AUSTIN, Texas—The parking garage industry took a big hit during the pandemic as office workers largely remained at home. With an eye toward the future, some entrepreneurs want to transform parking garages into “mobility hubs” with electric vehicle charging stations and apps that allow for spot reservations, the New York Times reports.
At FlashParking in Austin, Texas, the owners see the future of parking as digital. The company, which provides hardware and software for garages, wants to help vehicles that idle frequently—think ride-share drivers and delivery trucks—find a resting spot with access to food and restrooms.
“You only got to run in and deliver two packages?” Neil Golson, Flash marketing executive, said. “I got a spot for 15 minutes, and here’s a special price. That’s the evolution we’re enabling: Get people off the street and into the lot.”
Of course, convenience stores and gas stations have long served that function—without charging customers to park as they pop inside the store. They are a place to stop by for a quick fill-up, charge-up, refreshment and bio break. As the energy sources that power the vehicle fleet evolve, convenience retailers are future-proofing their operations to deliver EV charging and other amenities that drivers demand. Convenience stores are more than mobility hubs—they are community hubs.
Flash CEO Dan Sharplin refers to parking as “an accidental experience. You’re driving in town to do something, and then looking for parking. But our view is there will be very few accidental drivers in the future. And that these parking assets [garages] can be converted into a dynamic hub of a broad network and connected in a digital fashion through consumer-facing apps. It only works if you reach the consumer where he lives today: on his phone.”
Other garages have installed hands-free systems at gates and mobile payments “to create a touchless experience,” Jeff Eckerling, chief growth officer for SP Plus, a garage management company, told the Times. “Our whole industry was hit very hard [because of the pandemic], from hotels to airports to event venues.”
Some see a parking garage in Hoboken, N.J., as the future. High-tech cameras capture license plates at the two entrances to ID cars linked to a prepaid online account. A lower floor housed rental vehicles from Avis. A large open space on the ground floor holds a couple dozen stationary bikes as part of a Soul Cycle franchise pop-up. EV charging stations are coming soon to the 1,440-spot garage.
With the growing demand for EV charging infrastructure, the Fuels Institute’s EV Council recently released its “EV Consumer Behavior” report, detailing current and future EV driver behavior and how convenience retailers and others may be able to use EV charging to bring customers to their doors.