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About Wanda Brown

Wanda Brown is assistant manager for Parking & Transportation Services
at the University of California Davis Health System. She is a member of the
IPI Board of Directors and the IPI Advisory Council, and co-chairs the IPI
Membership Committee.

Cha-Ching—Chasing after Parking

Wanda Brown

Growing up in St. Mary Parish in Louisiana, I got a chance to see a number of great examples of hospitality toward your neighbor. There was always someone you could call to get a ride (free of charge of course) to go to a doctor’s appointment or to the grocery store or even to church. Little did we know that this hospitality would grow to the tune of a billion-dollar industry.

Already producing billions in revenue, commute options such as Uber ($4.9 billion) are already leading the way in replacing taxi services. After seeing how many new companies are following suit (Lyft, Blablacar, Hallo), it started me to thinking: The larger these options become, what types of shifts might we see in the parking industry? What will happen to the building of new structures and what effect will a reduction have on supporting industries? Could the next generation purchasing fewer cars and deciding not to obtain driver’s licenses be the next big step in a paradigm shift? Will there be less hardware purchases and more software? How will hardware differ from what it is today?

These are questions that came to mind after reviewing software applications such as ParkWhiz ($12m), SpotHero ($7.4 million), Pango ($6.5m), or Parking Panda ($4.7m), which are certainly making access to parking less stressful and establishing themselves as a viable support system to companies that include Uber and Lyft.

With the aging Boomers and the encroaching Millennials, it is almost certain that there will be great demand for such services far into the future—not to mention fewer on the road decreasing CO2 emissions. I heard this morning on the news that insurance companies have already begun providing coverage for these new innovative options, seeing clearly the handwriting on the wall.

What should we be doing then to capitalize on this new trend? Where do these innovative options take us as an industry? What new skills, knowledge, and abilities will be required for this change? Will it further change the way we teach and train our future parking professionals?

I don’t know about you, but I am hoping that as the aging process in my life continues, I can go back to a time in my life where my neighbor is still willing to pick me up (for a small fee, of course).

Welcome to the Sharing Nation

Wanda Brown

“OMG! What the heck?” That was all I could say after reading the Time magazine article, “Strangers Crashed my Car, Ate my Food and Wore My Jeans: Tales From the Sharing Economy,” by Joel Stein. Opening your private home to strangers for a $35 meal or renting your personal vehicle to someone you’ve never met before was more than I could grasp. How did such a seemingly dangerous act become so popular? Why is this new shift from acquisition to rental in such demand? After making a number of inquiries of individuals between the ages of 25 and 35, I discovered it was more about accessing services than owning them.

Services such as Airbnb, which provides rental of housing; Vinted, which provides clothing rental; and Uber which provides taxi services, are among the popular services in the sharing economy. As I continued to read the article, I noticed that there were apps that dealt with parking, too. Rental of driveways or parking in someone’s public parking spot were common ways I was quite familiar with, but the services that allowed a driver to reserve and pay for parking before he or she reached their destination truly opened my eyes to how this next generation of commuters were thinking. The ease of getting what you want when you want it was the catalyst for such demand. How creative it is and what out-of-the-box thinking to maximize the use of possessions and plug in the social connection with it. Wake up, Boomers!

Services provided by Uber and Lyft offered the convenience of taxi-like services and provide even greater ease in moving from point “A” to “B” without the stress of driving. These two options were invading the monopolies that cab drivers once enjoyed—sort of like what the Internet did to map sales or the encyclopedia industry.

The sharing economy is more about getting the most value out of what others own as well as enhancing the experience of using it. I conveyed this information to my daughter who I assumed would also find it absurd, only to find out that she was accessing such a service to take her to the airport the very next day. I spoke with one of my administrative staffers who also confirmed that it is more about the social and convenience aspect of what these services offer.

I must admit, that while these services would never persuade me to cease using my car, it is clear that there is a creative shift of social sharing that is pushing the envelope of how we look at the future of parking as an industry. I think it is sustainable and environmentally-friendly; it also offers key indicators as to what the future of parking will look like when the next generation of parking professionals takes over. I guess the old cliché, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” has been replaced with, “I will take the experience of your toys to a whole new level.”

Unique Hospital Challenges

Wanda Brown

The goal for every hospital parking entity is to increase patient satisfaction. An article that ran in the Cambridge Times last fall clearly described what hospital parking professionals dread the most in their parking operations: unreliable parking equipment.

The delicate balance of collecting revenue while meeting patient expectations is crucial to our business. Therefore, each time a patient or his or her family visits our hospital, they must walk away with the same experience, which includes convenient access to parking and easy pay on exit. Of the many challenges hospital parking professionals encounter, the most common complaints stem from unreliable equipment. Every time an employee has to open a machine to make adjustments means a patron delay and possibly a rate change. Unfortunately, staff are often unable to offer refunds on-site.

