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About Casey Jones, CAPP

Casey Jones, CAPP is vice president of institutional services at SP Plus. He is IPI’s immediate past chair and serves on the IPI Advisory Council, IPI Scholars/Fellows Task Force, and the Professional Development Task Force.

Why Are Manhole Covers Round?

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Why are manhole covers round? This question and many others make a list of the 100 most ridiculous job interview questions ever. Here are a few of my other favorites:

  • If you were a box of cereal what would you be and why?
  • Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?
  • If there were a movie produced about your life, who would play you, and why?

A quick Google search reveals many such lists offering hundreds of equally ridiculous interview questions from all kinds of companies, not just the quirky ones that seem to thrive on being viewed as weird.

I stumbled onto these lists after a friend let me know that she was preparing for a job interview and asked for help. My first instinct was to find some questions she might be asked and help her prepare the best answers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that cramming for the interview by anticipating questions was not the best way to prepare.

The most important question to answer is whether we really want the job at all. This may seem like an altogether too obvious first step but to answer this question, one must do some soul searching and understand the job inside and out. There’s a big difference between running away from a job and running to one, and we should know in our hearts that we really want the job. Being desperate to leave a position clouds our objectivity and judgment and may create blind spots regarding a prospective employer. Worse yet, we might say things we don’t mean or embellish on our experience, creating expectations we may not be able to meet.

We should also seek to understand the value system of the people we’ll be working for and with and whether our values and theirs are compatible. This means doing our homework about the team we might be joining and preparing before the interview so we can have ready pertinent questions that will shed light on what environment we’ll be walking into.

It’s also critical to ask ourselves if the job we are seeking is one we are only willing to lease or one we want to own. Leasing suggests that we view our job as temporary while owning our career conveys an entirely different level of commitment. And if our prospective job is one we only see ourselves keeping for a few years while looking for another, better position, we should probably be looking elsewhere.

Once we’ve answered these fundamental questions, it’s time to turn our attention to what we bring to the new job. We need to be prepared to answer how we are uniquely qualified for the position and have facts to back this claim. We should objectively demonstrate how we’ve produced results, whether in overcoming challenges, creating positive outcomes, or leading innovation that has helped reach broad company or organizational goals.

The pursuit of a new career, position, or promotion requires intense circumspection, self-awareness, and preparation. No quirky quiz will ensure that you and your new job are a great fit.

Incidentally and maybe obvious to most is that manhole covers are round instead of square because a round cover won’t fall through the hole. Oh, and I’m picking Batman over Spiderman but please don’t ask why.

4 Stars + 2 Dollar Signs + 3 Comments = Success

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Many of us are at the peak of conference season. Though it makes for a packed calendar, I love this time of year because I get to reconnect with friends and colleagues and build new relationships. I’m also a bit of a foodie and traveling gives me a chance to try lots of different restaurants. Conferences, friends, and food make a great combination.

Like many of you, when I go to an unfamiliar city I rely heavily on my trusty Yelp app to pick a place to eat. My strategy is to find a restaurant that has lots of reviews and at least 4 out of 5 stars. If I’m watching my budget I look at the number of dollar signs, which is an indication of how pricey my meal will be. I also dig into at least a few of the reviews to get a good sense of what to expect. This method relies on quantitative and qualitative data to inform my restaurant choice. I don’t rely on one thing, but many to decide.

In some ways, deciding if a conference has been a success is a lot like picking a good restaurant. We use many metrics, not just one. One thing that is relatively common at conferences, especially for exhibitors, is to fixate on foot traffic. It’s certainly true that having people on the show floor interacting with vendors, suppliers, and other business partners is important, but this ignores so much more that may go into building or maintaining a relationship with a client. It also suggests to me that the exhibitor who relies only on foot traffic may be missing many other opportunities to grow their business by participating in educational sessions or roundtable talk and, informally networking between sessions, at meals, or after the show floor is closed for the day. Simply put, we need to think much more broadly about what contributes to success than counting the number of people who come to our booth.

One vendor at IPI’s most recent conference in Las Vegas made this point clear to me. He said, the conference had been very successful for his company, but that “business isn’t conducted just on the show floor. It happens everywhere.”

Thankfully we now have tools like Yelp to guide us to great places to eat. These apps are reliable because they don’t just focus on one thing but many as predictors of success—a great meal in the case of choosing a restaurant. It’s time for us to expand this idea to our conferences where many things—not just one—contribute to a great show and productive business opportunities.

Have a great conference season and if you find exceptional restaurants along the way, be certain to write a review. I’ll be sure to read it.

Should There Be an App for That?

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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.

Poli Sci Do or Die

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In college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and spent a good bit of my early career in the public sector working for politicians. This inevitably involved campaigning and elections and since then, I’ve watched with great interest most local, state, and federal elections. My wife teases me on Election Night as I sit riveted to the TV, watching the results roll in.

