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Just Listen

Jeff Petry

The main parking line rings at my desk and I grab the calls when my co-worker, Heidi, is away. Our parking calls are the norm–where to purchase a parking permit, how to pay for a parking ticket, or inquiring whether a permit is available at an address in our residential permit program. Two of today’s phone calls, however, were cause for reflection and a reminder to just listen and enjoy every day:

  • Confused about jurisdictions: A resident called to complain about a vehicle stored on the street. We always lead with going to our website to report the stored vehicle to educate the public that this option is available any time and the information feeds directly into our officers’ smartphones to respond to the complaint. The resident was good with going online to fill out the information for stored vehicles. He had a second question, however, about a vehicle parked at the end of his cul de sac. My parking sensors immediately perked up, sensing that this may be a private road where the city does not have the authority to enforce the parking code. I checked the address in our geographic information system (GIS) database and sure enough, it was a private road; the development’s staff will have to address the issue.  Resident was not happy with this jurisdiction-shifting response but it was a private road. Since I was in the GIS database, I double checked the jurisdiction of the first complaint of a stored vehicle. Sure enough, the road segment was county managed and the city has no authority to enforce the parking code. Resident was not happy, again. The phone call concluded with a typical set of comments about government, jurisdictions, and overall confusion. This phone call has re-energized me to engage the county staff to see if an intergovernmental agreement can reached whereby the city can enforce storage/abandoned vehicle complaints on county property located within the City of Eugene’s boundaries in effort to better serve our community.
  • Survival Story: My second phone call was about 20 minutes long.  We enforce the storage on the street code on a complaint basis throughout the city. A woman had received our notice and needed to move her vehicle within 72 hours. She was upset that she was picked on because other vehicles on her street that don’t move were not issued the same warning. She asked why? Before I could respond, she began to elaborate: Her husband shot her in the head several years ago, she is trying to get by on disability, and her dog is being treated for cancer. Wow! After a big pause, I explained the program was complaint-based. She was satisfied with the response. I then noted that she was an inspiration and a survivor and I hoped she could enjoy the sunlight of this day. Listening to hear story and sharing my true admiration for her determination seemed to shift the conversation away from parking negativity to end on a truly positive note.

These two phone calls reaffirmed that parking can create a better community by removing confusion of government layers and that sometimes, it’s our job to just listen and provide positive affirmation of our individual community members.

Customer Disservice: A True Tale

Kim_Fernandez_March2015

Once upon a time, there was an insurance company that courted a family for its business. “We’re guided by values,” the company said. “We’re grounded in outstanding service, financial expertise, high morals, and genuine concern for your well-being.” The family was charmed and the two enjoyed a lovely relationship for several generations.

After a long and happy life, one of the family members passed away and his descendants contacted the company, which offered its deepest condolences and immediately processed all of the accounts except one. A family member reached out about that last issue and spoke with a very nice gentleman, who sent forms that were filled out according to his direction and submitted … and returned to the family three weeks later for a technical mistake.

Now, this technical problem ran contrary to what the man on the phone had said and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so a member of the family called again, was told the original form was the wrong one, and that a new form would come by mail. That form, sadly, never arrived, and so the family member called again.

And again.

And again.

Believe it or not, she called seven different times, spoke with seven different people, and got seven different answers as to what she should do about the policy-in-limbo; one of the answers was, “I don’t even know why they sent you to me—I don’t work in that department.” None of these answers had anything to do with a second form.

Finally, the family member lost her patience and called a higher-up at the company, who gave her yet another answer—this one involving jumping through several flaming hoops that no one else had mentioned. The family member voiced her frustration and suggested perhaps more training or a better manual was warranted in the service department, as eight different answers to eight different calls on one question seemed excessive.

“We don’t have a training problem,” huffed the director. So the family member shook her head, thanked the director for her time, hung up, and called back to speak with someone one step up the corporate ladder, who didn’t return calls for two days. That led to a call to someone just one rung beneath the very top of the company’s pyramid. That person was (finally) both authorized to take action on the initial problem (the ninth time being the charm, of course) and surprised her customer service people, through no fault of their own, couldn’t do their jobs. No one, she said, had ever reached out to tell her.

The moral of the story: Customer service training really matters. Are you sure yours is working?

Automated Customer Service

Frank L. Giles

The parking industry seems to be moving at the speed of light. That means fast everything, mobile everything, and automated everything! So what about customer service? What about the gentle greeting of a human cashier? Is it possible to get a top-notch customer service experience at a fully automated parking facility, or is there a tradeoff we must expect when ushering in this new age of hi-tech parking? I believe the former. I believe that the smart parking professional will be able to meet the customer with warmth and gratitude via our new futuristic doodads, but we may have to meet them before they get to the facility.

