It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (Part I)

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, wrote that not only do we fear change, “[people] genuinely believe that when you’ve been doing something a particular way for some time, it must be a good way to do things. And the longer you’ve been doing it that way, the better it is.” It’s no wonder some universities have a tough time considering better ways of running their parking departments.  Even though the old way of doing things may feel comfortable, there are probably ways to improve customer service, reduce costs, and in some cases, increase revenue.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll offer up parking practices at universities that may be worth reconsidering. Today: hunting license permit systems.

Many schools sell permits for parking but the permit only offers a chance to park on campus—it doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually be able to park. The number of permits sold in this scheme is not capped, so you often create a situation where there are more parkers than parking spaces. This in turn results in excessive driving as parkers search for available spaces, additional congestion and pollution, and unhappy patrons. This approach works when parking demand is low but as schools grow and construct new buildings on parking lots, the parking supply-and-demand relationship changes, requiring a new way to allocate scarce parking permits and spaces.

Many schools have successfully implemented demand-based permit allocation systems where the price of a permit is based on the demand for the facility for which the permit is valid.  This system is grounded in supply/demand economics and uses pricing signals to help consumers make informed decisions about whether and where to park. The use of alternatives to driving (and a reduction in congestion and pollution) often follows a move to market-informed pricing.

In a tiered parking scheme, parking lots and garages are typically treated as discrete facilities. A finite number of parking permits are sold for the facility with an established oversell ratio based on documented occupancy data for the facility, and parkers do not hunt for parking spaces between lots but are assigned to specific facilities.

Drop me a line if you have an example of a parking practice worth reconsidering. Together we can make change less fearful.

Where Were You?

Bruce Barclay

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Almost everyone in America beyond their teenage years remembers where they were and what they were doing on that horrific day. Certain historical markers are embedded in our memory forever. Baby boomers remember their whereabouts on the days when JFK, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Individuals born in the ’60s and later have September 11 as an unforgettable memory that will linger long into their future.

September 11, 2001 was a date that affected the population of the United States on many different levels. The New York Stock Exchange was closed after the planes hit the Twin Towers and remained closed until the following Monday. The day it reopened, the Dow fell more than 684 points to close at 8920.70, down 7.13 percent.  Bond markets were also hit especially hard. Cantor Fitzgerald, a major government bond trader, lost many employees in the disaster. Their offices were located on the upper floors at One World Trade Center, the first building hit in the attack.

September 11’s impact on society was immediate. The U.S. aviation industry took enormous hits. On September 10, 2001 there were more than 38,000 flights. On September 12, 2001, there were only 252 commercial flights.* It took more than a week for U.S. flights to return to normal schedules. In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, (ATSA), which created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The ATSA mandated important changes in civil aviation security procedures, some of which we have become very familiar with when we travel. The first was the implementation of passenger security screening at all U.S. commercial airports, and the second was the screening of all checked baggage. Gone were the days when we could arrive at the airport 30 minutes before our flight and make the gate with time to spare.

From my perspective, September 11, 2001 started off as a normal day, with beautiful blue skies and sun over Newark Airport. I was general manager for the contract parking operations at Newark International and was in our valet operation just before 8:45 am. Local news events were being broadcast on TV in valet when there was an interruption in the broadcast— a small twin engine plane had just crashed into the World Trade center. My immediate thought was how could that happen on such a clear day?

My valet manager and I went to the roof of the parking garage adjacent to valet. What we saw was shocking. Thick gray smoke was pouring out of the top of the North Tower into the sky. We were about eight miles as the crow flies from the Trade Center and could see the events unfold in front of us. We quickly went back to valet for further news updates. As we reached the TV, the second plane hit the South Tower. “The second strike could not have been an accident,” is what I repeated to my peers. When the Towers collapsed, lower Manhattan was enveloped in a cloud of dust. The next few hours at Newark Airport were filled with anxiety and lots of misinformation. It did not help that the cellular systems were overloaded, making communication a challenge. I kept looking to the east seeing the continuous plume of smoke rising from the fallen Towers. It is a sight that I will never forget.

On Two Wheels

Brett Wood

I just spent a month in Key West, soaking up some fun and sun. You know what I figured out on day one? Parking was a pain in the you-know-what!

On day two, I dusted off a Schwinn cruiser in the storage shed in the backyard and became a bike advocate. The whole island opened up and the world was my oyster. Parking was a breeze—no payment required and normally I could drive right up to my destination and find a bike rack waiting for my two-wheeled stallion.