I’m as eager now to learn who has been elected to the IPI Board of Directors. While the responsibility of voting falls to someone else in my organization, I did take keen interest in the slate of candidates, reading their statements and considering how they’d impact IPI. So much talent steps forward each IPI election cycle and the voters do a great job of advancing people well-suited to serve as board members. It takes courage, thought, and commitment to run, you must allow your experience to be scrutinized, and you have to accept the chance that you will not earn enough votes. I applaud everyone willing to throw their hat in the ring and encourage more to do so. Without a diverse group of quality candidates, the board of IPI cannot effectively fulfill its mission and foster the organization’s growth.

Another important election will occur once the new board is in place and that will be for two key IPI officer positions: the board chair-elect and the treasurer. With the chairman of the board and immediate past chair, these positions comprise the organization’s executive committee and are selected by the IPI board. As I see it, the executive committee’s role is to provide the central board leadership and interface with the IPI executive director to ensure that the organization stays on track, exploits new opportunities, and maximizes the impact of the entire board and volunteer committees. These duties are shared among the executive committee, so the composition of the committee and its chemistry matter greatly. The executive committee is often called upon to handle sensitive issues and consider matters prior to the full board’s deliberation. There must be a willingness among the committee to disagree, challenge one another and to offer new, creative thinking to the conversation. This group must be bold, visionary, thoughtful, selfless, and singularly focused on what is in IPI’s best interest.

Selecting the next chairman of the board and treasurer is of critical importance to IPI and I wish the candidates who will step forward all the best. Unfortunately for me, I’ll have to wait for the results to be revealed as CNN won’t be covering the deliberations on Election Day.


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jonesblog3In Swedish, 5:E NORDISKA PARKERINGSKONFERENSEN translates to the 5th Nordic Parking Conference. This gathering of just fewer than 500 attendees and 50 exhibitors from 17 different countries took place last week in beautiful Stockholm, Sweden, presented by the Swedish Parking Association, SvePark. Though the many languages spoken there are unique to our own, the topics and interest in continuing to make progress in our industry is universal. The theme of this conference is innovation and I delivered a presentation on the future of parking.

In looking to the future and what it will hold for our industry, I start with a look back. It’s important that we recognize while we’ve made progress, our parking public may not yet have forgotten about our old ways of doing things. It’s not been that long ago that the technology we offered was no more sophisticated than a metal box with slots cut in it for inserting cash, and we often built parking garages that were inhospitable to the patron and degraded external surroundings with poor design. Our singular focus seemed to be about parking cars, less so on serving the people and businesses relaying on access to our parking facilities, and seldom, if ever, did we acknowledge our part in protecting the environment and engaging the communities we serve. Thankfully things have changed.

Our future is indeed bright because: 1) we now view our role as a service industry; 2) we embrace and advance technology to improve customer service, operational efficiency, and revenue control; 3) we are active in contributing to economic, environmental, and social sustainability; and 4) we’ve broadened our focus to include all modes of travel, not just single-occupancy vehicles.

Jonesblog1It’s a good thing we’re open to new ways of thinking. In my talk I included four converging factors that our industry must be mindful of if we’re to continue making positive strides in the years to come. These include: 1) the continued urbanization of the world; 2) changing attitudes toward owning and driving private vehicles; 3) the decreasing cost of smartphone computing; and 4) the emergence of big data and increasingly sophisticated transportation algorithms that will help us facilitate more efficient use of transportation infrastructure, including parking resources.

jonesblog2After my talk, I realized that I’d forgotten one major key to our continued success: strengthening our global parking community. By sharing our experiences, both good and bad, we are able to learn, innovate, and celebrate our successes. This promotes the collaboration necessary for a vibrant, expanding, and critical industry in which to grow and succeed.

Tack (Swedish for thanks).

Parking Permit Fees: Cost vs. Price

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I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a parking advisory committee meeting at a major university. This committee, like most parking advisory groups at universities, is made up students, faculty, and staff, and is charged with making recommendations about parking and transportation to the vice president overseeing the parking department. I’ve observed three of their meetings this year and they seem reasonable enough—well-intended and pretty eager to make things better for their campus and themselves

The main topic this past meeting was next year’s permit fee increase. I was helping with the second agenda item so I got to sit back and observe the group’s discussion. My host, who oversees parking, warned me ahead of time that things would get heated as he had prepared two proposals: one that raised the parking permit rates by six percent, and the second by zero. The first, he argued, was needed to create new cash flow for debt service on the next garage they need to build (and the committee wholeheartedly supports), and the second if the garage is not built. I’m sure by now you can guess where the conversation was headed.

The committee wants the garage but doesn’t want want permit fees to go up to get it. Instead, the discussion focused on the how much salaries and tuition would increase in the coming year and that permit prices shouldn’t go up more than the anticipated increase in salaries. It’s certainly true that the fee for any good or service should not be beyond what the market will allow, but tying price to wages ignores the cost of providing that good or service.

