It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: University Parking Practices Worth Reconsidering (Part II)

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George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change.” With the goal of improving parking on college campuses, this blog series concentrates on old parking policies and practices universities should re-think. I wrote last about the hunting license approach to parking permit allocation and demand-based pricing. Using price to differentiate parking products based on demand gives consumers a critical tool to determine if the convenience one parking space offers over another is worth the difference in price. What’s more, tiered parking systems enhance customer satisfaction by improving the likelihood that a patron will find a space in his or her assigned lot. Universities should also be thoughtful about how parking programs and services are delivered, so this post is on organizational structure and service delivery.

I visited a campus recently and learned that the parking programs and services there are spread across several different departments. Police write parking citations, permits are sold from the business office, the planning department plans for future parking facilities, and athletics handles parking for athletic events. It’s good to invite multiple perspectives on how parking should be run, but a decentralized, fragmented system promotes inefficiency, poor customer service, and tactical (rather than strategic) thinking.

The alternative to a fragmented system is a centralized one in which the parking and transportation department is the principle unit responsible for campus access programs and services. Ideally, this includes fleet services, alternative transportation, special event parking, and transit and shuttle services in addition to parking operations and planning. I do not suggest that parking departments work in a silo. Instead, parking staff work with their counterparts in other departments who serve as subject matter experts (e.g. the public safety department and emergency management) or as a client (e.g. the athletics department for on-campus athletic events). Centralized parking management provides the best opportunity to keep the big picture in focus by facilitating the coordination and delivery of related programs and services. It also ensures that each opportunity for a customer interaction is managed with the same overarching goals and objectives and that quality customer service follows from start to finish.

If colleges and universities wish to deliver the best, most efficient parking and transportation service, they must be willing to structure their delivery mechanisms for success. Consolidating all facets of access management offers the optimal solution.

Even Dolly Parton Knows About Parking

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I recently went to the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia to see “9 to 5: the Musical,” featuring the music and lyrics of Dolly Parton who many of you may recall starred in the 1980 movie of the same name.

s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

Photo credit: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

During the first scene, Judy, who is late to work on her first, day reports to Violet, her new supervisor, that she’s sorry she is late for work. She’s very upset and goes through a whole host of issues regarding why she’s late. All of her issues are related to finding parking.

After Judy finishes her rant on not being able to find parking to come to work on time, she asks Violet a series of questions, starting with, “Violet, did you know that the first parking meter was made in Oklahoma City in 1935?” Of course she doesn’t give Violet the opportunity to even answer this question before asking more and more, until Violet rolls her eyes and walks away.

After Judy’s first question, I whispered to my friend in the next seat, “I knew that. That’s in our online Introduction to Parking course.” My friend giggled and looked at me with that of-course-you-knew-that look. She then whispered down the lane to all our friends in the row that I knew that information. As they heard the whisper, each one of them leaned over in my direction and gave me a look and a smile.

The play was spectacular but when it ended, the conversation as we walked to the parking garage focused on that first parking meter in Oklahoma City. The questions from my friends ranged from “Why Oklahoma City?” to “Who thought about charging for parking and why?” “Did he make money?” “What did he charge?” and “How did that help the city?”

As I found myself continuing to educate my friends around parking I thought to myself, “I wonder what it would be like if no one ever did think about inventing a parking meter?” When I joined IPI, I never thought parking would be this interesting. Even Dolly Parton knows about parking!

Biden, Flying Cars, and IPI, Oh, My!

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Biden

Clockwise from top left: Prototype of a flying car; Google’s director of self-driving cars, Chris Urmson with Washington Post editor David Cho; Uber’s David Plouffe; “Easier Parking” panel: Washington Post editor Mary Jordan (at podium) with David Cummins (Xerox) Eric Meyer (Haystack),Rachel Yoka (IPI),and Post urban policy reporter and blogger Emily Badger; and Vice President Joe Biden.

What a day for parking here in D.C.! The Washington Post’s first Answers Series event focused on “Fix My Commute” and included a day-long, live stream, and studio audience of policy makers, wonks, and transportation insiders. Vice President Joe Biden, keynoted the event after introducing himself as Joe “Amtrak” Biden, much to the delight of the Amtrak and rail folks in attendance. See his remarks here. A panel on parking included IPI’s VP Program Development Rachel Yoka, Xerox’s David Cummins (IPI’s Smart Parking Alliance™ co-chair), and Haystack CEO Eric Mayer.