Issues that may hamper a visitor’s ability to deal with a life or death situation require a great deal of out-of-the-box thinking. Strategic partnerships with various medical units are required to increase operational efficiency and meet expectations for each visit.

As we look a head, it is critical that we continue to build close relationships with our vendor partners and look to fellow members of IPI as resources for continued and sustain improvements.

What has been your greatest challenge and how did you address it? Comment below.

Finding Lost Things

Wanda Brown

Recently, one of my shuttle drivers turned in a wallet that contained cash, credit cards, and a number of other personal items. I began trying to contact the owner to reunite him with his property. Every call reached a dead end until I found an insurance card with his member number on it. I contacted the company and left a message with my number for a return call.

It worked! The young man was thrilled to get his wallet back. And no wonder–he  explained that it had been lost for more than a year. We started laughing as I told him he must have had an angel watching over his lost wallet, because no one found it lodged in the seat of our shuttle in all that time.

This got me thinking about lost things that can be found. There are so many professions where lost skills are never realized again. With a persistent downward economy, downsizing, and re-structuring, some skills have been contracted out or simply lost in the shuffle of economic survival.

We are not seeing that trend in the parking industry. Not only have lost skills been revitalized, but they have been taken to new levels of precision. We feel a new excitement that convinces us we are becoming better, sharper, and greater than we have ever been before. This is demonstrated in our offerings to the industry, the excellence that is achieved in our competence, and the cutting-edge technology we use to make our communities run more efficiently.

I know I have had the opportunity to find lost things.  Skills I achieved in jobs past have seen a new light and been used at levels I never thought would be achieved. I guess you can say that the parking industry is not an industry where skills sit idling, but has a definite movement that takes them to new places.

What new places have you seen lately?

The Smartest People in the Room

Wanda Brown

In my recent opportunity to discuss the IPI association with Fox 40 News in Sacramento (see it here), the host asked, “Why did you choose parking as a career?” I could tell she did not have a clue about what we do, and without thinking, I immediately responded, “Because everything I’ve ever wanted to do in my career, I found in this profession.” It was true!

Some may think our profession is only about parking cars. I wanted to present her with a list of the experts we have in our membership who are CAPP graduates, many with master’s degrees, some with Ph.D’s, working in finance, management, engineering, urban planning, consulting, information systems, and architecture. She didn’t know about the massive layers of expertise required to operate in such a complex industry that not only manages public behavior, but is a direct link to essential services that are necessary for life.

We must understand local, state, and federal laws and how they apply to the people we serve and work for. We must also understand facility design, construction, and maintenance; sustainability; human resources; public relations; technology; finance and budgeting; and the list goes on and on. Maintaining compliance across a myriad of professional disciplines can only be achieved through an industry of well-prepared and disciplined professionals who operate ethically and efficiently. Our industry truly makes the world work, as these interconnected services produce the fiscal vibrance we all appreciate.

So, it is no wonder that Parking Matters® is a critical outreach. What other industry has professionals who are required to know so much? I think we are the smartest people in the room. We may be missing from some rooms, but the world is learning we are here and moving this profession forward.




I Want To Be Like Lebron James

Wanda Brown

If there ever was a great example of the benefits of biking, it was printed in a recent South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper story entitled, “Bike rides keep LeBron James in peak physical condition.” Basketball star James began with an occasional ride to practices but soon made the decision to bike in more often to morning shootarounds and games. There was a progressive decision to bike to events rather than drive his expensive car. Why would he choose such an unglamorous mode of transportation after having worked so hard to buy that car? The answer is durability. The added conditioning his body developed as a result of biking to practices and the games resulted in “logging 42 minutes in the most routine of games.”

I’m very interested in James’ decision to make the change from four wheels to two. Did the difference in his endurance prompt him to escalate his frequency of biking, or was it his increased performance? From my perspective as a parking professional, it’s important to understand the things that affect human behavior when implementing a sustainability program, especially in a health system environment. What makes a person choose biking over driving a luxury vehicle?

Many comments from those who participate in biking programs often say that biking results in clarity in critical thinking, increased energy to endure long work hours, and the ability to manage stress while maintaining a positive attitude. Like James has found, biking has some valuable outcomes that cannot be ignored. This is why our industry’s sustainability efforts are critical to the improved health of our parking professionals and our customers. What are you doing that helps you get through the day?

The Emotional Cost of Parking

Wanda Brown

I had the distinct privilege of hearing Dr. Richard Mouw from Fullerton Theological Seminary speak on civility recently. The topic of discussion was how to disagree with respect and reverence. He relayed an experience he had while visiting a local store: driving around the lot, he finally found that coveted parking place. He didn’t realize there was a woman who had been waiting for that very space. As he pulled in, he watched her drive around to another space and felt very badly about his oversight. To correct his obvious error, he approached her to apologize and explain how awful he felt. She responded, “Just leave me alone! You have no idea what kind of day I have had.” He still apologized, and she finally turned around and said, “Thank you for your apology”.