At this point in the meeting, I raised my hand. I asked the group if they knew how much it costs to provide for the development, operation, and maintenance of their parking facilities on a per-space basis and attempted to make the point that this figure should be the starting point of any discussion about permit rates. When I was finished, all I saw were blank faces—so much so that I wondered if what I’d said was in English or some foreign language. I was politely thanked for my expertise and then the committee unanimously voted to raise permit rates no more than next year’s expected salary increase.

I can’t say how much groundwork the parking director did prior to this meeting, but I’m guessing that the committee would have been more equipped to make a sound decision based on the right things if they’d been educated along the way about the true costs of providing for parking on their campus. For now, I’m hoping everyone there gets a big raise.

Employee Retention: Task or Duty?

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A close friend of mine quit his job yesterday after three years of frustration, unhappiness, and anxiety. This was brought on by a culture of poor leadership and supervision, where his boss and others often took credit for his hard work. When he gave his notice, his boss could only say, “I feel like I failed you.” This was certainly true but his boss had also failed the organization by not beginning the retention effort of this highly capable employee on day one.

You see, my friend has the strongest work ethic of any person I know, he is a team player to the core, and he never really cared about his official job duties—he just did whatever needed to be done. The organization clearly recognized that it had under-appreciated and under-valued my friend but it was too late by the time he’d had enough. Indispensable is not a term you should use to refer to any employee but he was close. Contrast this to my own experience.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail invite from the person to whom I report. It was titled “Task Update,” which could have meant several things. I hadn’t dropped any balls or missed any assignments so I wasn’t altogether sure what we’d be talking about. Would my job be changing, was his changing, or could it be something else?

The time for the call came and after he asked about my family (which he always does) and if I was traveling too much (again, a standard question from him), he got down to the main purpose of the call. He asked me if there was anything I needed from him. This seemingly simple question speaks volumes about how he views his duty to our organization. His primary function is to make certain his reports have the tools they need to succeed and if there are barriers to accomplishing our mission. Despite the title of his calendar invite, taking care of his people isn’t a task to be put off—it’s central to our success.

My friend will start a new job in a few weeks and his new organization already appears to be the kind like mine, where employees feel appreciated and supported. Good employees will get away if they aren’t valued and appreciated, but caring and supportive supervision and leadership will ensure that quality employees remain a part of your organization’s success. Consider this before your best talent moves on.

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

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In the second “Saturday Night Live” mock Bush/Gore presidential debates of 2000, Governor Bush, played by Will Ferrell, was asked to sum up in one word the best argument for his candidacy. Ferrell replied, “strategery,” to satirize Bush’s penchant for mispronouncing words. President Bush (the real one) later used the term himself in what many believed to be a nod to the sketch; he meant thinking and acting strategically in consultation with one’s closest advisors, and he cemented the term in the lexicon of political activity and beyond.

As humorous as the SNL skit may have been, failing to act strategically can be far from a laughing matter, especially considering the way a university parking program is run. In the past several posts in this series, I’ve offered up improvements that include permit allocation systems, organizational alignment, and program management. Here, I’ll cover acting and thinking strategically—or strategery as 43 would call it.

Far too many universities function almost exclusively in a reactionary mode, bending and yielding to the most vociferous and hostile constituent or the one with the most clout. This often results in an exceptions-based approach to managing parking resources that breeds confusion, inequity, and turnover of the staff charged with managing such a system.

Alternatively, parking programs that invest in the development of a strategic plan and have long-standing and broad buy-in to the plan are more successful. Further, these plans must be operationalized by tying daily activities to strategic plans through job descriptions, work plans, and superior and active management and leadership. If each person in an organization knows why his or her job matters and for what purpose they work, positive and proactive outcomes will follow.

The very best parking strategic plans don’t look too far into the future. Ten years is about as far as one can reasonably look into the future with any amount of certainty. The farther out you look, the more abstract the future seems, which makes connecting the plan to what you do today very difficult. Superior parking strategic plans include a capital and organizational plan, financial plan, communications and marketing plan, and accommodation of multiple modes of travel (not just cars). Most importantly, strategic parking plans must be set in the context of shared values so that broad buy-in is achieved and maintained.

No matter what word we use, one key to improved management of university parking resources is through strategic action and having a well-crafted strategic plan can ensure that everyone’s needle is pointed in the right direction.

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

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Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. All too often, we continue with old practices while not being satisfied with the outcome or worse, we can’t bring ourselves to change something even though we know that there has to be a better way. In my last few posts, I’ve focused on topics that universities may consider if they’re not satisfied with the same old results: angry parking customers, financially-strapped parking departments, and too much parking demand and congestion. In the first post, I discussed permit allocation systems and in the second, centralization of parking and transportation functions. In this installment, I’ll take on the topic of organizational alignment.

