Parking garage technology at Parkway Corporation’s Lockwood Garage at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

When UBER founder Travis Kalanick announced years ago that “with the growing popularity of ride sharing apps and self-driving cars, there won’t be the need for parking lots in the future,” the entire parking industry shuddered. Quite the opposite occurred, due to a confluence of factors led by the pandemic and the ensuant rise in car ownership.

“There are more cars on the road now than ever, which translates to the continual need for parking lots and garages,” said Robert Zuritsky, President and CEO of Parkway Corporation.

Kalanick’s comments resonated and, combined with shifting consumer habits, even banks started to raise some red flags about the long-term relevance of parking lots.

“My banker actually asked what I thought of his premise to convert all parking lots to parks and, at the time, I really didn’t have an answer,” Zuritsky said.

But he does now.

“Parking lots are real estate too and, in our industry, everything is cyclical,” he explained. “The advent of ride sharing took its toll on taxi cabs, rental cars, and parking lots and garages for a time, but the parking industry has rebounded. Anything that helps people move around more efficiently is good news for cities and we have learned how to co-exist.”

Parking operators were forced to evolve and modernize their operations. According to Zuritsky, the industry has advanced more than 50 years over the past six. “We were incredibly behind the curve and utilizing technology and systems created more than 40 years ago.”

But that has changed.

“All of our systems are cloud-based and app-friendly and consumers can now easily search for available parking lots, make reservations, execute payments, and even reserve a time to use an electric charging station,” he said. “We also instituted a loyalty program in which the tenth parking usage becomes free.”

Scott Fitsimones, co-founder and CTO of AirGarage in San Francisco, vividly remembers making a pitch to a group of angel investors and receiving input that implied, “autonomous vehicles are taking over and your concept will never work.”

His company had the last laugh because, “although not all markets are performing the same, the general consensus is that parking lot use and revenues are setting records,” Fitsimones said.

The company is active in 35 states and has installed systems throughout Maryland, including parking lots in Mount Vernon and near Johns Hopkins University.

Fitsimones explains that many “old-school operators” take five off-the-shelf applications and mesh them together to run their parking garage operations. AirGarage, however, develops custom-designed and seamless systems intended to reduce expenses and increase revenue and efficiency.

“Many real estate developers, tired of jammed credit card machines and broken entry gates, are choosing to farm out the complete operations to us,” he explained. “Customers scan a QR code which facilitates an advanced reservation, simplifies payments, and recognizes return vehicles. All license plates are videotaped so, if a payment is missed, an invoice is automatically mailed to the owner.”

Parkway Corporation is also a development company. According to Zuritsky, a movement around the country is pushing to remove the parking minimum for new multifamily communities. “We are in favor of removing parking minimums for developers, but also believe cities should be less restrictive when developers want to build new parking spaces. Currently, many cities restrict parking through excessive taxation and regulations which make it impossible to add parking that is necessary.”

Fitsimones adds that many parking lot operators are generating revenue in non-traditional ways, including renting out a large number of spaces to a self-storage group, car sharing concepts such ZipCar that need space to store vehicles, or even a movie studio.