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Tuesday in Las Vegas: Learning, Networking, and Exploring

Kim_Fernandez_March2015

20150630_112913_resizedAnother exciting and productive day in Las Vegas yesterday, and there’s lots more to come today for the more than 3,000 parking professionals gathered at the Mandalay Bay for the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo.

Tuesday started with education sessions that filled rooms with participants eager to learn about finance, sustainability, technology, organizational improvement, building and construction management, and customer service from expert presenters.

The first General Session produced both laughter and tears with presentations of Professional Recognition awards, Lifetime Achievement awards, and Chair Award, which went to Alejandro “Alex” Jaramillo, with APD de Colombia, who was clearly surprised. His wife and children accompanied him to the Conference for the honor. Details on the other awards can be found in the July issue of The Parking Professional.

Futurist John Martin presented his Ten Transcendent Trends Reshaping the Future of Parking, offering data and research on the generational and other influences that will change the way parking professionals do their jobs.

The world’s largest parking Expo hall opened to huge crowds and lots of business on the floor, with a record number of exhibitors showing off new technology, business models, and products and services. Giveaways, balloons, games, and celebrations made the afternoon all the more exciting.

On tap for today are Awards of Excellence, Parking Matters Marketing & Communications Awards, Green Parking Council awards, keynoter Gordon Price, education and Ignite sessions, more time at the Expo and PowerPitch Forums, and a wide variety of facility tours. Wear your comfortable shoes!

Day Two: Things are in Full Swing in Las Vegas

Kim_Fernandez_March2015

If you’re in Las Vegas and your FitBit buzzed mid-morning, it probably wasn’t a mistake—Monday was a very busy day at the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo.

20150629_154936_resizedAfter months of preparation, the king big fish was crowned at Park Tank, a play on ABC Televison’s “Park Tank” that let parking-industry entrepreneurs pitch their greatest ideas to a panel of judges—our sharks:

  • Soumya Dey, director of research and technology transfer, Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation.
  • Tishaura Jones, treasurer, City of St. Louis.
  • Steven Nerayoff, CEO and founder, CloudParc.
  • Chris Thomas, founder and partner, Fontinalis

Living up to its television quasi-namesake, Park Tank was informative, interactive, and super fun! The grand prize winner was Smarking and the people’s choice winner was also Smarking. Look for more on this in the September issue of The Parking Professional.

20150629_162215_resizedOther highlights from Monday included the always-popular, industry-segment Shoptalks, which brought together professionals from airports, universities, municipalities, and other specialized parking operations for learning, ideas exchanges, and networking.

Yesterday also marked the first day of education sessions: six tracks of presentations plus fast-paced and interactive Ignite sessions that are always a hit with parking professionals. The evening was spent in old Las Vegas at the Mob Museum for the Opening Meet & Mingle event—always a crowd-pleaser and networking highlight—and a great night exploring the Fremont Street district and its restaurants and entertainment.

We hope you charged those activity trackers again last night because there’s much more on tap today. The world’s largest parking Expo opens at 11:45 a.m., immediately following the Opening General Session with keynoter John Martin, the Professional Recognition awards; Chair’s Awards; and Lifetime Achievement Awards. More education and networking follows. See you there!

Here We Go!

Kim_Fernandez_March2015

10369132_851318514943011_6870682700335420110_nWelcome to Las Vegas! It’s the first day of the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo and things are heating up at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. If you’re here, you’re in the great company of more than 3,000 parking professionals who will participate in education, networking, the world’s largest parking Expo, and general sessions and keynote events that will fuel their organizations and professional lives for the next year.

If you haven’t already, stop by the IPI Registration Desk in the North Convention Center for your badge, bag, and program guide. That and this year’s Conference app (search IPIConf on Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store) are your complete guide to everything IPI for the next few days. The app will also let you reference the week’s schedule right from your phone and is the only way to vote for your favorite Poster Session entries and rate education sessions, so you won’t want to be without it. The Program Guide is also available in electronic form for easier referencing.

Things kick off with the 5K Fun Run along the Las Vegas Strip at 6 a.m. Today’s highlights include Shoptalks at 1 p.m.; Education and Ignite Sessions that start at 2:15; IPI’s Park Tank at 3:30 (you won’t want to miss this one!); and the Opening Meet & Mingle at the Mob Museum.

Stop by the registration desk with any questions. Viva Las Vegas! Viva Parking!

Should There Be an App for That?