Bike parking is often an overlooked component of our industry, but it’s one that’s becoming increasingly popular and important. In a recent study we completed for the City of Tempe, Ariz., bike parking was front and center. Where do you put it? Who does it serve? Who maintains it? The answer is not as cut-and-dry as putting in a bike rack and calling it a day. It is imperative that the business community and the municipality work together to implement bike parking that complements the transportation network, promotes safe riding conditions, and provides mutual benefits to parkers, cyclists, businesses, and the community as a whole. Easy right?

Well, take a look at Fort Collins, Colo. There, industry leaders partnered with local businesses to achieve a common goal of promoting bicycle ridership. New Belgium Brewery, which started as a mom-and-pop brewery and has grown to national fame, sponsors portions of the bike parking program, providing racks for on-street bike parking and partnering with the city for educational campaigns. Their Tour de Fat campaign has expanded exponentially and is now in 10 cities across the U.S., providing bike riding education and promotion. And the city does its part by properly planning for bike parking needs, taking bike counts (similar to vehicular occupancy counts) and assessing bike demands in certain locations, and communicating with business owners about providing appropriate bike parking.

These types of partnerships actively promote bike riding and its importance in the fabric of our communities (Check out the September issue of The Parking Professional to learn what Yale’s bikeshare program did for that area). Before dismissing bike parking as an unnecessary component of your system, take the time to understand your community and the positive effect it might have on the social, economic, health, and congestion components of your society.

The Napa Earthquake: Lessons for Parking

Bruce Barclay

On Sunday August 24, the town of Napa, Calif., was hit with an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale. The quake hit at approximately 3:20 a.m., rocking the scenic community and leaving residents dazed and fearful of aftershocks, more than 100 of which have been reported so far.

A positive was there was no loss of life. However, more than 120 people were treated at local hospitals, three in critical condition. Damage to the town was extensive. Especially hard-hit was the downtown historic area, where many older building were red tagged by city officials and deemed too dangerous for people to enter. Water and gas lines were ruptured causing fires throughout the community, and low water pressure caused by main line leaks made fighting the fires a challenge. Power outages in the region affected almost 70,000 residents, but power was restored to most communities within 24 hours of the earthquake.

The drain that an earthquake has on local resources is enormous. Napa Fire Department Operations Chief John Callanan told reporters the city had exhausted its resources trying to extinguish fires, transport injured residents, search homes for anyone who might be trapped, and answer calls about gas leaks and downed power lines. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the area, which will provide additional resources in the aftermath of the quake.

The quick response in Napa by first responders was no accident. Planning, preparation, and training for such events were critical to a successful response. Responders may have received some of their training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Training Program. NIMS Training is intended for all personnel directly involved in emergency management and response. This includes emergency medical personnel, hospitals, public health, fire service, law enforcement, public works/utilities, skilled support, and volunteer personnel. The training is intended to aid people who don’t usually work together seamlessly respond to and recover from a disaster, either natural or man-made.

Each segment of the parking industry should have a disaster/emergency plan in place. Some may be on a rather small scale, but others may be very detailed and cover a wide range of potential disasters. I encourage all parking professionals to get involved and enroll in NIMS training. Gaining the knowledge and training required to participate in a disaster rescue/recovery, no matter how small your involvement may appear, is satisfying and rewarding. You never know, it may even help save a life.

For more information on NIMS training visit: fema.gov/national-incident-management-system/training.

Get Out Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage

Bill Smith

When local papers are running editorials about parking, it’s generally not a good thing. Typically, it means that there’s a problem—or a perceived problem—with local parking. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has been learned by dozens of cities.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire right? Actually, no. Sometimes smoke is just smoke. When you wave it away, there’s nothing there.

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed, but they might not understand what goes into parking planning and why planning decisions are made. Do parking tickets seem too expensive? There’s probably a planning rationale behind the rates. Do the hours of meter operations seem inconvenient or time limits seem too short? There are reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why decisions are made.

Cities and towns typically don’t systematically market their parking operations. Sure, they may do outreach when there’s an issue, but by then it’s too late. They’ve lost control of the context of the discussion when people are complaining and newspapers are editorializing.

Every city and town should have a strategic communications program designed to keep the public informed about parking rules and regulations and what the municipal parking plan is designed to accomplish. Such a plan should include:

  • Media outreach: This includes distributing press releases, backgrounders, and other media materials designed to inform the press about key parking policies and the roles they play in public policies. Outreach should also include regular briefings with editors, reporters, and editorial writers to explain parking initiatives and answer questions from the media. IPI’s Parking Matters® program provides this handy resource on speaking about parking in positive terms.
  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and other social media platforms provide direct access to the public and other stakeholders. Take advantage of these tools to keep the public informed of parking initiatives and what they are accomplishing.
  • Websites: By creating discrete websites designed to inform the public of parking regulations and initiatives, cities and towns can assure that accurate and timely information is available to the public.
  • Public meetings: Parking administrators should regularly engage business and community leaders to keep them informed of parking plans.

