Parking company pairs with app


Michael Bethea, district manager at Parking Management Inc., wears a panda head to promote the Parking Panda app which helps customers find parking spaces at PMI garages. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

When a car leaves one of the parking facilities that Parking Management Inc. operates around the Washington region, a computer server in its District headquarters knows in less than a second.

Now a partnership with Baltimore upstart Parking Panda could allow the company to tally its available spaces before a motorist even enters the garage, or leaves their house, by providing a Web site and mobile app where commuters can reserve a space in advance.

The partnership, which starts in the District today, is only the latest way technology has begun to transform PMI’s once-straightforward business of parking in exchange for payment.

“It is completely a data-driven business,” said Charles Lancaster, director of sales and marketing. “It’s not big contracts. It’s thousands of little, little deals. And that’s what the social media world is all about.”

The company’s foray into the latest technology trends began last summer when PMI sold an online voucher for discounted parking through daily deal purveyor Groupon that netted about $20,000 in three days for the company, Lancaster said.

There are other initiatives, too. The company has installed electric vehicle charging stations at a handful of properties around the region, including Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. As the cars hit the roadway and garages aim to meet eco-friendly standards, the plug-ins serve as a dual-purpose amenity.

PMI is also in the midst of finalizing a deal with Zipcar, the popular car-sharing company, that would station vehicles from its fleet at 15 PMI facilities as soon as the end of the month.

“If there is a new trend in the parking business, we want to be a part of it,” Lancaster said.

In many ways the innovations provide PMI with new ways to grapple with a question that has been at the center of its business since the firm got its start in the parking industry in 1947.

“How are we going to get more people into our garages at odd hours? The days of putting a sign out there [are done]. We’ve tried it and it doesn’t work,” Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jerry Graves said.

The arrangement with Parking Panda will bring the service to about half of PMI’s 110 parking facilities across Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia. It debuted the first set of garages in Baltimore last month.

Parking Panda works in two ways. The app allows ordinary people to rent out their driveway or spare parking space to motorists in need. Its second, and more recent, line of business creates online and mobile reservations for parking facilities.

“We found that for the drivers, those two things often really complement each other,” co-founder Nick Miller said. “If you’re going to Adams Morgan, there aren’t any parking garages there. If you’re going to Verizon Center, there aren’t any private spaces.”

Garage owners can dictate the price of parking and number of spaces available for reservations based on demand. When there is an influx of drivers, perhaps during a sporting event, the price to reserve a space goes up. Similarly, when demand wanes, such as late at night or on a Friday afternoon, the price comes down.

“To me, it’s about getting cars in the garage at any price,” Graves said.

That part of the business doesn’t change.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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