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Meet our episode 30 guest Shawn Conrad

When the International Parking Institute recognized its members managed more than just parking, CEO Shawn Conrad helped the Institute not only add Mobility to its name, but also ensure that it’s at the table for important mobility technology conversations to come.

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Episode Transcript

Cohen: Josh Cohen
Conrad: Shawn Conrad

Cohen: Whether you live in Manhattan and take transit or you more often find yourself in an auto-centric, suburban environment, you are impacted by parking. So when the International Parking Institute changed its name to the International Parking & Mobility Institute, I knew that was a positive sign that more people were recognizing that parking impacts mobility, whether that is the sheer amount of space devoted to parking lots and garages, the increasingly congested curb space being fought over, or the autonomous vehicles that could disrupt parking as we know it. Let’s go.

F: Mobility is an essential component to the cities of our future. To build this future, we need to do more than invest in technology; we need to invest in the people who will make the hard decisions necessary to create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Welcome to The Movement where we talk to the brave leaders who are effecting change in an effort to build a coalition of leaders who will make tomorrow real. Here is your host, TransLoc’s National Director of Policy, Josh Cohen.

Cohen: I’ve been involved with the International Parking & Mobility Institute for a number of years, going to their conferences back when I headed up sales at TransLoc. And many of our customers were colleges and universities that were members of IMPI. And Shawn Conrad who is my guest today is IPMI’s CEO, and I want to welcome him to The Movement podcast.

Conrad: Hi, Josh. Thanks for the invitation.

Cohen: I want to start with the name of IPMI. And so it’s actually new. It used to be just IPI, the International Parking Institute, so I’d love to maybe start with what IPMI does and why you recently changed your name from the International Parking Institute to the International Parking & Mobility Institute.

Conrad: Well, you bet. So we threw the M into the logo. So we’re the world’s largest parking association. We were really confident and very comfortable, if you will, that people knew who we were and what we stood for and who we represented. And so when you change a name like that, you think, “Okay, is this starting over?” But the signs were pointing in that direction. And this isn’t something that especially from my peers when we look at changing the association name, they didn’t go into lightly, that this was something—this conversation with our board occurred really over the last three to four years.

Cohen: Wow.

Conrad: And some of it was that we were looking at some of the telltale signs that certainly the industry as a whole has evolved greatly. And from my perspective—so I’ve been here with IPI first and now IPMI for the last 11 years. And when I got to the association you had a number of people that have been in this industry for 20, 30, 35 years, and they were just overwhelmed with how fast the industry has evolved. And a lot of that was being driven by technology and is still being driven by technology. And from the standpoint of the association we were seeing really over the last few years that more and more of our conversations, more and more of our presentations and webinars and the things that we were training for our certification program were based on TDM principles and mobility principles and not just focused on parking and parking access.

So that when it came time to have the discussion with the board, you know, certainly we had peppered them with some thoughts over the last couple years, but we had prepared like a three-hour presentation. And I’m over exaggerating that, but we had really prepared them for just to get into the nitty-gritty of making a name change and the impact that that would have. But it really came down to essentially after about a half hour the board saying, “We’re ready. Let’s vote.”

Cohen: Wow.

Conrad: And that’s when we knew, one, that they were already there. They saw firsthand what was happening in their cities, in the universities, airports, hospitals, so they were certainly in line with where we were headed. But they also saw the writing on the wall in that parking, while it’s still our number one emphasis, is that there’s lots and lots of opportunity if we go into the mobility front. And maybe later in this conversation we can talk about why.

Cohen: Yeah. Well, I think that’s what’s so fascinating about this because, you know, we’re in this space right now where everyone is talking about mobility and transportation and how those are connected. And then we have some conversations about parking, but I don’t feel like the same conversations are had about parking, and it almost seems like they’re kind of looked at as two separate issues when they’re quite related. So I think kind of joining those together is super important.

