Like most Americans, I am relieved and grateful that election season has finally subsided. Well, mostly. Not every television channel rumbles with constant attack ads. My land line (yes, I still have one, but never answer it) has ceased to be the target of hundreds of robo-calls. My mailbox is once again filled with innocuous flyers promoting local supermarkets instead of candidates and causes, and my email seems empty without the 50 daily pleas for political financial support. A blogger for Daily Kos called this barrage an attack on our collective “annoyance threshold,” a term I used about a year ago in a parking pricing report for a major West Coast city.
Not too many years ago, people in the parking business seemed mostly unconcerned with the annoyance threshold. If parking customers didn’t appreciate lugging a pocket-breaking load of quarters with them every time they went downtown, too bad. If parking garages were dull, dirty, and dangerous, we still collected their money, frequently without thanks. If drivers didn’t like tickets, towing, and booting, well, they should have been more careful. At the same time, city officials and downtown organizations wondered why downtowns kept losing retail, dining and office establishments to the suburbs.
Thankfully, we parking professionals woke up one day and realized that customers had lots of choices. Some of these choices were managed by people who understood what an annoying experience parking in downtowns and urban business districts could be. Then, in just a few years, a revolution occurred. Pay by credit card? Sure! Pay by cell phone? Coming soon to your city, if it’s not already available. Clean, safe parking structures? Of course! We were listening to our customers!
But I worry that we are in danger of once more forgetting the annoyance threshold and what our customers like and don’t like. Too many cities are now in financial trouble and see parking as a cash cow. Untested or poorly-designed variable pricing programs can easily annoy and confuse our customers. Some parking kiosks are user friendly; some, not so much. Signage and wayfinding? Too expensive. We should all remind ourselves that we are in business for one reason: to serve people, not to store cars.