- The problem: Among the sea of various EV charging business models, ensuring a great customer experience is a challenge.
- A solution: FLASH is hedging its bets on offering a reservable EV charging experience, leveraging its years of backend software expertise in parking operations to ensure a reliable and easy-to-use consumer charging session.
- My take: At the end of the day, drivers just need working EV charging stations — find a plug, charge their car and go on their way. If that core understanding is captured and executed well — whether it’s FLASH’s business model or anyone else's — then I am satisfied with it.
I’ve always been fascinated with parking lots. I know — who has ever said such a thing before?
Five percent of the United States is covered in parking lots. Out of the 3.5 million square miles across the U.S., that means 175,000 square miles are set aside for parking. That is massive — the U.S. has eight parking spaces for every car on the road, and yet we continue to hear certain cities have ongoing housing crises.
What fascinates me about parking, aside from its expansive presence across the U.S., is the potential for a positive impact in the transition to a fully electric transport future. I heard rumblings across the industry that FLASH, an operating system technology company across the paid parking ecosystem, had a promising EV charging service and vision for the future to help electrify parking garages across the U.S.
So, I caught up with Dan Sharplin, chief executive officer of FLASH, to learn about what the company is doing in the EV charging space.
According to Sharplin, FLASH has about 100 Level 2 charging stations across the U.S., with more to come soon. The company is concentrating in key areas such as Austin, New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Seattle and San Francisco. FLASH owns the ParkWhiz and BestParking apps on which it is pioneering some of its EV charging ideas.
Sharplin and I discussed the company’s vision for EV charging. The following represents a portion of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Vartan Badalian: Bring us up to speed: What does FLASH focus on?
Dan Sharplin: FLASH is essentially the operating system technology layer that connects everything having to do with paid parking, with all users that want to access that. So on one side of the market, we have the kiosks that make the gates go up and down, the point of sale, the cameras to identify the cars and the credentialing and payment systems. On the other side [even though the company isn’t consumer-facing], inside apps such as Ticketmaster, if you go and buy a show ticket and it offers parking features, that's all of our digital rails that procure, reserve, enforce and process that [on the parking side]. And so, 28 percent of the U.S. paid parking market uses a FLASH product of some sort. Thirty-six months ago, that 28 percent number would have probably been 2 percent.
5% of the United States is covered in parking lots. Out of the 3.5 million square miles across the U.S., that means 175,000 square miles are set aside for parking.
Badalian: What is contributing to this growth?
Sharplin: We’re the only cloud-based technology [in the parking sector]. On the supply side, we’re the only company that has a cloud-based platform that addresses every use case for parking. So whether it's an event, a concert venue, valet or a valet-assisted lot — we do all of that. So we're the only company that has put together a platform that covers every use case, which is really important to the demand side of the market and cities.
So when we think about the parties that come together to make this ecosystem work, you have the supply side, which are the large asset owners, supported by parking operators and other constituents, and then you have the demand side. And in the middle of it, you have the municipalities that are trying to manage congestion and quality of life. Those three areas come together in our environment.
Badalian: What is FLASH doing that’s unique in EV charging?
Sharplin: It's pretty clear that no one has charted a compelling path to profitability [in EV charging], and we think that we have a special seat at the table … So what we focus on is largely Level 2 charging supplemented by a little bit of Level 3, which takes advantage of everything else we've built. So those are those relationships with the landowners, relationship with the parking operators, understanding of how it ties to the grid and the power industry and most importantly, the reservations and threshold control enforcement capabilities that allow us to guarantee a service level in charging.
So if you drive an EV and you reserve one of our chargers, you can make that reservation 30 seconds or 30 days before you drive in. Once you reserve a charger, you're going to get exactly that. We’re the only company that can guarantee that type of service level, because we manage the inventory with the point of sale and we have enforcement mechanisms.
Badalian: Are you deploying your own hardware? And talk to me in a bit more detail about how you’re ensuring a "strong" service level experience for drivers.
Sharplin: We’re agnostic concerning hardware; the important thing is that we’re able to integrate that hardware in and make it reservable through our software that we already run through all our parking operations, but modified for EVs. We do need a tight integration that has limited technology risk so we can make the charger behave appropriately for the experience we’re trying to create.
[On the service level experience for drivers], we have 18,000 installations across the country [of other FLASH services] so we have a built service network of people to support our equipment across the U.S. So for us to dispatch a technician is relatively easy. We take complete responsibility for the EV charging stations and, in almost every use case, we actually own the equipment so we don’t even ask our customers to come out of pocket for the chargers.
Badalian: What does the customer experience look like for someone charging at a Flash charging station?
Sharplin: Let's look at Austin, Texas, as an example. One use case is a combination of overnight charging that can happen for fleets. So assume it's a pharmaceutical fleet or pizza delivery fleet. The driving activity happens around the urban core, and then the vehicles need to be cleaned and charged. That's one use case that will happen in what is traditionally an empty asset [parking garage] overnight. We will stand up EV chargers there and we will charge those vehicles at night, our parking operator partners will service those vehicles, they'll clean them, they'll repair them, they'll make sure that they're charged and all of those things will happen. We’ll provide the technology layer for all that to happen.
Another use case is where you’re driving your EV from San Antonio, going to make a stop in Dallas, and then Austin for a lunch and then drive to Houston. Before the lunch you’re having, you’ll drop off your car at a [designated valet that is the closest location to your lunch] and that valet who is on our platform will take your car to a Level 3 charger across the street, charge your car and bring it back to you when you return.
Another use case is the tenant in an office building during the day who is driving 15 miles a day to work and is a monthly parker, and all they need is two hours of charging over eight hours, and in those cases, we will rationalize the power depending on what’s happening on pricing and the other demand on the EV charging network to ensure their needs are met at a much lower cost.