I imagine that part of the challenge that you’ve had to navigate is that you have some members that use parking as kind of the main revenue generator for their environment, whether—I can think of an airport, maybe some colleges and universities. And so they use that to fund some transportation initiatives or so forth. And so depending on how parking and mobility evolve, there can be this tension between those. Have you seen that? Is that a challenge that your members are having to navigate?

Conrad: You know, it really has been interesting though, in that when we think about—so every three years we do a trend survey and just to get a lay of the land. But we found out that over 60% of our membership was really focused on that the parking side of the business had been enveloped into the transportation side of the business. And, you know, I think one of the key indicators is that—well, maybe many indicators—was that they were operating shuttles; they were running TDM programs; they were improving access for cyclists; they were running bike sharing programs; you know, they’re managing the TNCs and on and on and on.

So when you think about in a traditional sense that the parking side of things was still a big part of their responsibility but they were being asked to do so much more now, and even from their job responsibility, that it had evolved significantly. And I think from the standpoint of revenue that when you think about the revenue that the parking industry drives for municipal infrastructure or services or police departments or fire departments or public works, that that money is really super important to them. And, you know, I think from the standpoint of especially with the technology, that it has been able to generate income that wasn’t there in the past but also made the process for the customer so much more seamless and easier to use.

Cohen: Like pay-with-your-mobile-phone type of thing?

Conrad: Right. Right, all of the mobile applications. But from the traditional parking guy that the first conversations that we had with them about mobility is that, you know, they saw themselves solely as putting the car in a space, that managing the assets of their open lot or their garages. And as we got to talking more and more that they saw that they were actually doing a lot more different things than they were five or 10 years ago and especially with electric charging and trying to make their facilities much more sustainable or greener, if you will.

So from their standpoint they were also incorporating conversation now with public transit people. But, you know, the list goes on and on when you think about all the different things that are happening in this industry that even for the traditional parking person to remain relevant, that they’ve had to grow and actually had to adopt new management practices.

Cohen: So what’s the breakdown just in a rough kind of order of magnitude of your members? Like, you mentioned several of the segments earlier with colleges and universities and hospitals and airports and so forth. What are the big buckets there that are members? And cities, obviously.

Conrad: There’s nine separate segments that we have in our membership, and the biggest ones are—because when you think about parking, parking is so varied as far as whether you’re managing parking in a city or university, a stadium, a special event or a hospital or airport . And really from our standpoint cities and universities, commercial operators, the one’s that are managing those facilities, the supplier-based airports, medical centers, those are our biggest segments.

And even from the standpoint of the way we train, parking can be very different from an airport to a city, but some of the airports are actually run by the city personnel. So in our segment we may have a segment that’s the City of Houston for instance where the city is a member, their airport is a member. And, you know, from the standpoint of a lot of the different areas, that the segments have a crossover in that they’re all looking to share information. And I think that’s been the real beautiful of IPMI, is the sharing that goes on.

Cohen: So that example there with Houston, you know, you’ve got the city, you’ve got the airport; I’m sure you have Texas Medical Center, which is this huge medical complex.

Conrad: Yes.

Cohen: You probably have some private operators that operate their own garages. You’ve got a whole range, and then you’ve got the universities and so forth. Do you help facilitate ways for them to all kind of do that information exchange there on a local level? Because I’m sure there’s some local challenges that might be unique to Houston that are going to be different obviously than, say, Manhattan and definitely different than Des Moines, Iowa.

Conrad: Very much so. And it’s also one of those things especially when you’re talking about the diversity in that the old adage was parking was local. Everything about parking was within that various community. And that’s still true in many ways, but I think that’s been the beauty of our association, is that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And people typically never went to college or went into a degree program to study parking, so, you know, and the saying is that a lot of people fall into parking. And I think that view has changed over the years, so that as the technology side has gone into play and data is now driving the train, that a lot more especially universities are looking at the whole technology side of the business and the MIS data sharing, all those different avenues as ways that they can train people and also get jobs.

