eParking – Some Things You Need to Know
Slightly over a year ago I had two, brief, unplanned, interesting exposures to the world of eParking services. First, a former colleague at go2 Systems asked me to meet with the CEO and co-founder of ParkMe. As is usual for these types of invitations, I conducted serious research time on the company, its personnel and their business model. Subsequently I met with members of the management team of ParkMe to explore opportunities, but did no work for them. Several months later I was asked to and conducted a brief study of another eParking business in which a former colleague from Rand McNally had invested. The target company of that examination was ParkWhiz.
To be honest, before I had visited these companies I was not particularly interested in the “parking” space. Due to these two chance encounters I came to realize that parking services represent an interesting market whose optimization may be a possible key to reducing traffic congestion, while providing a much needed improvement in customer satisfaction in directed, automobile-based travel situations.
It is my opinion that the unexpected encounters with ParkMe and ParkWhiz exposed me to two of the leading competitors in this market, whose strategies, though significantly different, typify the distinction in the eParking market. Both companies approach eParking as a national market, although in ParkMe’s case, they collect international data (and claim to include Antarctica). Strong competitors in the eParking space include SpotHero, Parking Panda, Gotta Park, ParkHub, Click and Park, as well as numerous others. My interest here, however, is not to discuss the merits of any specific company in this space, but merely to recommend that you spend some time looking at this market, as I think that parking services in the near-future will become a must have-feature for companies providing navigation and routing services (e.g. Google, Apple, Nokia, TomTom).
Some Details on eParking
1. The size of the parking industry has been estimated at $30 billion. As might be expected there is an autocorrelation with population. According to research by the National Parking Association* Five states (California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois) generate slightly more than half of the total parking revenues from lots/garages. In addition, the states mentioned include at least half of the parking facilities in the nation. The leading segments providing parking are commercial/owner-operator facilities, colleges and universities, hospitals, municipalities and retail/shopping centers. For practical purposes the market can be further broken down into on-street and off-street (lots/structure) parking. The market for off-street parking is approximately twice as large as the on-street market.
2. Parking has remained a local product and many owner operators do not advertise their service. Instead, they rely on local knowledge of their business to attract steady customers (weekly, monthly) and rely on location and access to nearby facilities to “capitalize” on transient customers (hourly), such as that generated by service or shopping oriented businesses.
3. The eParking world appears divided in terms to its approach to monetizing the world of parking. Some companies are attempting to build large inventories of data on parking facilities (even at the street-space level) including attributes such as location, hours of operation, spaces available, cost, etc. These companies appear to be focused on becoming the “premier” supplier of parking data to the navigation industry, believing that the addition of data on parking is a natural extension of navigation and routing systems. (Note that several of the “data” companies have felt the heat from the next category of providers I describe and have affiliated with some of these companies to provide services that expand beyond data.)
Other companies, while amassing large, detailed, databases of parking data view that information as a component of a service business primarily designed to allow users to book (reserve) parking ahead of time, for example while on the road as part of a journey. Companies using this strategy see eParking as both a service business and data licensing enterprise. Drivers can use this type of service to save time, money and gain peace of mind when they need to find a parking space near their destination. In addition, the participating parking owner/operators may benefit from this association through improved inventory management and branding.
It is my opinion that this latter class of competitor wants to influence the distribution of parking information on a just-in-time basis. This segment of the eParking space hopes to serve the parking lot owner/operator by managing their parking spaces in a manner that reflects demand propagated by exposure to a broader audience of potential customers than could be generated by the parking enterprise acting alone. In addition, those playing this intermediary-role could provide valuable services to the lot owner, in addition to the obvious advantages in yield management for selling inventory. In essence, the players in this transactional segment of the eParking market want to become integrators providing value added services that make customers of: drivers needing parking services, owner/operators of parking facilities needing to fill parking spaces, and navigation services providers looking to build offerings integrating new, spatially-targeted advertising opportunities.
4. Parking services, while considered a national market, operate mainly as a local business and strong local competitors exist. The same divisions are true in eParking. However, the end-game for most participants in eParking is acquisition by a company that could benefit from owning a parking data provider or parking services provider. It is in this sense that national data and distribution may better position players in the eParking segment for the ultimate end-game.
