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Can a Downtown Organization Manage Parking?

Dave Feehan

I recently had a couple of inquiries from colleagues asking me if I knew of any downtown organizations or business improvement districts (BIDs) that managed downtown parking. I was immediately reminded of a brief report I wrote in 2010 on the subject for a client, and was able to send her a copy of the report.

As I reviewed the 2010 report, a number of questions came to mind:

  • How many cities are now contracting with downtown organizations or BIDs to manage municipal or public parking?
  • Are other private or public entities contracting with downtown organizations or BID to manage parking that they own or control?
  • What advantages and disadvantages are there to this arrangement?
  • What results, both positive and negative, have these contracts or arrangements produced?

At the time I produced the report, I identified eight cities where downtown organizations were managing some or all of the municipal parking system: Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boise, Idaho; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.; Schenectady, N.Y.; and Tempe, Ariz. I haven’t checked with these cities lately, nor do I know how many other cities might currently have similar arrangements. What I do know is that all of these cities and the downtown organizations I contacted reported positive results. But there are also cautions that should be considered.

Briefly, the eight organizations reported:

  • They made significant changes in parking operations, rules, and regulations to make the systems more user-friendly, with varying degrees of success.
  • They were, in most cases, able to earn a management fee to support the downtown organization and pay for internal management personnel.
  • They developed and offered a host of innovative amenities that customers found appealing.
  • They mostly reported higher revenues as customers found the parking system friendlier and often cleaner, safer, and more attractive.
  • They were able to use parking as a more effective economic development tool.

Disadvantages included not having the deep-pocketed financial reserves that cities have, and finding it difficult to continue innovating once the initial changes were made.

It would seem that with the proliferation of robust downtown organizations and BIDs, more cities might consider this as an option. However, not every downtown organization is eager to take on what might be a headache if the system is poorly managed, and others may not feel this is their core business. City governments might also be reluctant to turn over a considerable asset to a group that they feel lacks parking management knowledge and experience. Nonetheless, it’s an option worth considering.

(Full disclosure: I was president of Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. when that organization pioneered this arrangement in 1990.)

Professional Development: You’ve Got Options

campbell crop Capture

Frequently, we think of professional development for ourselves and for our staff as an option or worse, a luxury. It’s something we do if and when there’s sufficient staffing, enough money in the training and travel budget, and of course, there can’t be a lot of work stacked up at the office. Oh sure, there’s the required training from Human Resources or the like, but too often, the purpose and benefits of professional development aren’t clearly understood by an organization. Sometimes it’s viewed as a reward for a job well done, or, alternately, a punishment for poor performance. Can it really be both? There are a number of methods available—many without cost—to develop ourselves as well as those individuals who work for us.

  1. Take a class. Attend a seminar, workshop, or a one-day training. Look for an online class that’s relevant to your job or your career goals. Take a big step and go back to school.
  2. Look for Mentors. Who has a career you’re interested in? Who has the position you aspire to? Talk to them about their career path. How did they get there? Most people are willing and even eager to help others achieve their professional goals. Find someone willing to help you.
  3. Network with peers. Take the time to meet and talk with others in your field. Getting to know your peers and better understand their knowledge and experience can be invaluable to your growth. Networking allows you the chance to learn from peers and mentors. Who do you know who may help you to not reinvent the wheel at every turn? Talk to a peer about the pros and cons of a particular business solution you’ve been considering. I guarantee you’ll discover that you’re not alone in dealing with specific technology upgrades or identifying different methods to accomplish the tasks you’re responsible for.
  4. Attend a conference. You may be visiting a lovely city, convention center, or hotel, but remember to make the program sessions the priority. Review the session descriptions being offered in advance. Attend the educational sessions. Spend time with vendors and consultants to learn about new products and services. Learn new skills and make new contacts. Even if you’ve attended for many years, there’s always something new to learn. Make a point of meeting at least one new colleague each time.
  5. Identify other learning resources and opportunities: Read a book, an article, a blog. Watch a TED talk. Join an industry listserv. Teach yourself a new skill.  The internet is full of tutorials on just about anything you want to learn about. Research a topic and present it to your team at work, no matter what level you serve within the organization. Share that “pearl of wisdom” you discovered in a book you read or a training you attended. Have a cup of coffee with someone you believe has something great to teach you about the work that you do, how to excel in your career, or even just how to be a better human.

