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[Webinar Recap] COVID-19: Municipality Response and Action - A Parking Data View

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

Smarking Industry Thought Leadership Webinar Series #7

Panelists: Henry Servin, City of Santa Monica, Norman Holt, City of Houston, Henry Espinosa, Miami Parking Authority, and Rami Arafat, City of Houston. Moderator: Wen, Smarking

Bringing together municipality leaders for a conversation on their response to the impact of COVID-19.

• How cities are pivoting in real-time and replanning • Leveraging data to navigate during the unknown and forecast revenue impact  • Re-budgeting based on historical and broad market data • Advice to peers and a Q&A session

Here is the full session recording and a recap with timestamps below for your reference - Enjoy!

00:00-10:00min: Introductions and scope of operations

14min: Market observations and what the data is showing across the U.S.

17min: What does new reality look like for you and how has this changed your day-to-day?

  • We've been working with neighboring cities, and we were responsible for roles of essential services. We had to close beach access (which is half of our operations), but still need to staff them to ensure safety. We filed the claim for federal subsidy as a public service.

  • Also, we enabled curbside parking access and changed downtown parking operations since monthly parkers have evaporated. We're aware that many people, including essential workers are going through a tough time financially so we we reduced monthly parking costs to accommodate essential workers.

  • The data has been essential, it has helped inform us on what we need to do. We're still getting 5% of traffic in some locations and we needed to improve enforcement.

  • We are still enforcing for citations in order to serve the businesses that are open and have turned to curbside pickup. We need to create parking turnover and keep the curb open for the businesses, if not, people will park all day or overnight which will negatively impact the business.

  • We've seen a huge uptick in delivery, so we've enabled free curbside parking for deliveries and we need to make decisions quickly. But at some point, someones going to ask "why'd you do x,y,z" and the data protects us and allows us to defend our decisions and show why.

28min: How have rates and enforcement changed from before and after COVID-19?

  • We switched to focusing more on safety-related enforcement, but have relaxed enforcement around the city otherwise.

  • We're supporting postal workers and essential workers in the community, and have even re-purposed other staff as ambassadors for essential workers to support their operations.

36min: How are you planning ahead and preparing for the long-term impact?

  • Miami is a tourist city, so I'm very concerned, cruises are a large part of tourism and they've gotten bad press lately so it's going to take us much longer to recover even after things 'normalize'. This will impact us long-term.

  • What I'm curious to know, is what the long-term impact of working from home will be. Especially for companies who never considered it before, maybe they saw that it's effective, and adopt for flexible work from home policies. Which would then reduce parking in the downtown area. However, I think entertainment venues will bounce back very quickly.

  • Huge fiscal impact, the longer this goes on the more concerned I grow. Houston isn't a big tourist destination but we have a big sporting community in the downtown and the seasons are now pushed back.

  • I'd like to know what the new equilibrium look like and how long it will take to get there. We need to plan for recovery by scenarios, whether it's end of May or June. But there are some things we do know: 1. This will end. 2. There will probably be more people driving instead of taking public transportation for awhile so we could consider something like flat rates for beaches. 3. We may look at re-adjusting meters on the curbside to help re-introduce people to the garages. 4. Unfortunately, will have to re-evaluate staff based on revenue coming in and figure out how long it will take to get them back.

There's a new reality right now but there is still a new reality coming, we need to be creative on: repurposing staff, facilities, and new opportunities

44min: Recommendations to professionals? Silver lining opportunities?

  • We're trying to collect as much data as possible, we try to track any changes (new building going up, understand the exact level of impact that the pandemic had. But also consider other things that may have been at play. We try to look at all moving parts such as: how many officers were on the street at any given day and how does that drive revenue and compliance, etc.

  • We've been asked where we can further cut costs. One idea was that we can increase wait time at customer service and decrease the staff needed. One of the areas that they asked if I can cut costs is my 'data collection budget', and I said 'no, absolutely not'. It's the entire roadmap, without this I'd be blind.