5. Compiling data on parking spaces, lots, garages and other facilities is a difficult task. All companies in eParking use specific forms of data compilation and many use hybrid methods that combine aspects of the hands-on and hands-off approaches. Which techniques used usually depend on the nuances of specific markets.
Hands-off techniques view the compilation task solely as a data gathering operation. Usually field teams (often stringers) canvass an area, gather visible information from inspection (address (and other contact information), signage, costs, capacity, etc.) and take photos of the location for later data mining.
The hands-on approach often encompasses the above actions, as well as site visits to determine attributes not immediately visible from the street. In addition, these visits usually include a dialog with the owner operator about the specifics of their facility, as well as discussion concerning the integration methods for representing the parking inventory in an online reservation system.
6. Some players in the eParking market actively partner with automated, real-time municipal parking reporting systems, since doing so allows the end-user of the service to determine how many parking spaces are available at a facility in near-real-time. Coupling this knowledge with pricing makes an effective tool for consumers looking for economical parking availability throughout the day (as parking spaces are often day-parted, increasing in cost at the most congested hours).
7. In general, companies in the eParking space do not provide their own mapping service. Google appears to be the preferred provider (and, perhaps, the preferred acquirer) of many, but not all, of the companies mentioned in this article.
Navigation – Why Parking Information is an Outstanding Need
1. Donald Shoup, a noted researcher in the field of traffic studies, indicated that, on the average, people cruising for a parking space account for a thirty-percent share of local traffic.** If Shoup’s finding is true, the amounts of wasted time, gasoline, pollution and frustration are reasons enough to want to solve the “parking” problem. Of course, dire factoids rarely convince anyone of anything, so let’s think some more about the eParking opportunity.
2. If you were to ask my opinion on an “ideal” navigation system, it would be one that solicited my intended destination, and, then, suggested nearby parking for my consideration, before routing me to my parking preference closest to my intended destination. Yeah, that’s right – how many places do you navigate to and not park?
I usually arrive at a destination and then spend too much time figuring out where I can leave my car without getting a ticket – or trying to create path back to the address (location) of my destination from where I parked my car.
Like everybody else, I use routing to find locations I have not visited before. If I am traveling in a suburban area and do not know where the address is located, it’s almost certain that I do not know where nearby parking is located, but I always assume that street parking should be available. Usually I arrive and then drive around for a while trying to find a parking place and relent and choose a parking lot or garage when the no-cost option fails. For locations in cities (and when on business) I don’t even consider street parking and visually hunt for the parking garage closest to my destination and take a space, if the cost is not stratospheric. If it is and, if I have time, I may continue my hunt for lower priced parking.
I do not own a PND or know of a routing application that offers me truly integrated parking services – that is the option to navigate to the closest parking to the address I have entered as a destination. I am not saying that systems cannot route me to parking lots whose address information I could find near a destination by searching the map or searching for a parking lot near a destination using one of the companies mentioned above. However, I want a eParking reservation service that provides information on the parking available (rates, etc.) near my destination integrated into a navigation engine so that I can enter my destination, choose my parking option (reserve/pay), and be routed to the parking facility. I, also, want a walking map from the parking garage to my destination, and I want that route to describe restaurants, points of interest and other information (even ads) that might be of use to me as I pass by on my way to my end-destination.
I realize that I could go to one of the parking services mentioned here, enter an address and get a map showing the parking details, but I want a route to the parking location, integrated with traffic, and other query capabilities. If Google, Apple, or Here is planning to provide this type of service, then it is likely that they will acquire one or more of the companies mentioned above to help them with this challenge.
3. I presume that I am not the only poor, lost soul looking for local parking and hoping that some major mapping/navigation/routing player integrates eParking services into their offerings.
4. Based on my personal experience Evanston, Illinois takes the cake when it comes to “Cruising for Parking”. Hmm – sounds like the title of a zippy new reality series. You read it here first!
If you have time off this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you enjoy it.
*Search for “Parking in Perspective: The Size and Scope of Parking in America”
**Shoup, Donald C., 2006, Cruising for Parking, Elsevier,Transport Policy 13 (2006) 479-486