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

I’ve spent a good bit of time being unhappy about media reports of a new parking application that helps people fight parking tickets. I write and present on parking technology a fair amount and the idea of an app that helps you beat the system rubs me the wrong way. I want technology to solve parking and transportation problems, not let people dodge their responsibility to use parking systems as they are intended. I don’t want it easier for people to fight legitimate and important parking enforcement efforts, especially because we all know that parking chaos often ensues without the right amount of enforcement. This seems akin to Radar detectors thwarting the efforts of law enforcement to maintain safety on our roadways (minus the possibility of horrific car crashes).

The app, called Fixed, recently received a good bit of attention leading up to its launch in the spring. According to a CNN report, here’s how Fixed works: “When someone gets a ticket, they snap a photo of it on their iPhone and enter the violation code. The Fixed app will tell them what percentage of those types of tickets are usually overturned and then show a list of possible reasons it could be found invalid.” The Fixed team does the legal research and advises the parker on their chances for winning an appeal. If the parker wants to file an appeal, they sign an electronic letter (through Fixed) that is sent to the parking provider. Fixed gets a cut of what the citation would have cost if the parker prevails and nothing if the appeal fails.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a little harsh on the Fixed founders. Maybe they aren’t really promoting lawlessness and maybe just maybe there’s some good that can come from an app that helps people fight parking tickets.

I do a considerable amount of consulting and one area I focus a good bit of time on is a client’s parking enforcement program where I look at citations by type, frequency and location. This often reveals some problem that the client is unaware of like inadequate, confusing and contradictory signage. Sometimes the analysis points to a need to adjust pricing, change how parking permits and credentials are allotted, and make adjustments in parking rules, policies, and approaches to parking fines. Perhaps Fixed and other similar apps can be viewed similarly as a means to helping parking programs become less confusing, more informative, and better positioned to help their patrons and guests locate and pay for parking facilities. Rather than look at this type of technology as a threat, perhaps we need to look at it as a way to improve.

Network Like You Mean It, and A Few Other Ideas for the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo

Rachel_Yoka 2013

It’s crunch time, and I have only a few days before taking off for the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

This week will be incredibly full—just as yours will be if you are attending the biggest parking event of the year. In the mad rush, you may want to take a breather and consider how to make the most of the show, as well as your time:  ipi_2015 conference logo_final small_200x145

  • Network like you mean it. Yes, of course, come loaded with lots of business cards, but take the time to have meaningful conversations.  When you wind up a conversation, connect on LinkedIn before you walk away from your new colleague. Quality is always better than quantity, and you never know who you may meet (or where). Stay on your toes!
  • Keep an open mind. That zipline on Fremont Street in Old Vegas may not be your thing, but make sure you don’t stay entirely in your comfort zone. Expand your horizons a little, and take a different path. If you haven’t been on a tour or listened to the Ignite sessions or PowerPitches, give it a try. The program is chock-full of new opportunities and programs. Make sure you don’t miss out on a great experience by doing what you always do.
  • I know I don’t need to tell you to make sure you have at least a little fun in Vegas (this is the parking profession, and we excel at the fun part). But how about a little spin on this to balance it out – wear your Fitbit, Jawbone, whatever fitness contraption you like. Take the stairs (not the escalators) a few extra times, and see if you can out-step and out-climb our staff. I think a little friendly (and healthy competition) may be in order, and we may even be in a betting mood!

Safe travels, and hope to see you in Vegas (Fitbit and all)!

Death Number Five: What Can We Do?

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This is the season when children die in hot parked cars. Five children have died so far, in Phoenix, in Baton Rouge, in Sandpoint, Idaho, and in two cities in Florida (Hiland Park and Lake City).

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Part of IPI’s public safety campaign includes this news item distributed to thousands of community newspapers. Please share with your hometown press.

Children’s bodies get hotter three to five times faster than an adult’s. Even in cars with windows left partially open, temperatures get fatal fast. Sometimes kids are intentionally left (“I just have to run into the store for a few minutes”), but half the time they are forgotten by well-intentioned parents or caregivers who just thought the child was with someone else. One of the recent tragedies involved a child left in a daycare van by mistake.

Please print out these flyers, part of IPI’s Parking Safety Matters initiative, and share with patrons, staff,  local businesses, parent groups, fellow parking professionals, and local media:

Printable Public service ad/flyer with fact sheet on back.

Printable ad/flyer with space for you to add your organization’s logo.

