5G promises to deliver lightning-fast bandwidth that will transform the nature of connected content and mobility services. Large brands like Google, Amazon and Apple are focused on bringing convenient, connected features and their content to drivers and passengers in connected cars across the world.

While autonomous vehicles are still years away, connected mobility is quickly becoming a reality today. The promise of a driver pulling out of the garage having their coffee ordered automatically, their parking spot reserved and paid for, the nearest gas pump or EV charger primed and ready to fuel, and their route optimized to get to their first meeting or first pitch on time is already a possibility.

Additionally, voice-powered assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Home have experienced unprecedented technological growth and consumer adoption over the last five years – the rate of adoption surpassing both television and internet adoption. In fact, it’s estimated that 50 percent of all searches made in 2020 will be through voice. And, for those who already own an in-home voice assistant, 75 percent say they want the same assistant in their car.

On top of all that, rapidly expanding mobility companies like Uber, Lyft, Bird, Car2Go and Lime are pushing the boundaries of what mobility means – introducing millions of bikes, scooters, ride-share vans, fractionally owned cars and more into the ecosystem. All of this new mobility capacity also needs space in which to operate and convenient places for people to switch efficiently between modes of transportation. On a nice day in Manhattan, it may be way faster for a person from New Jersey to park on the outer edge of the city and ride a scooter to their meeting or show.  When it snows, a scooter company may need to get thousands of scooters off the road and covered parking space may be just the place to use. What was once viewed as a threat to parking may be its biggest opportunity yet.

With so much change in such a short period of time, what are the implications for the parking industry and parking garages?

We need to think differently about ourselves.

Parking garages are no longer a destination – they need to be connected to the larger mobility ecosystem and evolve into connected hubs to make people’s lives easier.

We need to collaborate and bring in others.

Route planning and in-car connectivity services are essential parts of a person’s journey. To make sure parking garages are included in that journey, owners and operators need to work with the companies that are powering those services.

We need to change the way we collect payment.

Gone are the days of fumbling for cash or a credit card to exit a parking garage. Connected cars are becoming the centers of commerce on the go, so we must embrace technology that allows for frictionless payments, and frictionless ingress and egress.

We need to align on tech standards.

As parking leaders, we must agree on open standards to consolidate inventory and digitally connect them to the open market – allowing automakers, navigation partners and others a more seamless way to work with us.

While much work remains, it is inspiring to be at the forefront of such a tectonic shift in consumer behaviour. The innovations we are creating and deploying will affect everyone’s lives. It’s an exciting time to be in parking – or, should I say, hubs for connected mobility services.

About the author:  Yona is the CEO of Arrive and an entrepreneur with an expertise in building and managing successful global brands in e-commerce, telecommunications and fashion retail. Prior to Arrive, he was co-founder and CEO of Beyond the Rack, recognized as Consumer Brand of the Year in Canada by Strategy for 2014 and the fastest growing e-tailer in North America by Internet Retailer Magazine in 2011. Yona is also an active angel investor and serves on a number of advisory boards to start-up companies. He also acts a mentor to entrepreneurs at Founder Fuel and Founders Institute (technology accelerators), is a board member of Startup Canada and he routinely lectures to college and university students on entrepreneurship. Yona is a frequent speaker at international marketing, startup and technology conferences.

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