Every one of us has something to teach and something to learn. As you consider your options, remember that professional development requires two things: internal motivation and taking that first step. It requires action on our part.

Cleveland Clinic CARES About Parking Symposium: Oct. 28-29

2015 symposium logo

We invite you to join us for the 3rd Annual Cleveland Clinic CARES About Parking Symposium,held in cooperation with the International Parking Institute (IPI) and Parking Solutions, Inc. This year’s event will take place October 28 and 29 at the InterContinental Hotel and Convention Center located on the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus in Cleveland, Ohio.2015 symposium logo

What began in 2013 as the award winning Cleveland Clinic Parking Services Team sharing its innovative CARES model (Customer Experience, Available Parking, Responsible Finance, Engaged Employees, Sustainable Business), has transformed into a highly interactive event where healthcare professionals from all over the world come together and network, initiate dynamic discussions, share best practices, and more.

This year’s theme is Driving ForwardUsing Technology, Data, and Best Practices to Improve Your Transportation and Parking Operations. Hospitals and parking organizations from all over the country will be attending and sharing their best practices and lessons learned related to this year’s theme.

Here are a few of this year’s highlights:

  • Keynote speaker: Gordon M. Snow, Cleveland Clinic Chief of Protective Services.
  • Guest speakers include representatives from:
    • IPI’s Technology Committee.
    • The Cleveland Clinic.
    • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
    • Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
    • Lehigh Valley Health Network.
    • Oregon Health & Science University.
    • More to be announced soon.
    • Topics will include Cyber Security Threats, Valet Successes, Valet Parking Technology, Transportation Management Planning, Commute Trip Reduction Laws, Alternative Modes of Transportation, Patient Experience, Shuttle Bus Conversion from Diesel Fuel to Natural Gas, Managing Employee Expectations, Ambassador Services, Shuttle Bus Technology, License Plate Recognition, and Inventory Management, and more!
      • The parking services team at the Cleveland Clinic Parking Services operates 44,000 spaces, 11 garages, 116 surface lots, 50,000 internal customers and 24 valet locations. They were awarded the 2013 Silver Award from the Partnership for Excellence (Malcom Baldridge State Level Program). This award is the nations highest honor for performance excellence through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. The mission of Cleveland Clinic Parking Services is to provide safe and convenient parking while constantly seeking innovations that enhance quality and service, operating fiscally responsible, and contributing to a healthy environment.

We are very excited about this year’s event and hope you can join us. Please visit to learn more and register for the event.

Contact me directly at or 614.453.1507 with any questions.


Guest Blogger Jeremy Robinson is marketing manager with Parking Solutions, Inc.

The Three Rs

Bonnie Watts


“Every human being has to feel a part of a tribe. It’s programmed into us. And you have to feel that you’re contributing to something.” – Steven Hatfill

I recently attended an education training event, not much different than IPI members attending an annual conference. The overall theme of this event was “Engaging Your Tribe and Unleashing Human Potential.” “Tribe” was defined in many ways depending on your environment and we all interact with many tribes on a daily basis; our family, friends, community, work, and professional life. Often these tribes collide or overlap and we don’t nurture some as much as others. I am surrounded by friends and colleagues who work hard and are continually trying to balance their careers and their personal lives, but often one is sacrificed for the other and the effects become disengagement and general frustration at not being enough to everyone.

More and more, we are all attached to a number of mobile devices because we can’t be disconnected for too long from the barrage of emails, messages, phone calls, and requests that come from any one of our tribes. Finding hotspots or a charging outlet is just as important as finding good parking (I know our parking professionals can relate to that!). The more we respond, the more the demand for response. It becomes a vicious cycle that can lead to burnout and exhaustion. Our tribes then begin to feel we’re less engaged or less enthusiastic and the once super-star employee isn’t performing quite the same or the family isn’t getting as much face time and ultimately, we feel less passionate about any one or all of those areas.