Bravo to David and Rachel for being so articulate about the role of parking, innovative approaches, and sustainability. The Post’s team did a stellar job with an all-star line-up that included mayors from Denver, Honolulu, Miami-Dade, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City, along with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, now co-chair of Building America’s Future.

Google X’s (the company’s “top secret” innovation arm) Chris Urmson gave a fascinating preview of their self-driving car, including a video of the vehicle being test-driven by friends of developers. There was also a presentation of a prototype of a flying car being “floated” by start-up Terrafugia. (It was parked just outside the theatre where the event was held—on-street and taking up quite a few metered spaces!).

My favorite soundbites:

  • “Thank you for letting me vent” is the most common close to any correspondence sent to columnist Robert Thomson (Dr. Gridlock) from consumers who write to him about D.C. traffic and commuting issues. See a related video shown here.
  • “A car is a freedom machine.” Andrew Card, Former U.S. secretary of transportation and White House chief of staff.
  • “A lot of technology exceeds government’s ability to take advantage of it.” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
  • “Transportation is a family’s second biggest expense, after housing.” Joe Biden

During the events, I sat next to Mark Wright, executive director of the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT), now part of the IPI family. I also had the pleasure of speaking with David Plouffe, the new senior VP of policy and strategy with Uber (very relevant for ACT these days),as well as Liz Jones representing the League of American Bicyclists.

For parking to be so much a part of this national discussion on transportation, I couldn’t help but think, “We’ve come a long way!”

 

 

Are You Prepared For The Phablet Age?

Bill Smith

I’m an early adopter. I love toys, especially electronic ones. For the past few years, my favorites have been made by Apple—my Macbook Pro, iPad, and iPhone. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ve already picked up an iPhone 6. I think I showed great restraint by waiting until the second day of release to get one, though!

I’m having a blast playing with my new toy. The bigger screen is easier on this old man’s eyes, and it’s much easier for me to type on. But the thing that stands out mostly for me is how the advent of the phablet (a cross between a smartphone and a tablet) is going to change marketing. Smartphones are nothing more than portable computers, and today’s larger phones with massive screens make them that much more useful for Web browsing and emailing.

If your organization hasn’t adapted to the new world order of phablets, you need to. According to one study, one in three Internet users already does the bulk of his or her surfing via mobile technologies. Organizations that haven’t optimized their online content for mobile users are behind the times and in danger of being left in the dust by their competition.

This is particularly true for parking companies. After all, whose customers are more mobile? Drivers want quick and convenient access to information about parking programs, available parking spaces, and validation—not to mention mobile payment options. But the power of mobile networking goes beyond drivers. City managers, parking owners, and facility operators use their iPads and smart phones to access information about consulting firms, technology companies, and other suppliers.

Desktop computers are so 20th century. If you want to compete in today’s marketplace, your online content needs to be smartphone friendly. Welcome to The Phablet Age!

Greening, but Still Critical

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The millennials will change everything right?  This next generation will change the way we live, transforming buying habits, working patterns, and transportation choices.

In a recent interview with a Huffington Post reporter, IPI staff discussed this massive generational change that is coming (in the context of sustainability, of course).  The reporter brought up an excellent point: The hippies of the ‘70s were going to have much the same effect—they were going to help create more environmentally-friendly habits, policies, and trends.  And they most certainly had an impact.  But this reporter pointed out to me that those folks are now the baby boomers, many of whom still live in the suburbs and greater than 90 percent of whom still commute and drive to nearly everywhere they want to go.

I imply zero criticism of either the millennials or the baby boomers, but this conversation affected how I think about generational change. As generations age, they also change. Their priorities shift as the world shifts.

Of all people, I believe that massive, structural change is needed to alter our current course, to preserve valuable resources that aren’t infinite, to reduce our dependency on  foreign oil, you name it.  This CityLab article, forwarded to me by Paul Wessel at the Green Parking Council, drives that point home—most of us still drive to work.

