The Changing Perception of Parking

I have a secret obsession: I like to find online articles about parking management decisions in various communities and read the comments that the local folks add at the end. Sometimes I don’t even read the articles. I shoot straight to the bottom and read the comments. Most times, those comments read like this:

“I can’t believe they are going to charge for parking…nobody is ever going to come downtown again!”

“Why does the city constantly try to hurt business? More parking management means less customers.”

You almost never read:

“Why, what a wonderful idea! Now I will be able to find a convenient parking space.”

For so long, our industry has been plagued by perception: there is not enough parking, parking costs too much, suburbs with free parking are better than downtowns with paid parking, parking enforcement is only out to get people’s money.

It’s up to parking professionals to change those perceptions, and it’s amazing what little decisions can do to help change a customer’s mind about parking. A focus on improving customer service goes a long way in changing the perception of parking, both inside and outside of our industry. The ultimate goal of parking managers today should be maximizing customer experiences rather than focusing on maximizing revenue. Because, just like they told Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams,” “If you make the parking experience better, they will come.”

We don’t have to go that far to improve the perception of parking. We just need to start thinking about how our customers will use and appreciate our parking decisions.

About Brett Wood, CAPP, PE

Brett Wood, CAPP, PE, is a parking and transportation planner with Kimley-Horn and Associates. He serves on the IPI Advisory Council, Awards of Excellence Committee, and the Parking Matters® Committee.

Comments

  1. Hi Brett,

    Parking management often proves tricky. There needs to be a balance struck between ensuring that rules are enforced (to guarantee the safety of pedestrians and drivers alike) with “positive prevention” to educate road users about the issue; while being sensitive to their situation. It can be a tough balancing act at times, especially when taking into account the needs of local residents. Effective parking management incoroprates all of these.

    Best wishes, Alex.

  2. John says:

    Perception & Perspective is key. It amazes my employees how one patron will be surprised at how inexpensive is the parking & the next patron can’t believe parking isn’t free. I have found educating the public about the reasons for charging the fee to be the key for creating an understanding and acceptance of the service provided to the public.

  3. Julie North says:

    Perception is key to the success of Parking. At ISU we impllemented the “Give Em A Break” program in 2009. We simply look at the parking patron’s profile, and if they have not received any parking citations, we give them a break on their first hangtag violation. We void it. Parking is a challenge in any environment, it truly is the small decisions that make a difference.

    • Brett Wood says:

      This simple approach can be an amazing asset to bring people to our downtowns, campuses, and communities. Imagine visiting a place for the first time and having so much fun you forgot that you only paid to park for two hours. When you come back and find a parking ticket, all the fun you had is quickly forgotten. Ticket forgiveness is an exceptional tool to help promote the community and the parking program. Thanks Julie!

  4. Lindsay Banks says:

    I thought I was the only one who did that. I have a weekly google alert for “parking meters” and I glance over the articles and thoroughly read all the comments. Planners need to understand the perception that is out there if they’re going to address the real problems, especially when it comes time to do public outreach on a policy change!

  5. Shawna says:

    I skip to the comments for most articles and then go back and read the article, especially articles about parking in local publications.

    Before I became involved in the parking industry I remember having a lot of the same doubts/fear/anger that most commenters have when they learn about “proposed parking solution for downtown _________”.

    I think for most people the idea that paying for parking can make visiting a popular area more enjoyable is completely counter intuitive. It certainly was for me, I recall feeling doubtful about parking meters being installed in our downtown shopping center.

    I recall how impossible finding a parking place in my city’s downtown area was before parking meters were installed, and a small parking garage was built up. Now I know that unless there is a special event going on I’ll always be able to find a parking space that is not multiple blocks away from my destination. Visiting the downtown area is more enjoyable now, because I don’t drive slowly down the streets with 30 other cars fighting for a parking space. I also don’t have to feel guilty about parking on residential streets, or tired after walking ¾ of a mile to the restaurant I wanted to eat at. Paying for parking is absolutely worth the convenience, and I enjoy visiting the downtown shopping center much more now that the meters are installed.

    When I read articles about installing parking meters, the government officials and parking professionals being interviewed don’t really sell the benefits of paid parking well enough to the user. It is understandable why customers think that they are just being gouged by a greedy city. I think parking professionals should share personal anecdotes about how parking has improved customer experiences, and how the focus is to make the area more accessible and not just to generate revenue. Customer experience should be one of the main focuses when trying to convince users that the plan is in everybody’s best interest.

    • Brett Wood says:

      Shawna – great comment! These comments have all been much more positive than the ones I am used to reading in the parking articles…

      You bring up some outstanding, counterintuitive ideas about the perception of paid parking. Too many times the decision to implement paid parking is reached as a revenue decision, rather than as a means to manage parking or provide better customer service. In one of my next blog posts, I am working on some rules of thumb that help set the stage for implementing paid parking by educating your community and gaining support of your local businesses.

      But your message is clear and correct – by educating your stakeholders on the “why and how” of parking management decisions, we can truly promote the benefits of our work to better build consensus and change the perception of parking.

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