Last year the Calgary Parking Authority, inspired by IPI’s heatstroke prevention campaign, launched its own safety initiative on this issue, focusing on the message: “Never leave a child in a car. Not even for a minute.” To obtain additional support for the campaign, the parking authority approached the Calgary Police Service, Calgary Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services, all of which agreed to be involved. What a worthwhile community effort!

Jan Null, CCM, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, San Jose State University is the expert on this topic who spoke at a past IPI Conference & Expo and with whom I work closely on this issue. Jan distributes an email every time there is another death.  When I got his notice about  the fourth death, I stopped what I was doing to write this post, but in the day or so it took to schedule and publish, another death had occurred. By the time you read this, I probably will have received another notification about another toddler death, another heartbroken family.

IPI’s news release on this subject, has more information and links to resources, including a video showing how fast a car reaches lethal temperatures in 80-degree weather, let alone 100 degrees!

Please let me know if you have ideas for how we can all work together to help educate parents and caregivers about this important topic.

Thinking it Through

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During a recent frontline training session, the group discussion focused on a common frustration we experience in our challenging world of customer service. You know the scenario: An infuriated customer yells out something like, “How was I supposed to know I couldn’t park there?!? I didn’t see any signs!! What a racket! You need to make it clear if you expect people to follow the rules!”

Sound familiar? You may have experienced a saltier version, but you get the point. When you hear a complaint like this, do you think, “Are they blind or just slow?? Who issued this person a driver’s license? The sign is obvious!!” Your assumptions about this individual’s failure to grasp the obvious could be justified … but what if it’s not?  Are we forgetting how it feels to be unfamiliar with a setting, trying to take everything in while safely maneuvering the car? Even with a passenger to help with navigation, we sometimes miss the obvious.

I shared a personal story with the group about being out of town at a parking conference. I was driving three of my parking colleagues out to dinner one evening. While Google had directed us to the restaurant, finding an open parking place remained a challenge.  I circled the area, finally finding open spaces down a small hill near the ocean. We laughed about how long it took four parking professionals to figure out the pay station equipment used in the lot. With that transaction successfully completed, we trotted off to dinner.

After a leisurely meal, we returned down the hill to the car, to now find it behind a locked gate. I felt an immediate wave of panic, as we were many miles from our hotel. How was I supposed to know the area closed at a certain hour?? Where were the signs?? Looking up … right there, on a tall post (you know, adjacent to the gate) was the sign. In my haste to make it to the restaurant on time, I missed it all. The sign, the gate, everything. Luckily, a very nice parking officer came to our rescue, opening the gate and saving the evening from ruin. (Note: He did not find the humor in my witty story about four parking professionals missing the obvious signs, but that’s another story.)

Here’s my point: Situations like this can happen to any of us. Keep your assumptions in check. Try to be empathetic. While something may seem obvious to us, we can’t assume everyone else shares our perception. The motivations and personal experience of our customers isn’t always clear. The enforcement of rules is necessary, but it doesn’t have to include passing personal judgment. Take opportunities to look at situations from the customer’s viewpoint. Could markings be clearer or does the area need maintenance? Don’t miss an opportunity to decide if a customer complaint may actually indicate a bigger issue that you may be able to improve.

Get Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage

Bill_Smith_Jan.2015

During the past five years, thanks in part to IPI’s Parking Matters® national public relations and marketing efforts, positive stories about parking abound. According to IPI’s soon-to-be published Emerging Trends in Parking Survey, nearly 50 percent of parking professionals surveyed think perceptions of parking are improving. But, we all know when local papers run editorials about parking,  the coverage isn’t always fair and parking is often misunderstood. When parking is in the news often there’s a problem—or a perceived problem—with local parking. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that has been learned by dozens of cities in recent months, from Tampa to Los Angeles.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire right? Actually, no. Sometimes smoke is just smoke.

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound, but a proactive communications program can go a long way in helping educate stakeholders, including the media, so media coverage is balanced. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed but they typically don’t 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 do parking time limits seem too short? There are planning reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why these 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 the newspapers are editorializing.

Every city and town should have a strategic communications program designed to keep the public informed about its 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.
  • 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 designing websites 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.

If you’re looking for examples of positive local parking marketing efforts, read the inspiring case studies of the 16 winners of the Parking Matters Marketing & Communications Awards on the website or in The Parking Professional in July.

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.

 

Three Cheers for Empowered Customer Service

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During the past few days, I’ve experienced three examples of stellar customer service that made me remember just how important these interactions are in solidifying relationships and building reputation.