  • We're collecting data to understand where this is going to go and put models together based on this new reality. We're trying to deal with this day in and day out, but we're going to have to make difficult fiscal decisions.

50min: Q&A session starts

What are the panelist opinion of the effects of C-19 once we all begin to ramp back up to normal operations? - Mark Lyons

  • Plan on how you're going to re-staff

  • Plan your communications to the public and get your messaging campaign out there early

  • Forecast a model and use it to plan

  • Communicate with staff. Our mayor provides daily updates our city on what's going on

  • Again, forecasting and tracking the magnitude of impact (how many months on different assumptions, if it changes in may vs. june vs. july or august)

  • Still need to generate revenue for the city, so plan on where are we going to go and how?

Have you considered free parking for service workers? - Mark Lyons

  • There are legal restrictions on being able to do that. For anyone considering this I'd advice you to consult with all stakeholders. Fortunately, our City Council consults with us when making decisions like this. We need to pay for city operations in order to operate, paring revenue allows us to keep the city safe and clean.

  • Free parking is not 'free', it's how we're taking care of our people and our city, but we are looking for ways to be flexible.

To any of the panelists, what are your thoughts on eliminating on-street parking in dense city centers? I believe there is more than enough off-street parking to offset losing on-street spaces in urban centers. The lanes could be used for mobility lanes, deliveries, larger walkways, etc. - David Weber

  • I would strongly advise against that (consider land use plans, consult with chamber of commerce). As for curbside parking, you'll still have to monetize the curb, but it needs to be a very strategic plan with all parties involved.

  • Mobility is a huge focus for us and we advocate and support public transportation, carpooling, etc. But there are implications to turning all curbside into bus lanes.

(The following questions were answered by panelists after the webinar session ended, these were the remaining questions submitted by attendees)

As the public has been made fearful of transit has anyone seen data on projects post pandemic regarding modal split? - Amber Evans

Henry S: Here in West Los Angeles we have seen a devastating effect on public transit. Our Big Blue Bus went to free fare but is at about 19% ridership. We have seen an uptick in parking in downtown from our low of 10% transactions, but are conducting research with the local bus agency to determine whether its due to mode switch back to personal vehicle or some other reason. Our Trapeze ridership software reveals our bus ridership before the COVID-19 emergency was about 45,000 on a weekday and about 15,000 on a weekend.  Here it is now. The valleys are weekends. We are running right now about 19% of normal on a weekday and slightly higher on weekend. As you can see it is kind of consistent the last three weeks with a  tiny drop off each week.

Similarly, our SMARKING DATA shows our revenues are about an average of $1.30 per transaction where we would be closer to $5 under normal conditions for the year.

Henry E: I've not seen any data, but I suspect that a slowed economy, lingering fear of the virus, and a higher adoption of work from home policies will lower ridership for some time to come. Additionally, subsidized public transportation will likely see service cuts as agencies are address budget issues created by the crisis.

Wen, what are your thoughts in terms of opportunities that may be presented as a result of all of this? - Adam Raffle

Wen Sang:

  • M&A: given the market uncertainty, if there are peer companies that has been of interest for acquiring, this may be a good time to consider taking actions (similarly in CRE world: Real-Estate Investors Eye Potential Bonanza in Distressed Sales

  • Acceleration of BD: quoting Rick West (, "the amount of BD you can get done in 3 months now may be worth 3 years of work before" - people are a lot more open to your services/offerings if you can show value quickly in an environment of this and throughout economy recovery. If you can get the job done with much more competitive benefits and cost, this may be the time to take over the market

  • Find True Partners: many tech/service providers may reveal themselves as true partners willing to work with your specific needs and fight shoulder by shoulder in the worst environment, making it a lot easier for you to leverage the newest and best from them to help survive and recover faster, e.g. a little shameless plug here -

Henry S: Sharing beyond what Wen might offer. This is an excellent time to be investing in data aggregation services. For one thing, we are experiencing our lowest transaction period. Nevertheless, it serves as a baseline against peak period comparisons. For one thing, we are still tracking essential employee parkers and downtown residential permit parkers, that continue to use our facilities on a near daily basis. The data collected will help us plan for the restart of the economy.