Parking programs at most universities started in the public safety department because the main activity in the early days of campus parking management was issuing parking citations. Since then, parking has become more complex and demanding and now requires unique expertise and an overarching focus on service delivery and a business-like mentality. No longer are parking programs maintained—they are managed with great care, effort, and singular focus. And as parking programs have grown and evolved, so too have the demands placed on university public safety officials. To burden public safety departments with parking duties while security responsibilities grow seems counterproductive.

Affinities require a close working relationship between public safety and parking departments especially with regard to emergency management and special event operations. But direct oversight of parking by public safety is no longer considered a best practice; this is said with the greatest respect for university chiefs of police and public safety directors. Instead, aligning parking under finance and administration or student services produces better customer service and promotes financial stability. Though most universities are moving away from a public safety alignment, a few outliers are considering moving parking under public safety likely out of a need to shore up their security budgets using parking revenue. But if universities wish to improve their parking programs, public safety budget challenges must be solved elsewhere and an organizational alignment should be chosen for parking that promotes customer service and a strategic business approach.

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.

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

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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.

The Three Hardest Words to Say

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What do you suppose are the three hardest words to say? You might guess, “I love you,” if you’re in a relationship but unsure if it’s the one, or it may be, “I just can’t,” if you’re perpetually volunteering. Some might even offer, “I am sorry,” which is one I’m often not the first to say. These are good choices, but what about, “I don’t know”?

I recently subscribed to the Freakonomics podcast by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of the popular book by the same name. Levitt and Dubner suggest that admitting you don’t know something is about the hardest thing we, as adults, can admit. We are trained from childhood to offer a fabrication, lie, or untruth when we don’t know the answer to a particular question. Why is this so?

Not knowing something is often seen as a weakness. Information is power and when we admit we don’t know something, perhaps we are admitting we are inferior to someone who is better informed. We may feel our job is at risk, fear losing a sale or a client, or worse yet, form a poor self-image and lack confidence if we don’t know enough.

Like many of the ideas in their book, Levitt and Dubner offer a different way of thinking. Instead of making something up to protect our job, sale or image, how about we freely admit when we don’t know something and commit to finding out?

In the parking industry in particular, integrity and honesty are by far the most important characteristics we must possess. Our clients, customers, and business partners rely on us being truthful whether we’re a public institution, publicly traded, or privately held altogether. Without trust, we simply cannot build lasting relationships, honor our commitments, or care for resources that belong to someone else.

We must to be careful to only use, “I don’t know,” to a question whose answer we really shouldn’t be expected to know, and take responsibility to master our job or duties so we possess the knowledge and skill we need in our area of responsibility. Admitting ignorance and simultaneously having a desire to find out the answer shows integrity and a passion to learn and be resourceful. How about we turn the three hardest words into the seven easiest: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Oh, and make sure you do find out.

Demand-Based Parking for Universities: From the Municipal Playbook

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Many universities struggle to meet parking demand as they grow in size and enrollment. A technique that is commonly used in municipal parking is to base parking on demand and set prices in a manner that provides price and convenience choice. Sometimes referred to as demand-based or tiered parking pricing, this market-informed strategy can help universities and community colleges achieve financial and sustainability goals while maximizing the amount of people accessing campuses each day. There are nuances and variations on the theme based on the special needs of specific campuses, but in essence, the approach allocates parking prices based on demonstrated demand. Facilities with the highest demonstrated demand have the highest value and therefore the highest cost, and those with relatively low demand command a lower price.

A significant benefit of tiered parking is that it offers parkers price and convenience choice–something we all appreciate as consumers. Demand-based parking can encourage commuters to use alternatives to driving by assigning a meaningful cost to different parking options. Additionally, the approach can help redistribute parking demand. A less convenient parking lot may become more desirable if its cost is lower than one with higher demand.

Moving from less sophisticated systems to a demand-based approach can be met with resistance from the campus community if it isn’t implemented in a thoughtful way. Ask yourself:

  1. Does the institution have the political will to make a significant change in your parking program? If university leadership won’t see the process to fruition, it may not be time for you to pursue something this weighty.
  2. Do you know parking occupancy by facility and by day of week/hour of day? To begin dividing up lots into different pricing groups, you must understand current and anticipated occupancy levels inside and out.
  3. What’s happening and likely to happen just outside of campus with demand-based parking? If neighborhoods adjacent to your campus have no parking management strategies in place, it is likely that any major changes on campus will simply displace parking into the neighborhoods on your borders, potentially causing town/gown problems.
  4. Do you offer good alternatives to driving? When you change how permits are allocated, you’ll cause some parkers to rethink how they reach campus. There may be great resistance if you don’t have viable alternatives, such as transit, carpool, and biking.

