COVID-19

For valet services, business in the time of COVID-19 is anything but 'as usual'

Valet parking companies have been presented with unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by CHUYN/Getty Images

As restaurants and shopping centers gradually open up and expand services, one less-often thought of aspect of the industry is having to adapt its entire business model. Valet parking companies cannot simply offer to-go services or limit the number of people shopping at any one time.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, traveling by public transportation was 10 times safer per mile than traveling by automobile in 2019. However, with the influx of coronavirus cases, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shifted its guidance on using public transportation, even listing it as one of the riskier behaviors for transmission of the disease.

Data published by Apple Maps shows that requests for transit information continue to remain low while driving information is continuing to gain steam, indicating that more people are taking to the road instead of opting for public transportation as to keep their possibility of exposure to the virus to a minimum. This also means that they're busy looking for parking spots and remain dubious about valet parking.

Phoenix Parking Solutions owner Jeff Patterson sees both sides of the issue, "The normal valet process is the opposite of what should be happening during this pandemic. Right now, people are hesitant to valet their cars, and rightly so. A valet handing you a paper ticket in close proximity does not feel safe during COVID-19."

Patterson, whose business mainly consists of restaurant, country clubs, retail, and event clients, operates in the State of Georgia, in an industry that remains largely unregulated. He chose to educate himself on the dangers of COVID-19 specifically relating to the valet industry using resources provided by the National Parking Association. The organization, of which he is a member, offered sanitation seminars. He also collaborated with peers in the hospital valet space to replicate procedures that were designed by medical facilities.

"We've created a cashless, contactless solution for valet so our clients can still offer their guests a trustworthy first-class parking option," Patterson said.

According to a release, this is how Phoenix's protocol works:

  • As guests pull up to the valet stand, a Phoenix valet driver approaches the car wearing a mask and opens the door handle using a sanitizing wipe before backing away (a minimum of six feet) as guests exit the car.
  • Guests provide their cell phone number to the valet instead of receiving a paper ticket, and the valet enters the make, type and color of the car while a license plate reader scans the car's plate as an additional measure for tracking the vehicle.
  • Guests then enter their destination as the valet enters the car using a disposable sanitizing cloth to wipe down the interior handle, steering wheel and gear shift. The valet parks the car and wipes down the keys, sanitizes hands and throws the wipe in the trash. All sanitizing wipes used are non-scented, non-abrasive and will not harm vehicles.
  • Once guests are ready to leave, they will open the text message confirmation received from Phoenix upon arrival and click on the link to request their car and pay the valet fee and tip.
  • Guests must show this confirmation screen, which features the ticket number in large numbers on a green screen for those who have paid or a red screen for those who have not, to the masked valet. The large text and color-coded system allows valet drivers and guests to stand a safe distance from one another during this process. Guests then close their car door and have the option to receive a receipt and parking summary via email.
  • Guests also have the opportunity to review their experience when they pay. The reviews are internal and allow Phoenix to constantly monitor and improve services based on customer feedback.

In 2019, Patterson converted his company's parking locations to Oobeo, a cloud-based valet software platform that streamlines parking operations through web, mobile, and SMS technology. This system allows for a layer of protection and anonymity between valet workers and their clients. Additionally, Phoenix Mobile Solutions uses real-time driver monitoring via Samba Safety while managers audit properties seven days a week to oversee staff and protocols.

Mobile valet solutions are nothing new. Many luxury hotels and resorts as well as shopping plazas have switched from calling a valet to texting via a third party. The cleaning techniques, as well as the care taken to ensure products are safe for every vehicle and occupant, are the big step Patterson hopes will help restore the public's confidence in valet services.

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The 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Bronze Edition is a fresh addition to the company's lineup.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Double takes aren't always good. In a curious twist, Toyota has decided to give its Highlander SUV bronze accents as part of a special edition model for 2022. The 2022 Highlander Hybrid Bronze Edition will be positioned between the Hybrid XLE and Hybrid Limited in the company's lineup.

