A generation ago, the prevailing marketing theory behind many parking and transportation enterprises was identical to the catchphrase of a popular film of that age, Field of Dreams. The baseball-themed Hollywood classic whispered the ethos, “If you build it, they will come”. That credo summed up that era’s urban redevelopment boomtime.
The developers and the city planners listened to those whispers. They built parking. And the cars came. And they kept coming. At the risk of oversimplifying a major industry, it can be said at that time you didn’t need much more than proximity to that 100% corner, some empty parking spaces and basic math and people skills. That was all the marketing plan you needed to succeed.
Many parking managers of that day had no clue what was going on across the street or around the block. In fairness, they weren’t expected to know. The parking facility was a desert island, remote, cutoff from the transportation network, because there was no transportation network. The cars showed up; you parked them. If, one day, the cars did not show up, you scratched your head and said, “Hmmm . . . must have been a wreck on the freeway”.
If the cars didn’t show up day after day, perhaps you ordered an Early Bird Special sandwich board, muscled it out onto the sidewalk and printed up some flyers. Maybe you made a few calls to area businesses . . . once you discovered their names by actually walking around the block and looking at the names on the building directories . . . oh, wow, look, this building is full of dentists! And what’s with all the wig shops?
Regional and national conferences were attended almost out of curiousity, like a search for extraterrestrial life. Surely there must be people on those other desert islands, you thought. Did other parking people exist there? Almost shocked, you learned that yes, they did exist and they faced the same challenges as you.
For this generation of parking managers, marketing is not so simple. In many urban areas, customers have numerous transportation options. Public transit, Uber/Lyft, car sharing, bike sharing, park and rides, even valet-on-demand have begun to nibble on that endless buffet of cars that used to flow by that facility near the 100% corner.
While some might disclaim these effects thus far on the parking business, there can be no denying alternative modes of transportation are trending. At the same time, the steady growth of cars on the road in most of the developed world has stagnated as young people coming of driving age eschew driving in ever-larger numbers.
In the developing world, yes, the numbers of cars are still climbing but infrastructure is underfunded and swamped to capacity. Cars are expensive. This too, is motivating would-be drivers to seek other options.
Add to this driving malaise another undeniable trend: Today’s potential parking customers aren’t looking for sandwich boards on the sidewalk, they are divining their transportation options from their smartphones, tablets, PCs and even their cars.
Driving and parking once was the answer for most people, now its becoming only one of many choices. Influencing that decision is not as simple as a sandwich boards and flyers, but it’s a multichannel effort that must include social media and targeted email campaigns.
There’s no need to short sell your parking stock and abandon your desert island in despair. That’s because public transit isn’t the sole answer, either. Neither is car sharing. Uber won’t save the world. Nor will any of the other transportation alternatives mentioned.
Yes, some customers will forever use Lyft or public transit . . . where that option exists and allows door-to-door movement. Some may move closer to work and bike to the office. But for nearly everyone else, the answer will be a mix and match menu of “some-or-all-the-above”.
In light of this evolution, parking managers, public transit managers, even car sharing managers should consider rebranding themselves as “Mobility Managers”. Mobility Managers leverage their particular platform, such as a parking facility, to capture a share, a piece of the customer journey. So what if it’s just a share? Isn’t it better to have a piece of something rather than all of nothing?
We are seeing evidence of this as public transit agencies are partnering with Uber and Lyft to ensure their transit customers have that “First-Mile, Last-Mile” coverage that transit simply cannot afford to provide. For those who follow the tradition-bound, insular world of public transit, this is revolutionary thinking.
Parking managers are already Mobility Managers in many venues, particularly on academic campuses. In this evolution, the parking facility becomes the hub of the network and the fallback transportation option for many, but the Mobillity Manager also installs a bus shelter out front, sells transit passes, arranges a “guaranteed ride home” when needed, provides space and a shower for bikes, starts up a bike share, supports car sharing and so on.
Accomodating these add-ons can be loss-leaders or profitable businesses in their own right. Regardless, these opportunities are way off the comfortable desert island to which many have grown accustomed.
Its difficult to give up a business paradigm that worked so well for so long. But it may be time for parking and transportation managers to consider whether its time to leave the desert island and become Mobility Managers.
We will be discussing more about what Mobility Management is and how it can become an integral and sustainable component of a successful and profitable transportation network, so please stay tuned.
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