There are many details to work out when implementing demand-based parking, but more universities will need to consider this approach as they grow and exceed the capabilities of old permit allocation systems. Those that make the move will improve customer satisfaction, and they will enjoy more financially secure parking programs that are more efficiently used while helping their campuses meet sustainability goals.

The Portland Aerial Tram: A Great View Near and Far

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Even to Portland, Ore., natives, the view from the top of the Portland Aerial Tram’s upper terminal on a sunny day is stunning. To the right is majestic Mt. Hood standing at 11,250 feet. To the left you can see the cratered Mt. St. Helens (recall the 1980 eruption), and to the far left is Portland’s thriving downtown. In the foreground are the Willamette Rivers’ many bridges crisscrossing the river separating Portland’s east and west sides. The view at the bottom terminal is perhaps even more remarkable, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Photos courtesy of Portland Aerial Tram,

Photos courtesy of Portland Aerial Tram,

The $57 million tram was built because Marquam Hill, where most of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus sits, is landlocked and accessible only by two 2-lane roads. OHSU is Portland’s largest employer and medical destination. To accommodate nearly 20,000 visitors to campus each day and allow OHSU to grow, creative thinking and a huge transportation investment were needed.

The tram’s two cabins–named Jean and Walt–each carry 79 passengers 3,300 linear feet at 22 miles per hour from OHSU down 500 feet to Portland’s South Waterfront; 980 people per hour in each direction make the trip. As spectacular as the view is at the top, an equally impressive sight comes into focus as the tram car crests the mid-span support and tilts back like a gentle roller coaster ride on the way to the bottom. What comes into focus may be the most multi-modal spot in the U.S. if not the world.

The lower terminal is served not only by tram but by streetcar, bus, and shuttle. There are also extensive bicycle facilities for renting and parking bicycles (free valet) and yes, there is also a bit of car parking. What’s more, the tram has promoted considerable development in the area where many people now live, and walking is a key travel mode supported by the facility. Light rail will soon be added with the completion of a new bridge nearby that will carry light rail trains, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians and, in the future, streetcars (sorry, no private cars).

Most universities and hospitals may not have the same constraints as OSHU, but that university’s results offer a best-in-class approach to promoting all travel modes that is paying off for the hospital and community alike. What’s more, the tram is a tourist destination and people pay the fare to see one of Oregon’s most magnificent views both from afar and up close.

The Brain Surgeon on Your Team

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My consulting focus these days is on operational best practices for university parking and transportation departments. This differs from strategic planning in that the emphasis is placed on evaluating daily operations and making recommendations that improve operational efficiencies and program effectiveness. When I’m working with clients, we focus on the use of technology, enforcement climate, revenues and expenses, parking allocation systems, permit distribution, and organizational structure. I’ve discovered a common trend in organizational structure that often distinguishes aspiring programs from those that consistently perform at a high level.

There are countless ways to structure a parking and transportation department. Some programs are aligned along an inside-outside model in which office activities are managed by one leader and while someone else manages field work. Some programs separate parking and transportation or alternatives to driving, while others align all program groups under one director. None of these are necessarily bad, but the best programs include key skill sets; those that don’t have them are challenged to make real progress. Two areas I advise my clients to add if they don’t already have them are information technology (IT) and transportation demand management (TDM). Changes in the use of technology and our growing need to offer alternatives to driving make the addition of these specialties a necessity.

Comparing professionals experienced in the use of parking technology or moving people from single-occupancy vehicles to alternative forms of transportation with industry generalists is like pitting brain or orthopedic surgeons against general-practice physicians. We need leaders with broad experience to be sure, but the demands placed on our IT systems and the skills required to effectively promote van pool, rideshare, and transit use require program specialists.

One needs to look no further than to programs such as those at the University of Washington, Texas A&M, or Colorado State University to see what’s possible with the right team of skills and experience. It hasn’t been by luck alone that these programs have flourished. Instead, leaders there have built their programs around highly skilled specialists in areas of strategic importance.

Great Customer Service. Really.

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Like all of you, I appreciate good customer service. It often drives my purchase decisions–and loyalty–far beyond any price consideration. This is especially true with the service businesses I engage, and that’s why I was pleased the first time I took my car to a nearby dealership. After finishing up the repair, they washed my car and returned it nice and clean. They have continued to do this every time I take my car there, whether it’s for a big job or something small like an oil change. I understand that the cost of this service is included in my bill but I don’t mind. It’s a small thing that, in addition to offering what I think is a fair price for quality service, keeps me coming back. That’s why my last trip was especially disappointing.

We had a repair done a few months ago and it turns out that the mechanics misdiagnosed the problem and replaced the wrong part. We brought it back a short time later, explained that the problem was still there, and deduced that the wrong thing had been replaced. After a little back and forth they agreed to replace the part free of charge. I considered that option the only reasonable solution, and was slightly put off by their initial suggestion that we pay for the second repair without any credit for the first. Sure, they offered to knock 15 percent off, but I wasn’t having anything of it. Later in the day they called to say the job was done and I was free to pick up my car … my dirty car. Apparently the “free” carwash is only provided when I open my wallet for something else first.

