Parking: An Industry Poised for Disruption? by L. Dennis Burns, CAPP

It’s a little funny looking back, but at one point in my career when I decided to stay in the parking industry, I remember thinking about whether there were any significant threats to parking as an industry. At the time, my primary alternative was the healthcare field, which in my opinion was in great disarray. I concluded that short of someone actually inventing the George Jetson Briefcase Car, parking as an industry was pretty safe. What a difference a couple of decades can make!

We have all heard the term “disruptive technologies.” A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry, or a groundbreaking product that creates a completely new industry. The term was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 bestselling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Well, here we are in 2015 and the while the briefcase car may still be a cartoon fantasy, we in the parking industry are facing the convergence of two potentially game-changing innovations: autonomous vehicles and with the Uber business model.

Promise and Perils of Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is real and advancing rapidly. AV technology offers the possibility of fundamentally changing transportation. Equipping cars and light vehicles with this technology will likely reduce crashes, energy consumption, and pollution—and reduce the costs of congestion.

Careful policymaking will be necessary to maximize the social benefits this technology will enable while minimizing the disadvantages. Policymakers are only beginning to think about the challenges and opportunities this technology poses. Parking industry leaders would be wise to also begin weighing the potential impacts on our industry.

A good place to start is by reading the report entitled: “Autonomous Vehicle Technology – A Guide for Policymakers” published by the RAND Corporation.

Uber’s Plan for Self-Driving Cars

In this month’s edition of the Mobility Lab E-Newsletter (Mobility Lab Express #69 – September 1, 2015) is “Uber’s Plan for Self-Driving Cars Bigger than Its Taxi Disruption.

The article discusses how Uber has fundamentally changed the taxi industry. However, its biggest disruption may be yet to come:

  • “The ride-hailing company has invested in autonomous-vehicle research, and its CEO Travis Kalanick has indicated that consumers can expect a driverless Uber fleet by 2030. Uber expects its service to be so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to make car ownership obsolete. Such ambitious plans could make its disruption of the taxi industry look quaint in comparison.”
  • “A study by Columbia University calculates that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxicab in New York City—with a passenger wait time of 36 seconds and a cost of $.50 per mile.”
  • “Going further to an economy-wide perspective, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates, as noted by writer and entrepreneur Zack Kanter that “autonomous vehicles would reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 99 percent, and the fleet of cars in the U.S. would fall from 245 million to 2.4 million.”

Still, should Uber’s plans materialize, the impact may not all be positive. Self-driving cars will greatly affect the job market, car manufacturers, dealerships, transit, and the urban lifestyle itself (not to mention the parking industry!).

Now is a good time for community leaders, urban development, and transportation thought-leaders—along with Uber and other shared-mobility providers—to think creatively together about the positive and negative aspects of this amazing transformation that may be coming in the next few decades. The ramifications are truly mind-boggling.