• Mobility Transformation
  • Urban Mobility
  • Transportation Efficiencies

From Humble Parking Garage to the Future of Mobility

Grant Samms
Jul 19, 2019


Think about the last time you went to a shopping center. You probably spent more time considering your shopping list than the place you parked your car. It’s just a parking garage, after all. But while a common and understandable oversight, this good, old-fashioned parking structure is currently undergoing a bit of a revolution. When I attended the International Parking and Mobility Institute (IPMI) conference in June, one phrase could be heard frequently from attending parking professionals: “be part of the mobility strategy.”

Transforming Into a Bustling Mobility Hub

That perception of parking garages as being old, boring structures is a concern that parking industry professionals need to consider. They recognize that rapidly shifting ideas around mobility both threaten their established business models and also provide interesting new opportunities. In a world of micromobility and car-less households, the economic security of the parking garage is not a given.

“Operators are worried about a 50-year structure becoming a stranded asset due to technologic development,” explained Paul Wessel of Parksmart, a certification program that works to recognize and encourage smart and sustainable parking structure development. “Parking used to be like a wall phone in a kitchen. It was a standalone tool with a single job and it did it well. Now, parking is becoming a platform with a variety of jobs; much like a smartphone. It’s not just about parking people anymore, it’s about providing access.”

Not just access to buildings, but access to other modes of transportation as well. Many parking professionals are opting to transform their parking garages into mobility hubs—centers of multimodal transportation. Increasingly, this means making the parking structure a place to leave your personal vehicle and seamlessly pick up an e-scooter, bikeshare, or public transit to continue your journey around an urban area.

Parking Garages Are Eyeing Future Technology

Recasting the role of the parking garage also prepares the industry for the advent of automated vehicles. In a world where the mobility as a service vision is fully realized, a rider in an automated vehicle may one day be given a discount on parking for agreeing to transfer to public transit at a mobility hub. The automated car would be able to let the rider out before parking itself. Then the rider can climb aboard an e-bike or automated bus and head into the city.

The economic, social, and environmental benefits of this mobility strategy approach have such a potential impact that the Green Parking Council (which administered the Parksmart program) was acquired in 2016 by the US Green Building Council, the same organization that manages the popular LEED certification for buildings. In its certification, Parksmart awards points for parking structures that offer access to mass transit, encourage carsharing, integrate bicycle parking, offer micromobility solutions, and have EV charging stations. These, along with driver guidance, sustainable lighting, smart ventilation, and other measures, help promote the parking garage as an intelligent, core piece of a city’s overall strategy to move people about in ways that are clean and sustainable.

Base of Operations

As our ideas about vehicle ownership, transportation, and mobility shift, parking operators are seeing an opportunity to fill an emerging role. In the case of parking structures, the proverbial old dog can most definitely learn new tricks. The world’s e-scooters, bikeshares, rapid buses, subways, carpooling, rideshares, and connected vehicles can be more effectively leveraged from multimodal hubs. As a facility that can host these smart transportation solutions, your local parking garage may start to look less like vehicle storage and more like a complete transportation base of operations.