“Unleashing Human Potential” was intriguing to me. It explored the thought that perhaps events (much like the IPI Conference & Expo) can unleash human potential both professionally and personally. That was even more intriguing to me! So I sat on the edge of my seat to find out: How do you do that? The presenter suggested that people want to connect with others who have the same passions, interests, and struggles and that with positive emotional experiences, people take risks and get outside their comfort zones. Creating a vibe of caring enables growth and creativity and allows for the [employee, partner, colleague, child] to contribute to the fullest. I was frantically taking notes and as I sat there, I realized I had an “Ah-ha” moment. Aren’t those the best?

For myself and my various tribes, I could see how there was a need for re-igniting human potential. That perhaps we aren’t always operating at our best and contributing at our fullest because we individually had not taken the time to Rest, Recharge, and Reconnect with our passions. With the constant demands on our time from all directions, is it possible that we are not giving our undivided attention to the things we are most passionate about? And what would happen if we did? What if you put away the phone during your son’s baseball game or left the laptop at home when you went on vacation with the family or took a day off just to work on building a deck or gave your time at the homeless shelter? Maybe you have pet day at the office or bring your son/daughter to work or an office baseball outing or cookout to reconnect on a personal level?

I came back from this meeting with a whole new outlook. I feel refreshed, recharged, and refocused but most importantly, I’m reprioritizing! I’m encouraging it with others around me. I’m already feeling more creative and more connected to my tribes.

Group Listening


Research can really help guide decision-making. You may have done some formal or informal marketing research for your organization. Easy access to SurveyMonkey and other online surveying tools have made polls a snap, though I feel strongly that without the assist of a bona fide marketing research expert, questions can be poorly worded or worded to invite bias and result in useless or erroneous results (but that’s a post for another day).

Years ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was a client of mine when I worked for the Washington, D.C. advertising/public relations agency Henry J. Kaufman & Associates.Sullivan post graphic

My wonderful FTC client liaison, Nancy Sachs, and I became good friends during a stretch of years when we developed public service announcements to help educate consumers about everything from the FTC’s Funeral Rule to buying used cars. Before each campaign, we did marketing research that included conducting focus groups with eight to 12 people.

These two-hour sessions were carefully moderated by a professional marketing researcher and recorded. Focus group rooms are generally equipped with two-way mirrors so ad agency personnel can watch without becoming a distraction (with full disclosure, of course).

What great entertainment–and so enlightening– to hear people express their feelings on a topic that matters to you or your cause.

Here’s the point: Listening—not just reading results, but really listening–is very valuable when it comes to customers and others you want to reach or serve.

What made me think of this today? I am sitting at gate C in Terminal A at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. I’m at an eatery that features at each station an iPad with menu, a plug to charge my phone, and a credit card swipe. From this vantage point I can see my gate which is only about 40 feet away. There must be at least 60 of these stations in this central gate area and travelers are digging it! I charged my phone, ordered breakfast, watched CNN, swiped my credit card to pay, collected a receipt, and was on my way.

Someone did some really good thinking to develop this system and my guess is some good focus-grouping was part of it.

What would bringing together a group of your community, customers, tenants, patrons, students, faculty, staff, or other stakeholders do for your organization?

Mission, Vision, and Values

Mark D Napier

Most organizations have a mission statement. Why? Because that’s what we read in some management text. It might appear on a poster in the lobby or be included as part of an annual report. However, the employees do not see it or the value in embodying it and after the tedious nature of drafting it, administrators pay it little attention. A mission statement alone is practically worthless past the organizational window-dressing it provides.

Imagine your organization as a car on a road. Mission only tells the vehicle in which direction to point. Vision is the gas in the gas tank. Vision inspires. Every meaningful thing in human history has occurred as the result of vision, not mission. Values define the boundaries of the roadway. They serve as guideposts for how we move forward. They have to be real and exercised and must be alive in the organization, both internally and externally. We cannot expect our people to value our customers if we do not value our people.

The message here is simple: To have a high-functioning organization you have to possess mission, vision, and values. Of these, the one of the greatest importance is vision. It is also the one most often absent. Most organizations that are idling on the road are essentially going nowhere because their leadership has not put gas in the gas tank (vision).

Generating vision is hard work. It is work that cannot be done by memorandum, a cool poster on a wall, or by good intention. Leadership must get out from behind the desk and speak about vision frequently and passionately. Why do we exist? Why are we special? Why is what we do important? Where are we going? Inspired people can do amazing things.