Hearing the story, my mind raced back to parking in a hospital setting. How many times do we hear that there is great emotion attached to one parking space. To the user, that spot is access to a loved one who is sick or dying, or the space you return to after surgery. It confirmed for me what I already knew: Parking is emotional. It is more emotional than financial.

It is no wonder that with the inclusion of a wayfinding system in our newest structure, our patient satisfaction scores went off the chart. Those little green lights softly say to the user, “I’ve been waiting for you,” versus older structures that said, “Find me if you can.” What can we do as parking professionals to meet the emotional cost associated with our parking spaces and ease the sting and frustration that comes with it?

The Academics of Parking

Wanda Brown

When I think about the competence required to manage a parking business, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite master’s program classes called, “The Master Leader.” This class taught me how we process the resolution of issues that impact the efficiency of our business.

There is a leadership issue known as cause and effect thinking. Most businesses spend a great deal of time solving the symptoms of problems rather than their root causes. As a result, the real problems are never resolved. Cause and effect thinking limits the leader’s ability to understand the depths and variations of a problem before jumping to a quick resolutions that could lead to underestimating the problem and a false sense of confidence that it has been satisfactorily resolved. This type of thinking is inadequate to meet the complex demands in the parking industry.

What then is the answer? Paradoxical thinking! Briefly, paradoxical thinking is critical thinking, but the kind that clarifies the goal, looks at assumptions, flushes out that which is not seen, analyzes evidence, establishes an action plan, and examines the conclusions.

A simple example would be motivating employees to do their work. When you encounter an employee who is just performing satisfactorily, what would be your natural process to understand the problem and find a solution?  Please comment below and let us know what valuable conclusions and action items have resulted when you just switched the way you thought.

Streamlining: Does Tightening Operations Have a Silver Lining?

Wanda Brown

Many companies are exploring lean business practices to increase customer value while eliminating unproductive waste in operational processes. Paying attention to continuous improvements in operation and adding value by developing employees adds value to any parking organization. In addition, continually assessing and resolving root problems helps with organizational learning and is a valuable tool to implement. I believe that lean practices should take center stage in our parking operations: they raise the bar on quality business practices and help develop competent employees who can sustain such practices in the future.

I am currently performing audits on each area of our parking organization (citation, front counter permit sales, revenue reconciliation, payroll deducted permit fee reconciliation, etc.). Because the overarching goal of my organization is to increase patient satisfaction through exceptional customer service, I am assessing manual processes and converting those that take time away from other things to technological downloads for easier execution. For example, the payroll deducted permit fee reconciliation process takes 90 percent of the staff’s daily time to accurately confirm more than $9,000 in permit fee receipts. A programmer is taking the information in our existing system and networking it with our payroll deducted system, confirming payment receipts via employee ID numbers. Why? This shakes out cases where there are no matches in information. Instead of a 200-page report, staff  will only have to look at a four- to six-page report. The extra time can be used to thoroughly investigate issues for patrons and provide that “Disney touch” to our customers.

The additional value is that this will free up staff time, which can also be a great employee motivator as daily stresses are reduced and time is provided for creative thinking. This process will continue until each functional area has been thoroughly analyzed for operational efficiency.

As you assess your business practices, what can you identify as waste that can be eliminated? What would the added value be as a result?


Rx for Hospital Parking: Raise the Bar

Wanda Brown

Accessibility to healthcare services is the biggest concern of hospital parking professionals. Getting patrons to their appointments without parking stress is crucial. While maximizing operational efficiency through technological improvements is essential, parking professionals must also consider the effects on their customers as they consider implementation of new products. They can find the answer by examining companies such as Disney and Starbucks.

Ideally, patients and their families will be greeted with a smiling parking ambassador who is well prepared to educate them on the use of new equipment and provide directions to their hospital campus destinations. Customers will know they are valued because ambassadors have been trained to make each visit memorable. They are trained to know their customers, make them the priority for that moment, listen to what customers say, and be a valuable resource in handling parking issues quickly and sufficiently.

Unlike university campuses, where most customers are young and techno-savvy, hospitals have to plan for everything and everyone. Hospital patrons mirror the greater public and in creating a culture of care, parking professionals must consider all of their individual needs during every visit.

From the parking garage to the clinic appointment or visit, the customer should have a pleasant experience. Hospital parking professionals help with just that through the installation of way-finding systems, establishing cashiering stations, offering manned exit booths, and acting as parking ambassadors whose ultimate goal is to assist with the learning process.

Creating such an environment raises the bar for excellence in the parking experience. The parking professional knows that it takes the integration of both the human and technology factor to accomplish this. Has your operation raised its own bar? Comment below and share your story.