It’s not enough merely to communicate, however. Communications programs must be proactive rather than reactive. In addition to providing valuable information, communications programs should anticipate concerns and grievances and head them off before they become issues. They should also be used to communicate good news—and parking has lots of that to share.

Take a proactive approach to informing the public about your parking program. You’ll sleep easier when you don’t have to worry about seeing your name in tomorrow’s editorial.

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Christina Onesirosan Martinez

For many years, the UK has seen a rise in so called cowboy parking squads. The parking squads issue official-looking £100 tickets, often to drivers just a few minutes late returning to their cars. Elderly and disabled people have been specifically targeted at hospitals and downtown stores.

After issuing what appear to be official penalty notices, the squads use threats to terrify motorists into paying up. In many cases, however, the tickets are issued unfairly and without legal authority. More worryingly perhaps is the fact that some hospital trusts are even taking a cut of up to 10 per cent of the parking firms’ profits.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles decided enough is enough and said rogue firms will not be tolerated. As a result, he launched a government investigation into how how these companies hit hundreds of thousands of drivers with £100 fines for minor infringements outside shops and fast-food chains.

Last week a popular daily newspaper, The Daily Mail, launched a campaign to encourage drivers to stand up to these parking cowboys

daily mail campaignThe newspaper informed readers as follows:

Want to send a message of defiance to the parking pirates? The Daily Mail is here to help. Simply print out the notice above and put it in a prominent place on your car windscreen or side window.

It tells the parking pirates that you’re on to their outrageous scam and won’t be tricked or bullied into paying bogus fines. And we can also send you a fantastic glossy sticker version—absolutely FREE.

Although their tactics may be adding fuel to the fire, I for one am glad that those giving the parking industry a bad name are finally being challenged. Cowboys, watch out—the sheriff is in town!

Using Social Media to Assess Your Parking Identity

Bruce Barclay

A question I ask myself from time to time is how the traveling public views the airport’s parking and shuttle service? Is it merely a means to an end or is it viewed as a valuable component to the overall airport experience? As Salt Lake Airport’s parking manager, I believe we are a valuable asset, but with only a few options to gauge customer feedback we are left with a customer service conundrum.

Guest satisfaction surveys and comments to our webmaster via email are the traditional methods for feedback, but customers don’t always care to respond in this fashion and their voice is not heard. They may share their experience with relatives and friends, but not directly with us. We wanted to be able to hear firsthand from our customers to better measure our level of service, and address the areas where we may fall short.

Last May, Salt Lake City International Airport added a public relations and marketing manager to the staff. One area of responsibility she was tasked with was developing our social media programs, which hadn’t been done due to staff constraints. She began to tweet important information regarding the availability of space in our garage, which fills up weekly, along with information regarding our upcoming terminal redevelopment project. Within a few weeks, our social media platform grew and gained momentum.

In just a few short months, our Facebook followers have grown to more than 13,000, and we have more than 2,500 followers on Twitter. Although we know those are not huge numbers, the increase over such a short time has been dramatic. Even more impressive is the fact we are now getting timely feedback from the public, especially as it relates to parking and shuttle services. The messages received have given us greater clarity on the level of service we provide on a daily basis, and allow us to share passenger experiences with employees and their supervisors. Just as importantly, we can easily respond to all social media communication—positive and negative—in an expeditious fashion. By establishing a foundation of communication with the Salt Lake community, we are quickly finding out what our identity is, and how we are perceived by the traveling public.

So…what’s your identity? Comment below.

The Right Frame of Mind

L. Dennis Burns

I am sure I am not alone in this: Some days I am sure I have the best job ever! On other days, some old country song about “take this job and shove it” plays over and over in my brain.

On the positive days, I appreciate the fact that my job as a parking and transportation consultant provides me with a constantly-learning environment and the ability to work with valued friends and colleagues all over the country and to continually be at the forefront of a rapidly changing and increasingly important field of endeavor. I work for a well-run company with excellent colleagues and all the resources one could hope to have.

On the bad days—usually after spending too much time on the road, dealing with travel issues, and balancing multiple project deadlines—well, we all have parts of our jobs that we wish we could change.

