What is Parking?

Parking is both an act and a thing. As an act, parking is the process of maneuvering a vehicle into an available parking space. As a thing, parking is the process of stopping or standing of a moving vehicle, whether occupied or not. From a legal standpoint, all this parking is supposed to happen in a defined parking space, as opposed to, say, in the middle of busy intersection or on a congested freeway.

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There are about four parking spaces for each registered vehicle in the car-centric United States, according to a recent study by transportation engineers at the University of California, Berkeley. With a quarter of a billion cars on the road, that means there are somewhere around one billion parking spaces, just in the U.S. That’s lots of parking lots.

Once a vehicle is parked, it just sits there. Donald Shoup, Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has noted in his research and his book, The High Cost of Free Parking (Planners Press, 2006), “Cars are parked 95% of the time.”

The act of parking. (Photo courtesy of Park Assist, a provider of Parking Guidance Systems solutions.)

Why is Parking Management Important?

You might ask, “If we have plenty of parking spaces for cars that just sit there most of the time, what is there to manage?” A similar, dismissive question that parking management professionals hear all the time is, “Parking? What could there be to it?”

The answer to both questions: Plenty. There is physical plant, customer service, revenue and expense to manage. There are societal and environmental concerns as well. Many scholars, experts and professionals within the industry have recognized the central role parking management plays in the overall transportation management ecosystem. Managing these attributes as well as these concerns, can help make transportation more sustainable by reducing congestion and pollution, improving the quality of urban life and returning parking revenues to local communities for reinvestment.

Parking isn't all that important... until you need it. (Photo by H2H2H.)
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First, there is a physical aspect to parking management. Even so-called “free parking” at your local mall must be planned, constructed, maintained, cleaned and secured. All these efforts require forethought and expertise, while generating time and expense. As parking professionals have known for years, there is no such thing as free parking. And someone has to keep an eye on all those parked cars.

Second, there may be a commercial aspect to parking. A definition of “commercial parking” could be, “The temporary rental of real estate for the purposes of vehicle storage.” If a facility happens to be located in a dense, high-demand urbanized area, the owner – private or public – may attach a fee for the privilege of parking there. Whether you agree with the principle of paid parking or not, commercial parking is a reality and is not going to disappear anytime soon. Until that happens, those revenues must be monitored, collected and properly recorded.

According to statistics gathered by the aforementioned University of California study and the International Parking Institute, the commercial parking industry, just in the U.S., is estimated to comprise 100 million metered on-street parking spaces. There are over 13,000 commercial off-street parking facilities, generating $25-30 billion per year.

There are market sectors within parking distinguished by type of operation, such as:

  • Valet
  • Self-park
  • Robotic (automated)
  • Metered
  • Permit-only
  • Event
  • Central cashiering
  • Pay-On-Foot (POF)

There are also a variety of environments where commercial parking is deployed, including:

  • Transit
  • Academic
  • Medical
  • Mixed-use
  • Retail
  • Office
  • Airport
  • Hotel
  • Restaurant
  • Municipal

Parking also generates larger-scale, macro social and environmental concerns that must be managed. These aspects have become an increasingly more important part of the parking management profession and are addressed here on our website at Transportation Demand Management and Intermodal Transportation Management.

So, What is Parking Management?

Todd Litman at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute offers us this succinct definition from the book “Parking Management Best Practices” (Planners Press, 2006), “Parking management refers to various policies and programs that result in more efficient use of parking resources .”

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This interpretation puts the relationship of parking infrastructure (on- and off-street parking spaces, garages, lots, etc.) into context with the larger transportation ecosystem of which parking is but a small part. The transportation ecosystem, which includes diverse disciplines such as vehicle manufacturing, urban planning, traffic management and road construction delivers vehicles (and their driver customers) to the parking infrastructure.

Some think of parking as merely an unimportant endpoint, like a deserted island. However, parking management practitioners should consider their connection to this larger transportation ecosystem. Like its natural counterpart, a transportation ecosystem must be sustainable. Every viable component of this ecosystem, including parking, is dependent upon its linkage to, and the health of, this ecosystem. For this reason, we believe a professional “Parking Manager” is, or should be, rebranded a “Mobility Manager.”

Without thoughtful management, parking can be chaotic. (Via Pixabay)

The Future of Parking Management?

Our goal is to make better use of the parking resources we have right now. This makes sense; parking management is changing. We believe in the future there will likely be fewer parking facilities constructed and more “free parking” converted to commercial parking. Parking rates will be much higher to reflect the true societal, economic and environmental costs of the Single-Occupant Vehicle (SOV).

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There will be smart, “connected” cars – perhaps even driverless ones – communicating with Internet-based parking space reservation systems and queuing themselves into robotic parking garages. From a remote command center, the Mobility Manager will dynamically price the available parking stalls according to predictive analytics pushed from the local Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).

This isn’t a Jetsons cartoon flying car fantasy. It’s happening now. So even if you didn’t believe there was much to Parking Management before, we hope you can see there is now. And there will be more in the very near future.

With Remote Parking Facility Management (RPFM), multiple automated facilities can be monitored and operated from one central command center. (Image courtesy of Propark America, a parking management company.)
So, how do you secure a count room for parking and transportation revenues? What’s the best type of lighting for a parking garage? What are the customer service essentials for valet operations? Here at the H2H2H Foundation, our principals have had decades of operational experience managing and evaluating parking operations. We’ve answered plenty of questions just like these.

We are going to offer practical tips, hands-on suggestions and real world ideas to help smooth your road to the future. We’re also going to widen your highway to future success by describing how the role of Parking Management is evolving. Please join H2 now by registering here or becoming a sponsor here.

Pay-On-Foot stations help reduce labor expenses and queuing at the exit. (Image courtesy of the H2H2H Foundation).