In 2020, there were very few aspects of our professional and personal lives that weren’t upended by COVID-19. Lockdowns and remote work had a seismic effect on the parking industry, forcing parking operations everywhere to adapt. With ParkMobile used nationwide, we gained a unique view of the pandemic’s impact as it unfolded.

In July 2020, ParkMobile hosted a diverse panel of clients from around the country to discuss their experiences in handling the pandemic, along with the lessons they picked up as a result. Moderated by David Hoyt, Chief Revenue Officer at ParkMobile, our panel also included:

  • Pam Corbin: Administration and Planning Manager – City of Orlando, Florida
  • Amy L. Ross: Manager, Parking Systems and Communications – Cornell University
  • Paul Stresow: Director of International Bridges – City of El Paso, Texas

Here are a few of the biggest observations and lessons from our talk:

Even With Early Warnings, The Start of the Pandemic Proved Chaotic

When the panelists were asked about what their first actions were at the start of the pandemic, everyone noted they had some forewarning of the coming storm. For Amy’s team at Cornell, the alarm about COVID-19 was sounded as early as January 2020 when international students started returning to campus. From there, they pulled from a previous pandemic playbook to quickly try and update their policies and procedures.

In El Paso and Orlando, Paul and Pam both noted the importance of getting PPE equipment for their staff. When PPE equipment was hard to come by, it considerably hampered operations early on.

The start of the pandemic was a dramatic shift for everyone, shifting work hours and dropping revenue considerably within a matter of weeks. While the dust settled, enforcement was also relaxed universally, then slowly restored as operations adapted to the new normal.

Reliable Sources of Revenue Disappeared Overnight

For cities like Orlando and El Paso, one of the most noticeable pandemic impacts was the nosedive in event parking. Sporting events, music festivals, and other large sources of income were cancelled, leading to dramatic dips in revenue, down as much as 90%. Remote work also dramatically changed a once-steady source of parking transactions in downtown and business districts.

Universities, however, were hit particularly hard. The sale of permits, a major source of income, almost disappeared as a result of the transition to remote learning. Additionally, regular public transportation services like buses were disrupted.

The minimized parking volume and safety concerns also translated into difficulties maintaining manual enforcement. Paul and Pam both recall needing to adapt the way they used their on-street workers to keep them busy while adapting to the new needs of the pandemic.

Many Parking Operations Expanded or Adopted Contactless Payment Methods

In Orlando, the lack of visitors combined with the many safety restrictions caused Pam and her team to focus more heavily on using phone and credit card payments. While she was already pushing towards a more “asset-lite” strategy, the sudden public demand for contactless payments helped drive adoption during the pandemic.

Cornell also quickly encouraged staff and students to use contactless solutions like ParkMobile to minimize physical interaction. Over time, they used ParkMobile to offer more daily decision contactless parking options in underutilized permit-only lots.

The Biggest Lesson Learned: Stay Flexible

There was universal agreement among the panelists that the ability to adapt and stay flexible has been crucial to surviving the uncertainty of the pandemic. Paul credited their willingness to try new ideas in El Paso, even if not always initially successful, in helping them find success and encouraging other business leaders to stay open. Pam echoed Paul’s sentiments, noting that the pandemic made her appreciate the value in collaborating with technology and business partners to solve unique challenges.

The pandemic also spurred Amy and the Cornell team to completely rethink how they sold parking and permits. Additionally, she recalled how the pandemic highlighted the need for clear and consistent communication to both streamline internal operations and meet modern customer expectations.

Even as vaccination rates increase, the parking industry’s future is not set in stone. However, finding partners willing to take a flexible, collaborative approach continues to be important as we move forward.

To watch the full discussion, along with some additional statistics from the height of the pandemic, check out the full webinar here.