The bottom line of this rambling is to reinforce the importance of keeping a positive outlook and mindset. While I realize this is easier said than done, managing to create a sense of balance and perspective is critical, as is developing a sense of appreciation and contribution to the field you are working in.

It’s funny, but back in my college days I made a radical decision I have questioned ever since. Given where I have landed career wise, it may have been better to have stayed with my original major—urban planning. Instead, after taking a 400-level religious studies class called “The Great Secret” as an elective, I ended up with a degree in religious studies, which focused largely on philosophy, depth psychology, and the Socratic “Know thyself” (you can always specialize with your master’s degree). In retrospect, the degree I obtained has given me the ability to keep a larger sense of perspective and realization of the importance of balance in my life.

As Thomas Merton, a prolific writer, poet, thinker, and Trappist monk  put it, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.” Vacation is almost here!

Raising Standards in the UK

Patrick headshot 2012 cropped

There is so much happening in the parking world at the moment that it’s hard to catch one’s breath.

The British government is pressing ahead with its plans for local authority parking, the Daily Mail has kicked off a summer offensive against the private parking sector, the Royal Mint is poised to launch a consultation on the new £1 coin, and Park Mark reaches the ripe old age of 10—to name but a few.

There is a link, though, between all these events, and it’s not just that they all have something to do with parking. They throw down a challenge to the parking profession in general and the British Parking Association (BPA) in particular to demonstrate our resilience in putting the other side of the argument and our commitment to drive standards in parking ever higher.

So we have successfully persuaded government not to ban CCTV outright but rather to allow its continued use in specific circumstances; we have shown through establishing Parking on Private Land Appeals (POPLA) and renewing the Code of Practice on Parking on Private Land that Daily Mail readers who are recipients of parking tickets have an independent means of redress against those tickets; we are directly involved with the Mint prior to its formal consultation so we can shape and influence policy on behalf of our members; and through Park Mark, we can demonstrate we really are serious about raising standards and not just talking about raising standards.

We are going to talk more about raising standards though during the autumn as we try to engage with members on how to develop a Professionalism in Parking Award for all sectors to continue to drive those standards still higher. We need to demonstrate to government, media, and stakeholders that we can do it so we have the tools and the commitment to tackle future onslaughts in the future. That’s why lots of things happening is a good thing if at the end of them you come out on top.

I believe the parking profession can come out on top if it truly believes in raising standards in every part of its make up.

Our Changing Industry

Doug Holmes

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s song starts, “It was 20 years ago today,” but in my case, it was 45 years ago. I, along with several other young people, was selected by Rotary International to represent our respective countries through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, living for a year overseas and being immersed in an entirely different culture.

Fortunately, the country I went to—Sweden—was populated by friendly, outgoing, and caring people; I didn’t understand a lick of their language when I arrived on August 4, 1969. But in 45 years, there has not been a day I haven’t reflected on someone or a place or an event during that year.

How does that relate to the wonderful world of parking? After a 10-year career as a cop, I jumped into parking in 1986. It had to be easier than dealing with drunks, physical altercations, and the mind-numbing process of shift rotations and court days. Nine to five, Monday through Friday, with weekends and holidays off—how hard could it be?

For one thing, parking was a cash-rich environment; back then, there were few computer systems (I had a typewriter on my desk). Tracking that cash was a huge consumer of time. Anyone not inside of the industry had no concept of the dynamics of parking. It was generally an afterthought.

Modernization was slow to start. The highest-tech gadget available was the electronic single-space parking meter. Things such as multi-space parking meters, pay by space, pay on foot, etc., moved forward in Europe, but not here. Thankfully, in the last decade, there has been a revolution in parking technology.

I remember wanting to purchase a PARCS for our operation to link all three of our garages together. I wanted all remote devices hosted on a single network so that I could view real-time activity from my office across campus. Vendors looked at me as if I had a third eye before delivering a lecture on how that was not really what I needed.

Today, the applications of technology seem endless. It has created a new and evolving language we’re all learning. The social effects are astounding. Computer-driven lighting systems and new luminaires are reducing the consumption of electricity and positively affecting the environment.

New materials and construction techniques are extending the lifespans of parking decks. Everywhere we look, the technological revolution that was so long in coming is growing exponentially. GPS applications are locating open spaces for drivers, who pay for parking with their phones. Efficiencies in locating parking, of course, leads to a decrease in gasoline consumption and a reduction in pollution. All of this is good.

A complete change of culture is in swing. In other words, parking is shifting, and rather quickly. Like being plunged into the foreign land of Sweden many years ago, change can be painful or it can be exhilarating, vexatious or liberating.

Welcome to the brave new world of parking.