First of all, there is the obvious stuff. Make sure your customers can reach you. If the customer is paying for parking through a third party on their cell phone or just using their monthly access card to swipe through, it should never be a chore to contact management or get assistance whenever needed (yes, this means day or night). Even if they don’t need to contact you at the moment, it’s comforting to know they can, so contact info should be obvious on any platform.

Secondly give perks. A rewards program, coupons for local retailers, or simply offering safety tips or nuggets of wisdom that change daily, monthly, or by the season will create a connection with the parker The better the connection, the better the customer service.

Finally, respond quickly. When a parker needs to contact management or press that little call button, they are already distressed and as we know, each minute translates to an hour for someone waiting for an answer from parking. These are just some small things we can do so that even when our facility is space-aged, our customer service is still down to earth.

How do you offer top-notch customer service? Comment and let us know.

Holy Parking Challenges

Kathleen

Working for IPI and living in the suburbs of Philadelphia as the surrounding states and area brace for the September Papal visit has offered me an entirely different perspective on the parking and transportation planning necessary between now and then. All hotels in the tri-state area have been sold out for months. Rooms in regular homes are being rented out to accommodate the masses of humanity that will be pouring into the area. As a local to Philadelphia, I am curiously watching how the mass transit and parking challenges are being handled.

Photo credit: ©European Union 2014 - European Parliament.

Photo credit: ©European Union 2014 – European Parliament.

Our regional rail service has created an additional special announcement section to its website. Professionals there have marketed and announced the Papal visit day passes and the accompanying pricing for the Papal transit pass. These passes go on sale next week and are anticipated to sell out as fast as the 2015 Grateful Dead reunion concert. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has even created a new online ecommerce system that will launch when Papal passes sales begin. SEPTA has already announced regional rail station closings and which locations the trains will pick up and drop off passengers. This is in effort to accommodate travel demands and run express-type services. Just 18 regional rail stations will be in operation for the Papal visit. So this begs the question: Where will folks park? SEPTA is urging passengers to plan for a drop-off at or near the stations as crowds will be overwhelming and parking limited. Ridesharing and bike riding are means that are being promoted as to assist with the limited parking and seriously overwhelming crowds.

As much as I would like to see the Pope in person, my car will stay parked in my driveway and I will be watching the happenings and events of the Papal visit from the luxury of my home!

The Future of Parking and Urban Mobility: A UK Perspective

Christina Onesirosan Martinez

Earlier this year, The British Parking Association (BPA) decided to launch a special interest group to tackle an area that was rapidly gaining momentum: urban mobility. More specifically, the group was asked to look at where parking fits into this area, if anywhere at all!

Reporting to the BPA’s Operational Services Board, we are a small group with representation from commercial operators, municipalities, suppliers, and academia. It is proposed that we are more flexible than a special interest group and our group may even have a limited lifespan. As a result, lively discussions soon arise during our meetings! We meet on an ad-hoc basis with meetings called as required.

This somewhat non-traditional arrangement, we hope, will help us successfully achieve the group’s main objective: To provide a forum for a broad cross-section of members and interested parties to examine key issues surrounding the future of technology in relation to parking and the wider issues affecting the profession as a result of its use.

From our 1st meeting, one common message soon became our unofficial motto when discussing technology in relation to parking and urban mobility: one size does not fit all

Groups such as ours should be very clear when making recommendations on how technology can be integrated at various levels of an organization. The “one size does not fit all” approach should be made crystal clear. (Parking technology suppliers—are you listening?)

By creating useful documents such as a top-10 list of technologies being used with their associated pros and cons, our group aims to be the friendly face of technology.

Our draft terms of reference are clear:

  1. Inform members about trends and changes in new and emerging technology and innovations and advise on current government intentions with regard to the use of technology.
  2. Provide and deliver a platform for members and other stakeholders who are experimenting with new approaches in technology to share their experience openly and widely.
  3. Develop knowledge sharing and develop ideas and best practices in the field of technology, innovation and future parking trends.
  4. Inform and influence government about current and emerging technology, creating trust at both local and national levels.
  5. Identify collaboration opportunities with like-minded organizations, encouraging and fostering good working relationships between parking, traffic management, and urban planning sectors.
  6. Identify areas where change will take place and seek to stimulate debate and discussion and publicize the work of the BPA and its members.

If you, like me, are regularly asked the following questions, you will no doubt agree that this group will be kept busy:

  •  Does my parking lot really need an app for reservations? What type? Are there different types?
  • What is the role of parking in urban mobility and traffic management?
  • How will technology impact my current commercial models?
  • As mobility and technology changes and develops, do we need to re-envisage what the parking sector represents and re-focus on enabling mobility rather than being perceived to restrict/enforce?
  • What role does parking have in the smart cities and multi modal journeys/inter-connected journeys?

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)!