Each 2022 Highlander Hybrid Bronze Edition gets bronze-colored accents on the exterior and interior, including 18-inch bronze wheels, bronze interior stitching, illuminated bronze door sills, and SofTex-trimmed seats with a fabric insert and bronze stitching. The SUVs also have unique floor and cargo mats.

Toyota will offer the new model with either a Cement or Wind Chill Pearl paint job.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Bronze Edition

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

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The new three-row SUV builds on the Highlander Hybrid XLE and is available in front- or all-wheel drive. It has the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine and two electric motors as other Highlander Hybrids. It gets an EPA-estimated 36 mpg combined.

It gets hands-free power lift gate, rain-sensing wipers, a digital rearview mirror, 1500-watt power outlet, puddle lamps with the Highlander logo, in-dash ambient lighting, driver seat memory, 10-way power-adjustable driver seat, and LED daytime running lights.

Some of the model's equipment is part of revisions to the Highlander product line for 2022 including a height/tilt power-adjustable passenger seat. For 2022, that feature will be standard on Highlander XLE and above trim levels.

Every new Highlander comes standard with Toyota's 36-month/36,000-mile basic new-vehicle warranty. A 60-month/60,000-mile powertrain warranty is also standard. Highlander Hybrid models have their hybrid components covered by a eight-year/100,000-mile warranty and the hybrid battery is covered for 10 years/150,000 miles. The battery warranty is transferrable between owners.

The 2022 Highlander Bronze Edition also comes with ToyotaCare, which covers normal factory-scheduled maintenance, for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, and two years of Roadside Assistance, regardless of mileage.

Pricing for the new SUV has yet to be announced.

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The 2022 Mini Cooper SE alongside the 2009 Mini E

Photo courtesy of MINI

The Amelia Island Concours is an event that features some of the rarest and most desirable vehicles in the world today, but it has increasingly become a launchpad for automakers' latest models. This year, Mini took the opportunity to unveil updates to its Cooper SE. The all-electric car was shown off as an updated 2022 model.

The new Cooper SE features updated front and rear styling, an overhauled interior, and several new color options, including a multi-color roof. The Mini Cooper SE is still one of the more fun-to-drive EVs on the market, as its small size and low center of gravity make it just about the closest thing to a go-kart that can be legally driven on the road.

Mini at Amelia Island 2009 Mini E alongside 2022 Cooper SEPhoto courtesy of MINI

The SE comes standard with an 8.8-inch digital gauge cluster, a heated steering wheel, lane departure warnings, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Pricing remains reasonable, making the Cooper SEthe most attainable EV on sale today, according to Mini. The car's base pricing is held at the previous model year's number, and starts at $29,900. Even after the $850 destination charge is added, the car clocks in at a great price. That's before any federal or state tax credits are applied, which can make the car's final price tumble below $20,000 for many buyers.

The 2022 Mini Cooper SE gets attractive updates and a stellar price, so what's the downside? Well, range is the biggest one. On a full charge, the Cooper SE will only be able to travel 114 miles – a far cry from other EVs' abilities, which can top 300 miles for some cases. To be fair, those vehicles cost more, so it's a tradeoff that buyers will have to negotiate. That range is still more than suitable for an urban commuter, and two major EV publications agree. The car won Urban Green Car of the Year from Green Car Journal and took second place for Greenest Car by Greencars.org.

Mini at Amelia Island Updated 2022 Mini Cooper SEPhoto courtesy of MINI

Joining the 2022 Cooper SE was Mini's first all-electric vehicle, and established the automaker as an early player in the EV space. Mini, along with parent company BMW, used the vehicles as rolling test beds for EV technology, and referred to the first customers as "Electronauts." The cars were only available for a one-year lease at a cost of $850 per month, and offered up to 100 miles of range and 204 horsepower.

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