The word “unprecedented” is thrown out a lot to describe 2020, and for good reason. The global pandemic sent shockwaves of change across the social and economic landscape. Slowly but surely, life is returning to a degree of normalcy, but no one really knows what the post-pandemic “normal” will be. How has the pandemic affected transportation and mobility? Moving forward, what things will return as we remember, and what will be different?

In the webinar, Lockdown Lessons: What the Customer Wants Now, we discussed the lessons we learned from COVID-19 and how it might impact consumer behavior in the future. In this informative session, Jeff Perkins, CMO and Head of Product at ParkMobile, was joined by a fantastic panel of industry experts including:

  • Andrew Dandel. North American Revenue Leader | Waze, Google
  • Alex Fraser, Associate Vice President | Pivet, a Cox Mobility Company
  • Brian Voynick, CRM Campaign Manager | BMW Group

The hour-long session covered a wide range of topics, but here are some of the highlights:

The Commute (and Work) Is Changing

Before the pandemic, the single biggest traffic driver was commuters heading to and from work. With lockdown and remote work, that all flipped on its head. The worst of the pandemic is subsiding, but the debate over the future of work is far from over. Many companies plan to keep remote work in some fashion indefinitely, and other countries used the pandemic to try out even bolder experiments. Parking operators’ approaches will, in large part, have to be defined by what we collectively decide work looks like after the pandemic.

At least in the short-term, people are wary of public transportation and ridesharing, causing a spike in demand for personal vehicles and bikes when they do have to go out. This means that while the commute is changing the makeup of traffic, the number of vehicles on the road might not be so different. Andrew Dandel noted that while street traffic dropped in the beginning of the pandemic, it’s already back to 80-90% of where it was despite remote work conditions largely remaining the same. Another important consideration in the post-pandemic world is the rise of electric vehicles, which could also impact consumer attitudes towards transportation.

Demand for Contactless Payments Will Rise

Before COVID, when users were given the choice between a meter and a mobile app to pay for parking, they generally favored a meter. Those percentages completely flipped during the pandemic in many places as people embraced contactless payment like never before.

The adoption of mobile apps and other forms of contactless payment took off in 2020. But while COVID accelerated the popularity of contactless payments, the shift was already happening. Brian Voynick noted that many BMW customers were spending less time in-person at dealerships and looking for more digital options in 2019. ParkMobile was also seeing a steady rise in adoption pre-pandemic.

Now that people are more accustomed to contactless payment as part of their everyday routine, it’s unlikely they’ll want to go back. The convenience of digital and mobile solutions for payment will continue to play an important role in reaching new customers. For parking and mobility operators, the added familiarity with mobile payments could ease the transition when implementing new smart parking technologies.

Online Experiences Will Enhance In-Person Activities

One net positive of the pandemic was that it spurred on unheard of digital acceleration. Parking operators, universities, and businesses that might have run into roadblocks before, suddenly had a green light to implement new technology. Not only that, but consumers enthusiastically embraced these new online experiences as a new way to connect with businesses and brands. After more vaccines are distributed and people are comfortable enough to shop in person again, these experiences are here to stay.

For those in the mobility sector, consumer behavior in the pandemic highlighted how interconnected businesses are with the spaces they occupy. When people shopped in person during the pandemic, they usually parked with a contactless option, then explored their surroundings digitally from their phone or interacted with a store online before stepping inside. By further building on the best, most convenient aspects of these features, businesses have a big opportunity to enhance the in-person customer experience.

The New Normal Will Be An “Optimized” Normal

Many advances in remote work, contactless payment, and other digital solutions started as an emergency response. Jump ahead one year and those technologies have taken hold and improved by leaps and bounds. While progress was bumpy at times, the pandemic gave businesses a unique chance to take stock of their technology, business models, and consumer needs.

It’s hard to imagine a future where this trend doesn’t continue. Brian referred to this possibility as the “optimized normal”, a unique chance to embrace the best parts of the technology that spun up in the last year.

No Matter What the Future Holds – Flexibility Will Be Key

It’s impossible to deny that the impacts on many businesses won’t disappear with the pandemic. The transportation and mobility space of tomorrow won’t be the same as it was in 2019. There are a lot of unknowns about the post-pandemic consumer, the state of work, traffic, transportation, and mobility – but there’s also a lot to be excited about. COVID gave us a new angle to learn about what consumers really want and need.

As an example: before 2020, scooters and urban congestion were among the most pressing topics in the world of mobility. Fast forward to now and they are a minor blip. However, Alex rightly noted the consumer demands that shaped those pre-COVID trends haven’t gone away. There are still many opportunities to innovate using new technology and other pandemic lessons.

While we don’t know exactly what shape mobility will take post-pandemic, the only way to stay productive today is to embrace the uncertainty of tomorrow. However, one thing was clear – there’s a good reason to feel optimistic. Watch the full recording of this webinar, here.