  1. Yesterday I needed a media list for a news release I was distributing and I was in a real time crunch. My login didn’t work, which was odd, but the company I work with—Vocus—was recently acquired by Cision, so I figured there might be a glitch. When I called the helpline, we tried to troubleshoot to no avail, but the customer support rep—I’m sure outside his comfort zone and in a real leap of faith—set me up a new account for the day with login and password (this is a database service that costs several thousand dollars a year) so I could access the information I needed and solve my immediate need. Phew!
  2. I uploaded the 20-page CAPP Graduation ceremony program to a printer’s site. Everything was timed perfectly so the programs will be printed in time to ship to the IPI office before our truck leaves for the IPI Conference & Expo in Las Vegas later this month. Hours later, I got an email that they’d halted production because they flagged a problem during the art check.  Problem is, it wasn’t a problem, the graphic files are fine, but I was out of the office for a meeting and by the time I could call, I’d lost a day, meaning that expedited (more expensive) shipping will be required to meet the delivery date. The customer service rep, seeing the due date, voluntarily told me they just upgraded the turnaround time at no extra charge to be sure the programs arrive at their destination on time. Sweet!
  3. At a restaurant in Washington, D.C., we order a bottle of wine, but the waitress returns to inform us that it is unavailable. None of my group is a wine snob but this is a special dinner and the wine requested is reasonably priced; to order something similar requires a significant leap in cost. Without missing a beat, the waitress immediately suggests a suitable alternative but it’s nearly double the cost! No surprise there. But wait! She offers the higher-priced bottle for the same cost as the bottle we originally requested. Wow! Later, we ask the waitress if she is an owner of the restaurant since that’s not a switch waitstaff can generally make and we are surprised that she is not. Clearly, the culture at this establishment is to please patrons and staff is empowered to do so.

In IPI’s Parking Matters® program, where we are working to advance the parking profession by improving perceptions of parking, we talk about how this industry has evolved in terms of technology, a focus on sustainability, being integral to planning better communities, and also in terms of being a service industry. And in service industries, customer service is paramount.

Framed on the wall in the exam room at my local veterinarian’s offices is an adaptation of a classic customer service creed, often attributed to L.L. Bean, but probably tracing further back in various iterations:

LLBeanCustomers are the most important persons to this company.
Customers are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them.
Customers are not an interruption of our work, they are the purpose of it.
We are not doing a favor by serving customers.
Customers are doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.

It always makes me feel good to read that. And I encourage companies to make these principles part of their culture. Often new customers are treated royally and existing customers are taken for granted. I was so delighted to receive a simple, one-page letter from a vendor recently that included a 20 percent off code for my next order and thanking me for being such a steady customer.

An internet search for “empowering customer service representatives” is a good starting point for those who want more ideas and guidance on this topic.

Life Between Buildings

L. Dennis Burns

I have been doing my homework in preparation for the upcoming IPI Conference in Las Vegas.  Josh Kavanagh, CAPP, and I are developing a presentation exploring the unique opportunities those of us in the parking and transportation industries have to leverage opportunities inherent in owning our customer’s first and last impression of our communities. Our presentation will explore how we can leverage these opportunities to create competitive advantage for the communities we serve. Mayblog

For my part, I have embarked on a bit of a literary review of several interesting books that are either directly or at least tangentially related to this area.  One of these tangentially related books is a classic planning book originally published in the 1970s, Life Between Buildings, by the venerable planner Jan Gehl.

This fascinating book explores the importance of creating high-quality public spaces as our urban environments continue to densify and evolve.  Gehl focuses on the basics of human interaction and the need for contact between people.  He then shows how planning and design can dramatically affect the nature and character of public spaces and communities as a whole.  He begins to knit together planning concepts such as social structure, physical structure, transition zones, etc., and links them to fascinating discussions about senses and communications related to dimensional space and how we interact with those spaces.

At a PIPTA conference held in Tacoma, Wash., a few years ago, we  had the opportunity to hear a colleague of Mr. Gehl’s, Helle Soholt (who happened to be visiting Seattle at the time), speak on “Mobility-Oriented Design.”  This interesting presentation discussed the need to move beyond merely planning for transport and safety and toward creating spaces that promote quality of life in multiple dimensions by putting people at the center of the planning process.

It never fails to amaze me how parking connects to so many varied and interesting dimensions of related disciplines such as planning, economic development, and even (or perhaps especially) the social sciences.  Keeping our focus on people-centric planning and operations is an important key to success in all our varied endeavors.