Have any operators come to you claiming 'force majeure' and not making the projected monthly lease payments? - Brian Spear

Henry S: Not sure I can answer that one. However, several informal arrangements exist with downtown employers that are letting us know they will not be purchasing employee parking next month. For our License Agreement customers, we have received requests suspend charges for April, and possibly May parking. Under the license agreement we actually guarantee and reserve parking for them under a multi-year lower-cost program. We can suspend the payment for a month, but not beyond that without affecting future rights to park.

Henry E: Besides collecting revenue from parking operations, MPA also collects rent from office and retail space in some of our garages. We know there will be a negative impact, but it is too early to know what that will be.

What are your thoughts on the following: ride share will decrease and car counts will increase when this is clears, bike share and scooter shares will move into garages where staff can wipe down and clean after every return, the face of valet parking and a contactless transaction maybe the new norm - Michael Rescigno

Henry S: Ride share can arrange their prices dynamically to keep the customers coming to them, while we cannot. We publish our rates and are not allowed to vary from them to any great degree. Short of going to free parking, we do not see a big switch there, since many rideshare users do not own a personal vehicle and probably would not invest in one, knowing the COVID-19 emergency will subside within the year.

We are always looking at new services we can provide and going to contactless transactions is certainly doable, especially if you are conducting equipment upgrades. As to the accommodation of scooters in our facilities, we see that demographic as relatively small, and used by folks that may not have cars in the first place. The risk of liability remains relatively high with scooter use, and while the City of Santa Monica is OK with regulating their use, we may not have the risk tolerance at this time to partner with them. We currently participate with a franchised bike share firm to allow placement of bike kiosks within proximity of our parking facilities. We have not seen many linked trips between parkers accessing the bike share opportunity.

Henry E:

My gut tells me that ride share will decrease. Increased car counts? The technology to work from home has been around for over two decades and has seen limited adoption until now. We might see a long term increase in work from home in response to both the virus and increased traffic congestion from avoidance of crowded public transportation. 

These companies are already operating at significant losses. Additional costs associated with cleaning the bike/scooters will weigh heavily on them. Moving them to garages will eliminate the convenience of picking up and dropping off anywhere, which is part of their appeal. I don't see this happening.

Contactless transactions? Interesting thought. 92% of MPA transactions are done over the PayByPhone platform already so we are certain this can happen. It's reasonable to think that these platforms will see a significant boost in adoption. I don't know enough about valet operations to speculate.

How does smarking work for Municipal cities that operates the following: on-street parking, off-street parking, mobile enforcement and pay on-street options? - Fatawu Darison

Smarking supports municipalities by providing business intelligence and yield management solutions. Our business intelligence solutions allows city leads to monitor and measure the performance of their parking locations including all on-street and off-street parking, as well as their online channels such as ParkWhiz.

How does it improve operational efficiency? Does smarking have integration with arrive, passport, parkonet, Cali pay stations, etc.? - Fatawu Darison

Simply put, you can't manage what you don't measure. Business intelligence allows cities to make data-driven pricing decisions, inform parking policies, and much more. Here are a few case studies for additional information:

Yes, we integrate with Arrive, Passport, Parkonet, and Cali pay stations, as well as 50+ others.

Thank you to our wonderful panelists!

Norman Holt Henry Servin Henry Espinosa Rami Arafat

City of Houston City of Santa Monica Miami Parking Authority City of Houston

Hosted by Dr. Wen Sang, CEO, Smarking

Wen Sang is the Co-Founder and CEO of Smarking, the leading business intelligence and yield management provider for parking. Currently empowering 2,000+ parking locations across North America. Connect on LinkedIn


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