If you have any concerns that parking assets are on the way out, think again.  Our industry—including both parking and transportation—is absolutely critical, and will continue to be.

Parking Matters® at the Local Level

Brett Wood

I just got back from the Southwest Parking & Transportation Association (SWPTA) conference in fabulous Las Vegas. The conference was a blast and very rewarding given all the work that went into it. I’ve served on the SWPTA board for the last three years, with the last two as vice-president and president. More importantly, I’ve served with a number of great individuals who share a passion for making that organization thrive, serving parking professionals throughout the southwestern United States.

Just like us, there are more than 25 state and regional parking organizations throughout the United States, each serving a base of parking professionals who are looking to find their way in this exciting and growing industry. The beauty of the state and regional organizations is the ability to connect parking professionals of all experience levels. Just this past week, I observed past IPI Chair Casey Jones, CAPP, working side-by-side with local frontline staff from the City of Las Vegas to solve parking problems during an interactive parking charrette. In that instance, you have a guy who is considered to be one of the brightest in the industry helping a future industry star see the way.

These organizations provide experience, education, and opportunity, and we should strive to bring our knowledge and passion for parking to them—with the same fervor that we would bring to an IPI Conference & Expo with its 3,000+ attendees. For those who have found a home and a place to shine in our industry, there is no better place to give back than the local and regional level. IPI has realized this and is making great strides to expand its alliance with these diverse groups. Just this year, they’ve helped our organization stage frontline training and CAPP courses, helping bring the energy of their traditional offerings to folks who might not always have access to them.

The best way you can give back is to seek out a board position with your local organization. It’s not a lot of work—no wait, I’m wrong; it’s a tremendous amount of work—but the rewards are even greater than the time spent working. The people you meet and the difference you make is reason enough to go for it. And the icing on the cake? You might get to be in a Carlos Santana music video…just ask Casey!

Attendant to Detail

Shawn Conrad

Chivalry and customer service are alive and well in the parking industry. Everyone remembers when we are treated extra-special by someone at a hotel or restaurant or by our auto mechanic.

I’ll never forget the time one of our annual meeting attendees was too sick to fly home and tried to recover in a hotel room. The maid, too, noticed that this person was not feeling well, went out and bought a small teddy bear, an assortment of herbal teas, and a get-well card, and placed it near the customer’s pillow. What a wonderful gesture—it’s probably is an indication that this maid’s manager or hotel owner empowered employees to do things that might make guests’ hotel stays memorable.

The other day, I pulled my car into a very full office garage. Before long, an attendant walked over and at first, motioned that there might be a space available down one of the far lanes. As the last syllable came out of his mouth, he said, “follow me.” Off the attendant went running down a very long aisle, stood in front of an open space, and moved me in. As you can imagine, I felt very special and thanked this gentleman for his help.

The attendant’s excellent service made me feel the same way I do when I go to a big-box hardware store looking for a specific item. When asking a store clerk to help me find it, most will say, “it’s in aisle __,” before leaving me to find the item for myself. Other times, a clerk will walk with me to the aisle and point out the part I need. It’s one thing to say there is an available parking space or that the store sells an item but it’s up to you to find it, and another to go out of their way to find it for you. That’s service!

Maybe in the future all parking customers will be directed to an available space by a parking guidance system. But until then, it’s nice to know someone goes the extra mile to provide exceptional customer service. How about your organization? Are your employees providing services that set you apart from others?

Do you have an example of one of your co-workers going above and beyond just doing their job? Please share!

Harry Potter and the Parking Stone

Jeff Petry

In the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter starts off unaware of his wizardly abilities and kept in a storage closet under the stairs by his aunt and uncle. Gradually, the magical world is revealed to him, including heading off to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each school year, he is faced with extraordinary challenges as the evil Lord Voldemort attempts to take over the world. Harry is the reluctant hero and leader. He is able to overcome the challenges with his close network of friends and mentors, educational training, and the infused power of love from his deceased parents (killed by Lord Voldemort).

Parking programs across the country can relate to the Harry Potter story. Many parking programs are relegated to organizational “closets” and not provided the opportunity to grow and operate in a nurturing environment to become positive influences in the community. Parking programs are not always recognized for their crucial links between organization and community stakeholders. Many times, parking revenue is just a line item of a larger program’s budget.

