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Ensuring Accessible Parking for Employees Returning to Work

Originally published by American City and County on 9/13/2022

 

Almost every aspect of daily life was thrown in reverse and reshaped during COVID-19, particularly where and when people work, and how they get to their jobs. The dramatic workplace upheavals had significant impacts to longstanding commuting and parking patterns that municipalities, city planners and the private sector had relied upon for years, and now as more workers are returning to the office, it is critical that parking remains flexible, accessible and widely adaptive to the changes brought upon by the pandemic.

Commercial Class A and B office buildings in cities across the country are experiencing a comeback, albeit slower and somewhat more unsteady than real estate owners and employers hoped for. According to recently released data by Kastle Systems’ “Back to Work Barometer,” which tallies security swipes used to access buildings in 10 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas, workplaces are experiencing 44.7 percent average occupancies. In my home city of Houston, building occupancies are slightly higher at 55.1 percent, and we are starting to see a more consistent comeback of parkers in private garages and lots.

Even though fewer people are commuting overall, peak traffic congestion in some cities has increased to an all-time high, especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, when more people are choosing to go into the office. This is due, in part, to commuter preference for single-occupancy vehicles. While public transit once played a leading role in getting people to and from work, during the early stages of COVID-19, commuters started avoiding transit due to understandable safety concerns.

In comparing transit ridership and parking garage occupancy data across 15,000 commercial Class A and B parking spaces in Houston, transit ridership sprang back faster than garage occupancy during the last two years. However, in the second quarter of 2022, garage occupancy closed that gap by almost 10 points.

One new request that’s commonly being implemented in the parking industry is the use of “flex spaces.” Building tenants have gravitated toward this idea, now requesting flex space options as part of their lease negotiations. This means that while they may have 1,000 employees on payroll, employers are only asking for access to 500 spaces, as most companies are running schedules that alternate when A + B teams are in person on a given day.

Another viable solution for reducing parking overflow is to incentivize the use of shared car services, van pools, and micro-mobility transportation options, such as electric vehicles (EV), e-scooters and bikes. Recognizing the many advantages of micro-mobility, some cities nationwide are making it easier to mobilize without owning a vehicle while modernizing garages for the future with EV charging infrastructure, bike-share barns and ride-share pickup/drop-off hubs.

New advancements in parking technology are also making a difference in easing the commuter experience and managing overflow. For instance, with web- and app-based systems, parkers can reserve spaces in advance or pay for their garage stay via features like Apple Pay, allowing commuters to bypass pay-stations altogether on their ways in and out.

Technology also allows parking managers to set limits on the number of vehicles, per tenant, that are allowed in the lot or garage on a given day. For example, a tenant might have a flex schedule of Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. While they’re getting a discounted rate for their in-office days, they would be required to pay full price if they come in on a Monday or Friday. In some cases, they may not be allowed to park in the garage at all on their “off” days.

The bottom line is that as more workers begin to return to the office, it is essential that municipalities, city planners and the private parking industry do all they can to remain flexible and ensure the widespread availability of parking. That means being agile and considering new innovations and viewpoints, not simply relying on what’s worked in the past.

 

Drew Riley is president of Winpark, a parking facility management and consulting company that turns parking facilities into valued profit centers. For more information, visit www.winpark.com.