Nico Schlegel has been Managing Director of EasyPark GmbH for over six years now. We asked him about the digital transformation in the parking industry and talked about the vision of future e-mobility.
A lot has changed in the mobility sector in recent years. What experience have you gained in the industry over the years?
You need perseverance to make a difference. EasyPark has been convinced that camera parking is the future of parking garages for a long time, but it took a long time to get the train rolling, finally, now the train is picking up speed. EasyPark has already proven its profession in on-street parking over the past few years. Now EasyPark is Europe’s No.1 parking app, serving more than 2,200 cities in 20 countries and working with many private parking operators. With the same perseverance, we will now work with our partners to advance camera parking.
EasyPark and evopark have been working together for quite a while now. How do you experience the partnership and what value do you see in the cooperation?
Both organisations can look back on immense experience and complement each other perfectly in their range of services. There is a constructive exchange and both are continuously working on improving the offer in the interest of the customers (parking facility operators and managers). This gives the customers confidence to take a step towards new innovative solutions. Scheidt & Bachmann is a strong parent company to evopark that can achieve a lot, especially in Germany.
Not least because of the acquisition of PARK NOW, EasyPark is undoubtedly an international heavyweight in the field of “digital parking” – where is the journey going for you and what are the most important milestones for 2022 and 2023?
EasyPark is a strong and reliable partner and continues to try to convince through innovation. The acquisition of PARK NOW allows us to combine the best ideas and solutions from both companies. No provider in the field of “digital parking” has mastered camera parking like EasyPark and we will work on keeping it that way. We are also pioneers in the integration of digital parking into the automobile cockpit – via direct integrations into the software of car companies (e.g. Mercedes-Benz MUBX), integration into standard operating systems such as Android Automotive (e.g. Volvo, Polestar) or even mirroring of the mobile phone in the cockpit (e.g. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto).
We will continue to expand this pioneering role within the next two years. In 2022, we will also offer charging for electric vehicles in Germany using the same app. We will continue to invest in our FIND system for finding free parking spaces and also use it to navigate drivers to garages, helping communities to reduce parking search traffic. We want to support cities in transforming city centers and help make cities even more livable. For us, digital parking also means always being up to date, especially in the area of payment methods – we will consistently work on this. In addition to the classics such as credit card and direct debit, we therefore also offer PayPal, ApplePay and giropay. In this context, sustainability defined as “solutions with a future” clearly also means diversity.
What functionality or benefit do end users (“parkers”) appreciate most when they use EasyPark?
Our customers love the simplicity with which parking processes can be started, stopped and extended at the roadside – in over 400 cities in Germany. Also, the diversity in terms of payment methods and the possibility to use EasyPark not only at home, but also on holiday in 20 European countries. And of course, the connection of on-street and off-street also has huge potential, which we are working hard on to realize in Germany, especially regarding the off-street side. The charging of electric vehicles is also becoming increasingly important, which we will also offer as a service in Germany in the medium term. In addition to that, users who have already used our FIND solution are fascinated by the precision with which we can make predictions. In other words – EasyPark is becoming more and more attractive.
Which functionality or benefit do parking garage operators appreciate most once they have approved EasyPark for use in their parking garage?
In Germany, we are still at the very beginning of camera parking, even though we are pioneers. Together with our partners, the parking garage operators, we see promising developments in usage. For success, it must be ensured that sufficient information about the service is available in the parking garages. This is where we can provide very targeted advice. Our extensive experience – also from abroad – helps us to ensure that the introduction usually runs very smoothly. There are different procedures for a car driver regarding the use of camera parking. We are experts at this topic as well.
How do you see the role of “individual car transport” in the next five years and in the next 20 years?
We are a service provider and first and foremost try to help our partners, the cities and private parking managers, to achieve their goals. We often see common interests between all actors: for example, keeping city centers attractive or making them attractive again. This includes a reduction of parking search traffic and easy access to the city centers. This also includes the reallocation of public parking space and better utilization of parking garages. This also includes switching to electric vehicles and ultimately promoting alternative mobility options (public transport, car sharing, cycling, etc.).
The extent to which individual transport loses its relevance, on the one hand depends on the expansion of these alternatives and their integration into sensible mobility concepts, and on the other hand on the needs of the citizens. Where exactly the intersection will be in the future is hard to predict. What is clear is that there will be a change. EasyPark will always play a constructive role in this and tries to advance the changes in the interest of the customers/partners. We are therefore also involved in mobility-as-a-service initiatives, in order to contribute our know-how there – our parking data enables us to provide sound advice to municipalities, operators and mobility providers here.
What role do parking garages in particular play in this development and do you see any risk by the trend to restrict on-street parking in some big cities?
It is clear that the importance of parking garages will increase, especially in urban areas close to the city center. In the future, less space will be reserved for private vehicles at the roadside. We are mainly a service provider for the cities and help them to realize their visions of the city center of the future. Here, one can see differences between metropolises that manage attractive well-attended city centers and other cities that are more concerned about how to prevent city center shops from losing more customers to online shopping.
It also remains to be seen how citizens will behave in the future and if/how new attractive mobility offers and better/cheaper public transport services will influence individual transport. The question remains how citizens will react to restrictions on individual transport if electric vehicles reduce the “guilty conscience” of driving a car and other reasons, such as better/different use of public space and costs of using public space. COVID was certainly not helpful in achieving a change of mindset among citizens.
We see opportunities to help with the structuring, because digitization is still in its infancy and we offer not only solutions for on- and off-street, but also the necessary tools to make the situation transparent and to derive fact-based decisions. We can answer many questions: how many parking spaces are there in a city, how many of them are for e-vehicles, how many of them are reserved for disabled citizens and where are they; what is the occupancy rate in area X at time Y and what changes have there been after the price change in zone Z? We can help navigate citizens to the garages by being transparent about how long the parking search time is in area A on the street and how many free parking spaces there are in the garage next door. So, we don’t see risk, but an opportunity to help shaping the future with our expertise – in the spirit of our vision “make cities more livable”.
From your point of view, how digital is parking today and what can/should change?
The essential technology already exists. Now, it’s a question about using it. In the on-street sector, there are already about 700 communities in Germany that offer parking facilities with an app such as EasyPark. In the off-street sector, however, there is still a lot of catching up to do.
What tips on the topic of “digital parking” would you like to give our readers?
If you have any questions about digital parking, please contact me or one of my colleagues. We will be happy to help.