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May 21, 2020 | Articles |

Opportunity During Disruption

Mostly empty parking lot seen from overhead

Developing Strategies to Manage Your Parking Assets in Unique Times

by Thomas Szubka, CAPP, CPP

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a disruption to the Parking, Transportation, and Mobility Industry. It seems the main questions, apparent in virtually all industries, center around how long this disruption will last and how long the recovery will take. How will social distancing affect transit? Will there be more cars on the road, or will remote work finally be a widely accepted practice? Will we change, long term, how we physically interact with one another and our surroundings?

Often, it takes a disruption to advance a technology or business practice. Usually, that disruption is caused by design, however, what we are now experiencing is a disruption by circumstance.

When disruption is circumstantial, there is a sense of helplessness. COVID-19 is not making our business practices better, nor is it introducing a new or improved technology. As this disruption is not actively improving our business, these circumstances are creating obstacles instead. How we react to these obstacles will determine if there is a way to benefit from these unfortunate circumstances and find a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud.

Start by focusing on what you can control. Take charge of how you move forward by initiating a plan to recover or improve. You may not know where all this is going but it is a great time to get back to the basics and take the opportunity to have a thorough look at your business, as it is beneficial to have a solid foundation from which to base your strategies and plans going forward.

Consider why now may be an opportune time to initiate operational and financial audits; technology reviews and upgrade planning; and operational projects and planning that will benefit your business going forward.

Reduction in demand provides opportunity for access.

Take advantage of the opportunity that reduced demand affords. Sure, we would all rather be busy and maximizing the collection of revenues and providing outstanding services, however, this is the time to plan and prepare for when these circumstances change.

Work on projects for which you have not had time to invest. Structural reviews are far easier to conduct when facilities are not at capacity and are often put on the back burner during good times. Along the same line, repairs and improvements are also easier to execute when the there are fewer customers to inconvenience. The added benefit is providing a refreshed facility to welcome customers back.

Reduction in revenue activities will likely provide added time to conduct operational and financial audits or explore improvements in technology upgrades. Both will encourage you to look at your operations more closely and provide outcomes that will allow you to be more efficient in your business efforts when the circumstances finally do change.

Audit.

Financial and operational audits are a great practice at any time and the best organizations conduct these regularly. As a result of having too much time, or a desperate need to optimize revenue and operations, conducting audits may be as important as ever. Start by focusing on:

  • Cleaning up contract parking accounts and understanding the demand.
  • Review past transactional data, reports, and banking information to validate results.
  • Evaluate revenue collection procedures and contemplate if collecting cash is worth the cost going forward.
  • Reexamine traffic flow and lane geometries to determine the viability of certain technologies (LPR, APGS, etc.)
  • Assess staffing levels and payroll costs to determine the optimal staffing levels.
  • Acknowledge potential customer interaction points and develop alternatives to the potentially changing customer experience.

Performing audits now, while there are departures from normal business operations, will allow you to be more efficient and provide an uneventful environment in which to address the findings.

Technology can help.

Conducting an operational audit and setting upon an improvement plan, will help you to determine the best technology solutions to fit your business needs. Often, efficiencies in operations can be realized with the proper selection and use of technology that will justify the investment.

Frictionless parking, pay by app, virtual permits and enforcement, and advanced hardware are established technologies and improve upon the potential need to reduce physical interaction with hardware.

For example, frictionless parking can have several variations, but the most important tenet is facilitating the entry and exit of a vehicle with little to no stop in movement. An operational audit will determine:

  • If your facility has the proper lane geometries conducive to LPR, or if an AVI solution is more appropriate.
  • Ability for your operations to go ticketless.
  • Capability of using barcode on a phone app to add value to the customer interaction
  • Traffic management external to the facility that may affect movement.
  • Queuing conditions for entry and exit, and where improvements can be achieved.

There are plenty of options, but the effort will be more productive if you have a specific plan developed from an audit for which to base the technology upgrades upon.

Potential for automation will help address opportunities for efficiency, reduce physical interaction points, and promote customer and employee safety. Employees can shift to a more ambassadorial role that can be performed with proper physical distancing or from remote workstations with the aid of virtual communication solutions.

Data will also be more important than ever. Given the uncertainty in how the parking and transportation industry will recover, operators will need to be diligent at monitoring data to ensure operations can handle changes in volume, time of day peaks, and be able to react to provide alternatives or incentives as behaviors and data evolve  The only way to get the correct data, is to have the proper technology in place.

Barriers have shifted.

The pandemic had created several new issues and those new issues may now be the primary focus in favor of past objections to attempted advancements. Whether political, funding, or consumer fueled objections to changes existed, they can likely have an easier time being overcome if it helps address an issue requiring resolution today.

A good example is how curbside management has changed in many municipalities. Offering curb spaces to facilitate deliveries and pick-ups have been concerns in the past with the value of the curb being so high. With recent circumstances, many downtowns have retracted from on-street payments or have relaxed enforcement. It is now easier (financially and politically) to designate curb space to help support the local businesses. When this is over, will these solutions simply disappear, or will they be integrated into normal business practice?  When revenues for curb space come back into play, how will these solutions be monetized?

How these solutions are expressed will make a difference, so consider several ways from which to approach:

            Customer Safety

Now is a time in which the welfare of the consumer and the employee is vital. Going virtual or reducing physical interaction with hardware is an advantage to promoting public and employee safety. This will certainly aid in the promotion of certain technology upgrades for which you may have previously experienced resistance.

            Labor Efficiency

Many organizations in our industries have had to furlough employees with the intent to hire everyone back once normalcy is achieved. If getting back to normal takes too long, there is a real risk that those valuable employees will have found work elsewhere and may not be available. Now would be the time to analyze and plan how automation and streamlining business practices can promote a more efficient organization.

            Business Efficiency

Is your business prepared, or better prepared for the possibility of experiencing similar circumstances again? Are you able to act on those lessons learned and do you have the right data to analyze pain points and where to aim primary focus going forward?  Do you have the most streamlined business model to take advantage of opportunities when they present, or reduce risk when unfortunate circumstances avail? Operational and technology audits with due diligence on improvements during a time like this will pay dividends in your recovery efforts and moving your revenue and operations forward.

            Operational Changes

An operational and technology audit can help you understand where your business stands and if your current operation and technology can support what will be the new normal. Consider how curbside deliveries and pick-ups have been implemented to support local establishments. Will these go away once normal curb management returns, or can you find a way to keep some of the valuable solutions in place

            Goodwill

By showing that thought has been given to customer and employee safety, and improved working conditions, the organization will benefit and engender loyalty from these efforts. Consumers and employees may be willing to sacrifice habitual behaviors if they can appreciate that changes are being made for the sake of safety and well-being.

Engage the pros.

Professional assistance in audits and evaluations; developing strategies; and creating specifications for solutions can be advantageous in maximizing the efficiency of your efforts and provide guidance during these overwhelming times.

There are many consultants, technology and operations representatives, and peers that are eager to help. As we have found in the past several weeks, there is no shortage of parking professionals willing and able to share their challenges and successes for the collective good. This is the winning advantage that our industry is taking to prevent disruption and create favorable opportunities.

About the Author

Thomas G. Szubka, CAPP, CPP is a Parking and Mobility Professional with executive experience and over 18 years in the Parking & Mobility Industry. His experience includes private operations, municipal operations and most recently as a technology solutions provider in both sales and operations. Tom is a Senior Consultant with Walker Consultants and can be reached at TSzubka@walkerconsultants.com or 813.437.2198.

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