But, you know, from our standpoint the DFW Airport, which is like a city unto itself as far as their capability—but it’s amazing; when you look at the way they run it, it’s still focused on handling a large number of people with limited assets, that, you know, they have a certain amount of spaces. They are trying to get people to turn over their spaces as frequently as possible, but certainly their customers stay in the spaces a lot longer than you would in Downtown LA.

Cohen: Sure.

Conrad: But, you know, I think from our standpoint is that we’ve really served as the university for the parking industry and have a pretty good hold on what they need to know. And I think from our standpoint making it a career for them is really important so that they stay in the business, they get a flavor of it, they get a taste of it, but that they stay in it and make it a career. But we’ve had this now for 25 years. And it really—when you think about strategically, the people that were around the association at that point knew that unless there was a real standard body of knowledge that they couldn’t really go into certain conversations and have the credibility. So the industry itself had to set a standard, a standard of what that person needed to know. So it’s evolved over the last 25-some years, but it’s the most respected certification in our industry right now.

Cohen: That’s fascinating. So, you know, I’ve learned a fair bit about parking just kind of being a part of the institute over the last 11 years of my career in the transportation and parking industry, I guess. But for folks who don’t think about parking the way your members do like on a day-to-day basis, like, is there something that jumps out to you as maybe interesting or surprising?

Conrad: You know, Josh, that’s a great question because when I first came to the association at 10 or 11 years ago I was kind of blown away with how narrow my viewpoint of the parking industry was. And what I got a sense was is that it was all about the negatives, booting, towing, ticketing. And then when you get into the industry you’re kind of blown away with how sophisticated it actually is and how much these parking professionals need to know. And I think that’s one of the things that kind of set us on the path that—

So I’m an association guy; I’ve been doing this for 28 years. And one of the things that was in my history was a public relations program. And that was one of the things that just kind of rung true for this industry, is that we needed to tell our story. No one was really doing it. And if you used a search engine 10 or 15 years ago most of the things you’d find were all negative. And so we set about a campaign; it was called Parking Matters. And the meaning is exactly how it sounds, is that we really wanted to give the customer and the consumer plus also elected officials or transportation engineers or planners a sense of what the parking industry does and the impact that they can have.

And, you know, from our standpoint it was as easy as just telling their stories. So we’ve had a really good run as far as getting the word out of what these folks do and what they bring to their local communities. And it’s been fun, and there’s been a lot of great ways for us to share that they’re doing things that it’s not just about generating revenue, that they are generating income that supports their local community. And even some of the charitable things that they’ve done in the past have been incredible, you know, just to give back to those that need it most.

Cohen: So is anybody thinking about kind of the next, say, 10, 15 years where some of that may change? Right? Because certainly what we’re seeing in a lot of communities, there’s a lot of people moving back to urban centers, and a lot of these large parking lots which kind of served—I’m sure many of your members were managing those types of parking lots. Many of those are now becoming housing or other, you know, office or something like that.

So it seems like there’s a lot of change going on, and it seems like that might impact not only your members but also some of these revenue sources that you talked about, whether they’re cities or universities or whatever, that are losing some of this parking and instead are gaining new office buildings or residence halls or housing of other sorts. Do you see that? And how do you think that these cities and communities are going to balance that?

Conrad: You know, especially with our trade show—so our conference and expo that’s held annually, we always bring in someone who helps us look at the future, some futurist of sort. But it’s interesting in that we were invited to provide a panel on parking and mobility at one of the autonomous vehicle conferences. And it was interesting, in that as we sat there in the audience and were listening to various speakers the overall feeling was, “Good luck, parking people,” you know, that that’s going to be out of business in the next 10, 15, 20 years. And as things evolved, you know, we did our session; and what happened is that we talked about all the various changes and how we’re helping reduce congestion and how we’re looking at the tied-in systems and all these LPR systems that are out there to help people.

Cohen: License plate recognition, for the uninitiated.

Conrad: Yes.