A company’s commitment to customer service must be complete and genuine. It can’t just happen when money is exchanged and it certainly can’t take place only when things go well. In fact, the time to double down on exceptional customer service is when things haven’t gone all that well. A company distinguishes itself from its competitors and shows its core values in the face of mistakes. You’re either completely about customer service or you aren’t, and customers will quickly figure out which is true and either give you their loyalty or take their dollars elsewhere.




Branding: The Real Deal or Fancy Packaging?

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My kids received Kindle tablets for Christmas. Santa thought the devices might lead to more reading but so far, the kids have been trying
SPLogosout game after game (thankfully, only free ones so far). One game they like has you guess the name of a company from a partial image of its logo. That got me thinking about what makes a brand strong and recognizable even if a consumer never buys the product or service behind the logo.

I got my first lesson in effective parking branding in Portland, Ore., in the early ‘90s, when the Smart Park brand was created for the city’s public parking system. The brand was clean, bold, and simple, and accompanied by spokesperson Les Park, who was at your service. Most importantly, the brand conveyed friendliness, safety, and economy–exactly the attributes to overcome negative perceptions about downtown parking as being impersonal, unsafe, and expensive.

More recently, my company, Standard Parking, began the process of rebranding itself following its merger with Central Parking. Please forgive the unintended company plug, but it’s rare to be in a position to describe what goes into developing a company brand. I’m sharing some details in the hope that readers find the information useful.

Standard Parking Corporation changed its corporate name to SP Plus Corporation (though for the time being the company will continue to conduct its parking operations under its legacy brands). The visual centerpiece of the rebranding effort is a new SP+ logo that is fresh, colorful, and bold. Its elements preserve a connection with the legacy brands (SP in recognition of Standard Parking and a “+” symbol in Central Parking’s legacy gold color). The “+” highlights that the company is about more than just parking, having evolved into a team of operations specialists who link innovation with market-based expertise in parking, transportation, facility maintenance, event logistics, and security services. The company’s new commitment statement, “Innovation In Operation,” signifies a promise to apply innovative thinking in everything the company does.

There’s much more to an effective brand than a fancy logo. In order for a brand to stick, it must convey and deliver on its value proposition. Otherwise, it’s just slick packaging and empty promises.


Not Teacher But Awakener

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I was recently talking with a few colleagues and the discussion turned to the topic of mentors. The question of who our mentors were and why was thrown out on the table and brought about an interesting conversation. You won’t be surprised that qualities such as “driven,” “tough but fair,” and “had your back” were used to describe the people who served as our coaches, advisers, and guides. Ours were also experts in their professions, successful, and fiercely loyal to those invited under their wings.

As each person shared their stories, I couldn’t help but think how lucky one is to have a mentor and how important it is to one’s growth, maturation, and success. No one in our group picked anyone without integrity and character, or anyone who didn’t see being a mentor as an important role. Under the guidance of our mentors, we each awoke to our own potential and learned firsthand what qualities go into being successful in any pursuit.

I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors. One who comes to mind was a guy I  met in the military and served with in the Iraq war. He taught me how to look after people, was one of the most technically proficient people I have ever met, and there wasn’t a challenge he couldn’t overcome.

What about you? Have you thought about your mentor lately? What characteristics stand out about your mentor? Are you a mentor? And finally, have you thanked your mentor lately?

Open Dialogue on TDM

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Planners, transit professionals, developers, and transportation demand management (TDM) experts have been on our list of people to reach out to and build partnerships with for the last several years. We know our industry’s work influences these perspectives and vice versa, and we’ve had success in attracting some of these folks to our events and inviting them to contribute to our publications.

I just returned from the Heartland Active Transportation Summit (HATS) held in Omaha, Neb. The theme was Parking for Livable Communities, and planner Jeff Speck and I delivered key note addresses to a crowd of about 250. Jeff spoke about what makes cities walkable, including how parking can contribute or not (see his new book and our interview with him in the September issue of The Parking Professional). I spoke about sustainability in parking and ways we can take lessons from other industries to illuminate our path forward.

What sets HATS apart and why the meeting was special is that the conference was not organized by the usual suspects–and by that, I mean us! This conference was organized and attended mostly by people who are not from the parking industry. Planners, transit professionals, and TDM experts put on the conference and seem to get by without our prodding to work together to address transportation, livability, and sustainability issues.

During one Q&A session, a comparison was made between Wichita and Omaha, and I gather that Wichita is outdoing Omaha in some regard. One member of the audience challenged the rest of the group by saying, “If Wichita can do it, so can we.” To that I say, if the planners, transit gurus, and TDM pros in the heartland can invite a meaningful and important dialogue with the parking profession, so too can everyone else.