Harry Potter did not recognize his true value and power to influence world events on his own. It took a leader, Professor Dumbledore, to recognize the value of the young wizard and embed empathy and values in his personal and wizardly development. It took partnerships with friends and unexpected allies to overcome Voldemort’s evil plans to reshape the world. And all this was happening while the Muggles (non-wizard, everyday humans) were totally oblivious to these struggles, despite noticing weird occurrences around them.

The same can be said for parking programs across the country. It takes an organizational leader to truly understand the potential of parking in shaping a community and then mentor the program and its staff to work their parking magic for good. It takes strong partnerships within your organization and with the community to overcome the challenges thrown at the parking program.  It takes attending our parking school of wizardry (International Parking Institute and regional parking associations) to learn the magic. And this mostly happens under the radar of the majority of the community, except for the conversations around parking rates.

A parking wizard can help shape the community by figuring out how to overcome current challenges as well as those that will shape the community in the future. Are you ready to enter the magical world of parking?

Data-Driven Performance Improvement Part 2: The Porch

L. Dennis Burns

In my last blog post, I discussed some interesting projects relative to data driven analysis focused on improving performance in the arena of place management. The first example was from the Institute of Place Management in the U.K. Today, I wanted to share another great example of data-driven research as applied to a placemaking initiative known as The Porch at 30th Street Station, in Philadelphia.blog1

The Porch  essentially took a large underused plaza area in front of the city’s 30th Street Station and used a range of affordable placemaking strategies to activate this area. The graphic to the right illustrates the potential population that could be affected in the area.

Replacing what had been 34 parking spaces, this initiative leveraged 54 planters, 45 tables, 184 chairs, 28 umbrellas, 12 loungers, and 23 trees (and a tremendous amount of programming) to transform the area from an unwelcoming site to a place where thousands of pedestrians now congregate and interact every day. The transformation is really quite remarkable!

blog3 blog2Beyond the placemaking work of adding seating, shade, food, plantings, music, and a variety of other activities which have transformed this location, the thing I was most impressed with was the process used for measuring and monitoring the effect of the various elements to drive ongoing performance improvements in the area. Porch ambassadors and planning staff used observations and checklist tools, surveys, behavior mapping, pedestrian tracking, and counts to determine who was using The Porch: How long are they staying? Which furniture do they prefer? How is capacity versus demand at different times? Which amenities are most used?

To learn more about this approach, check out the University City website for more detailed information related to shaping public spaces.

Parking Matters®? Prove it!

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I’m not a parking professional, but after talking to the media about the industry since 2009, I certainly think it’s fair to call myself a parking cheerleader and advocate. You could say Parking Matters® is my baby—even my three adult daughters will say it’s true.

WhyParkingMatters

If you record milestones in the lives of your children, you’ll understand that I feel similarly in sharing a new white paper IPI has published titled, “Why Parking Matters: The case for why parking –and the expertise of parking professional— is integral to the future of our cities.

From the earliest days of IPI’s Parking Matters® program, it’s been easy to talk to reporters and describe an industry whose dramatic, exciting, positive change is worthy of attention. The convergence of technology, sustainability, and a focus on customer service has given us credible and important stories to share with decision-makers at municipalities, universities, airports, hospitals, retailers, downtowns, sports arenas, and beyond.

This new white paper, coupled with a companion piece summarizing innovative parking programs in the U.S., and the “Smart Parking: A Tale of Two Cities” infographic produced by the Smart Parking Alliance™ this summer, is a powerful tool that takes us a step further in telling our story.

Focused on the municipality market, Why Parking Matters® includes discussions of the economics of parking, sustainability, and how parking contributes to making more livable, walkable communities.

The white paper supports IPI’s mission to advance the parking profession. The call to action?  Rethink your parking strategies, starting with the expertise of a parking professional.

I hope you’ll download Why Parking Matters® and share it widely with colleagues and clients. You’ll also receive a hard copy with next month’s The Parking Professional magazine.

The white paper is a living document. If you have a particular statistic that makes the case for Why Parking Matters®, please share it with me at sullivan@parking.org. If your city is not one of the 13 included in the Innovative Parking Programs in the U.S., send me a summary of its innovations and we’ll add it in.