Cohen: That scans the license plates and it allows them to see.

Conrad: Another acronym that I throw out. Right?

Cohen: Yes.

Conrad: But that’s really where the conversation—so our time was up, but it went another almost 25 minutes more because what we found out is the people in the audience still have so many things that they’re still trying to resolve in their city or at their university or at their planning stage of building whatever buildings or economic development programs that they’re creating. So they really hit us hard as far as all the different things as far as, you know, how the industry can help now. And so when you think about thinking forward, is that certainly we’re looking at the autonomous vehicle and seeing how it’s going to evolve over the next few years.

And, you know, when you look at the predictions of that, that one automobile manufacturer or OEM may throw out that they’re going to have these cars out there next year. Well, who really knows how long it’s going to take before it’s fully engulfed in the mainstream? But we look at it from a standpoint of car ownership is still there. And from the sense that people, they keep their cars for a long time, so it’s almost like the U.S. Mint trying to turn over a quarter and change the configuration of that.

They expect that if they change the metal content of the quarter that it’s going to take 25 to 30 years before they’ll get everything out of circulation. So we’re really building—when we look at our programs and our structures, we’re looking at accommodating the vehicles that are there now, that are going to be there in the next five to 10 years. And then the whole thing about adaptive reuse is that when people are building new garages, can they configure those so that they can be modified in the future without having to tear them down?

Cohen: I think that was one thing that I learned upon joining the industry and getting involved in IPI at the time, was the garages or as places call them in other places, I guess, ramps up in the Midwest I guess they call them.

Conrad: Right. [LAUGHS]

Cohen: But I was kind of always surprised at, A, how expensive they were, just the sheer cost of them and then kind of the sophistication necessary to kind of manage use of those, whether they turn over, whether they’re permit parking and so forth and then all the intricate details about reuse. You know, and that started I don’t know how long ago, but these kind of—one of way to see that is if it has a flat area to park as opposed to kind of an angle, you know, that might be a ramp that they’re thinking, “Hey, we may want to reuse this at some point in the future and can turn that into an office of some sort.”

Conrad: Well, it may not make sense to most people, but the loadbearing of these structures are built for cars and not people. And that’s why even when we look at multiple uses for these facilities that having parties and receptions and things like that, that they have to be built for that because it’s a different set of weight, a different set of vibrations that they’re having to deal with. And engineering-wise they have to be built to accommodate all those different uses. But, you know, one other thing that I’ll mention is that when people think about the industry as a whole, is that they look at it at a gate that goes up and down and a person in a booth.

But I think the thing that will amaze most people is that the young people that are now coming into this industry is extraordinary. And a lot of it is driven by the technology. You know, it’s the cool things like the mobile apps; it’s all the various technology that’s the back-office type of things that they can tell—you know, certainly when you go and have a conversation with the city council, if you don’t come in with specific data that verifies, you know, the point that you’re taking, most people and most councils aren’t going to hear it out. And I think that’s really where the sexy part of it is now coming in. And from our standpoint we’re trying to make heads or tails of that as well.

Cohen: Sure. Let’s maybe kind of wrap up with this. When you’re thinking about the leaders that are doing the best job in the field right now, what qualities do they have or what makes them effective?

Conrad: You know, if I just took a couple different traits it’s that—and it may sound cliché, but they really are strategic thinkers. They really have a vision of where they want to take these various programs, but in many ways—so the leadership skills are there. What I really am amazed about is how collaborative they are, in that if they make decisions that impact their program, it’s going to have a trickle down and impact all the various segments of the city including the community in the residential and commercial side of it. But, you know, they can’t do things in a vacuum, so I think some of it is that they’re really good at communicating changes.