Johnny or Rudy: An Easy Coaching Decision

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My son plays on the lightweight football team for his junior high school. He’s light even for that team. He doesn’t have blazing speed, or Football Pic 2the surest hands, or a cannon for an arm, and he doesn’t yet deliver bone-crushing hits.  But he does have one thing that I’d take over all other attributes: he’s got the right attitude.

The other night was their first game of the season and I couldn’t have been more proud of him. Though he was on the sideline more than on the field, he focused his energy on pumping up his teammates. He handed out high-fives, cheered on the Hornets, and when he got in, he hustled to the ball and even managed to pick off the opposing quarterback.

There are many job openings at this very moment in our industry; many can be found on IPI’s website.  All of these postings include a long list of skills required for the particular job. This is to be expected, but I believe firmly in the old adage that says, “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” I’ve made good hiring decisions throughout my career by focusing on attitude and less on skill. Often, I have hired a candidate who has nominal parking experience compared to other applicants.

At the very least, hiring decisions should be made based on equal amounts of skill and attitude. This will ensure that you’ve got the best, most capable people on your team.

If my son keeps playing football, he’ll gain the necessary skills to contribute even more on the field. Until then I’m grateful he’s carrying himself like a true champion.

My Worst Nightmare: The Parking Death Spiral

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This term “death spiral” conjures up images of nothing good in my mind. As a kid, I had a frequent nightmare about jumping off the bridge of a huge ship and spiraling downward without being able to stop my free-fall. Luckily, I’d always wake before hitting the water, where I’d certainly perish.

In a real death spiral, the thing spiraling (organization, state, business, or person) continues a downward progression that only accelerates as conditions worsen. Mounting inertia grows, making revival nearly impossible.

I recently returned from the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) annual University Summit, which brought together 60 transportation demand management (TDM) and parking professionals to talk about university parking and transportation. Some of the schools most successful in advancing the use of alternatives to driving were there, including Stanford, the University of Washington, Arizona State, and the University of Colorado. The topic of the death spiral was prominent at this conference and worthy of further consideration.

Most higher education parking departments are self-supporting auxiliaries. This means that no outside resources are provided, and programs and services are funded through parking fees and fines. Alternative transportation programs have become increasingly important to universities in reducing driving, furthering sustainability goals, and enhancing the pedestrian environment.

There is, from our perspective, a downside. As more people find alternative ways to reach campus, (bike, bus, carpool, walk) revenue streams and expenses are affected. The more successful an institution is in shifting people away from single-occupancy cars, the fewer parkers there are to fund the entire parking and transportation program. This creates a spiraling effect that can result in financial instability.

Some might argue that the obvious response is to abandon alternative transportation altogether. While I’d disagree wholeheartedly with that approach, I do believe that the traditional funding model for higher education parking and transportation may be incompatible with alternative transportation goals. A new model is needed. The strategic partnership between IPI and ACT offers the best chance of coming up with a new model to help us all avoid a TDM and parking nightmare.

Inspired Leadership on EV

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Supporting EVs is a matter of national security for Indianapolis Mayor Ballard

President’s Day is a day of celebration in honor of our nation’s leaders. Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Lincoln, and Kennedy are among those on my list of most admired presidents, but JFK tops the list for his inspired leadership.

President John F. Kennedy, addressing a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, established the national goal of reaching the moon by the end of that decade. His moonshot inspired our nation to achieve what seemed like a near-impossible dream at the time. Today, we all know Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the lunar module’s ladder and onto the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. Without the president’s leadership, vision, and action, we may never have achieved that milestone.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his own “moonshot” last week: to make his city a national leader in promoting the use of electric vehicles (EVs) over the next several years. He envisions adding something along the order of 10,000 EV charging spaces to the city’s parking facilities in less than a decade. It’s an ambitious goal, and the mayor’s leadership on the topic is to be admired.

The EV push is getting support from another mayor.

Late last month at the Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge, I had the privilege of meeting Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. Mayor Ballard has implemented aggressive and innovative efforts to move most of his city’s fleet of vehicles to electric power (heavy-duty vehicles will be powered by compressed natural gas), and hopes to replace its 3,100 gas-powered cars and trucks with EVs by 2025. Contrary to what you might expect, Mayor Ballard is not a left-wing tree hugger: he is a Republican and a Marine Corps veteran of the first Gulf War. He explained that moving aggressively on electric vehicles is motivated by his desire to never send troops to foreign lands to fight for oil, and to allow his city to reap important and significant cost savings. For him, EVs are about national security, both military and financial.

To be sure, Bloomberg and Ballard come from very different ideological places. Each, however, is exhibiting leadership on the sustainability front which is having tremendous impact on the parking industry.