And, you know, from the standpoint of when a decision is made in a permitting for a downtown area, that there are civic groups and homeowners associations and the various representatives that represent those citizens. The real estate market, the commercial segment, you know—you name it—they’re all impacted. And it’s one of those things too, is that if they’re not talking to public works, and they put sensors in a street, and sensors are then torn up a year later or even sooner when they repave an area, that, you know, all of that’s for naught. So I think from their standpoint that, you know, they really have to reach out to others, and that’s been something that I think is part of their mainstay, is that they fall back on over-communicating things so that they can get as much support as possible.

And really from my standpoint running an association, I’ve always been blown away by how much people are willing to share information. And, yes, there is a competitive side of this business, but for the most part people look at their peers and another city and another university. And there are some great ones out there that I could name for you. My problem was that I’d probably forget somebody, and they’d be hurt.

Cohen: [LAUGHS]

Conrad: But, you know, from the standpoint of the—they are more than willing to share information. We get over 200 submissions for presentations for our annual conference, and I wish we could share them all because a lot of them really have a lot that they offer. But, you know, what isn’t shared in a presentation is shared during a break or during some of the shoptalks that we have where it’s just a free flow of information. But, you know, I’ve worked with manufacturers of different products; I’ve worked with lumber dealers and parking people. And I’ll take parking people any time and any day.

Cohen: [LAUGHS] What is so interesting is that parking is—you’re impacted by whether you have a car or not. Right? So even in a dense, urban environment, even if you don’t own a car yourself, you’re impacted by that parking. You’re either impacted by the real estate that’s devoted to that—and I think I saw some stat that like 30% of Los Angeles County is, like, parking lots, which is a lot of real estate to manage—or you’re impacted by the cars themselves.

And so that’s what I think is so neat as there is some evolution to how people are moving around, and obviously the evolution with IPI to IPMI, that there’s a recognition that the form factor of the car, which made sense for obviously some portion of time—there’s other options now to move about. And I think, as you’re recognizing, that’s going to impact not only parking facilities and parking garages and ramps but also open parking lots and even curb space, which I’m sure we haven’t really talked about but obviously impacts your members as well because transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft need access to that curb. And that could be parking in some places that has to be shifted to make room for that. So that’s definitely an area of change as well.

Conrad: You know, curb management when we did our recent trend survey came out as the number one topic and issue for the industry. And for most people it certainly is no surprise, but think about it; curbs have been around forever, but now there is so much competition for that curb. And you named a lot of them. But when you add in all the various deliveries now that are coming in from Amazon or UPS or FedEx or whatever, that there’s a lot of different uses for it. And sometimes parking is the odd man out.

But it’s our folks that are managing and regulating that curb, so that’s when you think about the synergies of all these different variables. We really have to come together, and I think that’s really where we’re pursuing so that we’re working with other associations and other entities to see if we can’t at least make that process a little bit more seamless and increase the communication that’s happening.

Cohen: I wouldn’t be surprised in another 15 years if you have to change the name to the International Curb Management Institute, so—[LAUGHTER]

Conrad: Well, I’m wondering if I’ll be around for that, but I’d love to have that conversation. That would be an interesting one.

Cohen: Yeah, definitely. Well, if people want to learn more about you or IPMI, what’s the best way to do so?

Conrad: I like to tell people we’re only a phone call away. But the easiest way and most of our information is really at, so there’s a hyphen in between the parking and mobility. But, you know, we have open resources for all the various articles that are in our magazine, our research, our data projects. And I think one of the last things I’ll mention, if you don’t mind, is that with the aging population, that we started up an organization called the Accessible Parking Coalition.

And we’re working with 30 groups that represent those with disabilities, and it’s to make parking accessible to those that need it in those special instances. So it’s one of the true magic that can happen when people work together. But for most of it it’s on our website, and we’ll always invite people to the largest parking and mobility conference and expo in the world, if you will. We’re in San Antonio next year in the first week of June.

Cohen: Awesome. Well, Shawn, thanks so much for joining me on The Movement podcast, and I appreciate all the work you’re doing to help evolve parking to include mobility as well. So thank you so much for joining.

Conrad: This was a treat. Thank you, Josh.

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