IPI Part of DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge

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U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu explains the Workplace Charging Challenge
at the Washington Auto Show

IPI has worked tirelessly to earn parking a seat at the table and the fruits of those labors were very evident yesterday, when I had the opportunity to represent the industry at the Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge Roundtable.  This event, which assembled leaders from major automakers, telecommunications, high-tech, and energy companies, is part of a broad and aggressive effort to expand the number of plug-in electric (PEV) cars in use across America and make them an affordable, reliable, and convenient alternative to fossil-fueled vehicles.  In a word, the goal of this program is to finally “mainstream” PEVs in an effort to address environmental and economic sustainability concerns. The ubiquity of charging stations at places of employment is viewed as an important step toward increasing the likelihood that consumers will feel comfortable investing in an EV.

As a Workplace Charging Challenge program Founding Ambassador, IPI has committed to lead an effort that will encourage the installation of charging stations in parking facilities that serve places of work.  We will do this by capitalizing on our vast and engaged membership, by leveraging the work already underway in our sustainability committee, and through established strategic partnerships with other organizations.

Announcing the Challenge yesterday, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu issued a challenge to employers to increase the number of chargers available to their employees tenfold in the next 10 years, saying that offering charging stations for workers increases their flexibility and is “incredibly useful.”

“The thrill of driving by a gasoline station and smiling is one everyone should experience,” he said.

The fact that IPI was invited to be part of this effort is a reflection of the influence and respect we’re earning as an association, and a signal that those outside of our industry are acknowledging that parking really does matter. And while being invited to take part in such a prestigious and important event is truly a mark of success, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Howard Skipper, a scientist working on a cure for leukemia  in the 1970s, once said this about the importance of taking action on critical problems even when all the answers aren’t known: ” We cannot afford to sit and wait for the promise of tomorrow so long as stepwise progress can be made with tools at hand today.” Skipper’s words ring true today on the topic of sustainability. To keep our seat at the table we must act with dispatch and do our part in this and other key efforts.

Read IPI’ s news release here and the Department of Energy’s  news release here.



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A tradition I thoroughly enjoy is putting together my list of resolutions for the coming year. It’s pretty standard for me to include such aspirations as, “work out more,” and “eat less junk food,” but this year I thought I’d turn to many of my colleagues on the IPI Board of Directors for inspiration in hopes of not giving up a week into 2013. I looked back at each of the Entrance columns written in The Parking Professional magazine in 2012 to pull together my list. This year I resolve to…:

  1. Be innovative. In February, Chuck Reedstrom, CAPP, wrote about the ever-changing nature of technology in our industry and the need to stay up on the latest innovations.
  2. Keep learning. In April, Cindy Campbell discussed how important it is to continue to develop professionally and for leaders to help their teams do the same.
  3. Serve others. Rick Decker, CAPP, reminded us in the June edition that ours is a service industry and that we can and should expand the products and services we offer our customers.
  4. Think and act strategically. Following lessons learned in his extensive military career, Al Corry, CAPP, in August discussed how critical it is to have a big picture game plan and to execute that plan.
  5.  Have fun. In perhaps my favorite Entrance column of the year, Mike Swartz in November sagely reminded us to find fun in our work and in life.
  6. Be open-minded. In the December edition, Michael Klein, CAPP, pointed out that one can believe in free enterprise and also in protecting the environment.
  7. Be thankful. While this resolution doesn’t come directly from a board member’s column, each person I’ve had the chance to serve with at IPI reminds me of how special our family really is and how lucky I am to be a part of such a great effort.

Good luck writing your own New Year’s resolutions and thank you for your part in making IPI and our industry a success this past year. Here’s to a happy, healthy, prosperous 2013. Onward.

Parking Gets a Spot at the White House

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President Obama has just announced his intent to nominate of IPI Board Member Tim Haahs, P.E., AIA, president and CEO of Timothy Haahs and Associates, to the Board of Directors of the National Institute of Building Sciences. That’s an important role and a significant honor. You can read the official White House release here. And more about the work of the National Institute for Building Sciences here.

What was one of Tim’s first reactions when IPI sent heartfelt congratulations? Tim said he will “make sure Parking Matters®!”

For those of you fortunate enough to have met Tim, you know this is well deserved. His visibility in this important post will reflect well on our entire profession and is fitting for such a visionary and capable expert. Tim is a longtime IPI Board member who contributes greatly to parking, transportation and community building. He is an engineer, architect, head of one of the industry’s best-regarded and most successful parking consultant firms, a prolific writer on the topic of parking and transportation, a community leader, pastor, and beloved colleague and mentor to many of us in the parking community.

You can read his bio here, but that doesn’t do justice to the effect Tim continues to have on our industry because of the unique spirit he brings to everything he does, and to his spiritual self that is ever present. All of us at IPI offer him our most sincere congratulations for this well-deserved achievement.