Ensure you have all three elements to make your organization the best it can be. People will generally not act in a manner that is incongruent with their vision of themselves. Craft that vision and watch your organization excel.

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


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.

Death Number Five: What Can We Do?


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Ahead Of Local Parking Coverage


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

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

Unfortunately, when it comes to municipal parking plans and regulations, misunderstandings abound, but a proactive communications program can go a long way in helping educate stakeholders, including the media, so media coverage is balanced. Residents, business owners, and other stakeholders have opinions about how parking should be managed but they typically don’t understand what goes into parking planning and why planning decisions are made. Do parking tickets seem too expensive? There’s probably a planning rationale behind the rates. Do the hours of meter operations seem inconvenient or do parking time limits seem too short? There are planning reasons for these regulations too. The problem is, stakeholders often aren’t aware of why these decisions are made.

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

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

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

It’s not enough merely to communicate, however. Communications programs must be proactive rather than reactive. In addition to providing valuable information, communications programs should anticipate concerns and grievances and head them off before they become issues.

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

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


Three Cheers for Empowered Customer Service


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Between Buildings

L. Dennis Burns

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

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

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

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

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

In Search of Utopia

Brett Wood

I just wrapped up major evaluation and documentation efforts on one of the coolest (and most challenging) projects I’ve done in a while. The City of Aurora, Colo., which has a population of more than 325,000 east of Denver, is largely a suburban-based community with no real parking vision—just a collection of strip malls, big box stores, and other suburban development. There is a large medical campus, but outside of that area, the urban context just doesn’t exist in Aurora. However, RTD (the regional transit provider) is on the cusp of opening a light rail line that will include nine stations in Aurora and connect the community with Denver and the airport. To say that things are about to change in Aurora would be an understatement.

That’s where our client comes in. The City of Aurora had the foresight to say, “we could have a parking problem.” But instead of waiting to see how that played out, they decided to get in front of the train (so to speak) and make sure they were ready. So for the past six months, we have been developing a business plan and a parking program from the ground up.

At our kickoff meeting, we joked the city had the opportunity to create Parking Utopia, where they learned from all the lessons of the many communities that have braved this transition before. Before long, what was a funny line became a mantra for the project.

We set out to create parking utopia, which, in our minds, was based on these tenets:

  • The community, including the customer and the economic vitality of the community, is the most important aspect of the program
  • It’s about so much more than parking; the system should be a conduit for improving mobility, access, and growth within the community
  • Enforcement should be based on compliance and education rather than heavy-handed regulations
  • Technologies should be designed to be easy to use for both the customer and the manager
  • The staff should be ambassadors for the program, helping the community learn about how and why we manage parking
  • The community should be engaged throughout the life of the program, helping define the future by providing existing feedback
  • Decisions should be made based on real data from the community, ensuring that new program elements meet the needs of those they serve
  • Parking should be priced to manage demand and promote community needs, not generate revenue
  • If they make positive revenue, it should be reinvested into the community.

I don’t know if you noticed a theme there, but it was all about the community. Utopia didn’t mean gadgets and gizmos or progressive policies. Rather, it meant creating a parking program that worked for Aurora and positioned them for success. So, with all of that said, what’s your ideal parking utopia?

Are We Prepared?

Dave Feehan

A survey in the Washington Business Journal asked readers if they were canceling planned trips to Baltimore as a result of recent demonstrations and riots. More than 60 percent said they would and another 20 percent said that while they would not cancel a planned trip, they would be more cautious. Baltimore isn’t the only city that has seen demonstrations and unrest. In fact, any city or suburb that experiences an incident of questionable police behavior this summer is almost certain to see some form of demonstration or protest.

Combine these human-related incidents with other factors—for example, the nearly unbelievable increase in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, prospects of increasingly severe weather, and an apparent increase in sinkholes—and suddenly, parking managers and operators need to ask themselves a few questions: Do we have an emergency preparedness plan, how good is it, when was it updated, and are we financially prepared for what could happen?  The IPI Safety & Security committee is developing Emergency Preparedness Guidelines just for this purpose.  This new resource will be invaluable to your operation, and available for download this summer.

I worked with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District in downtown Washington D.C., a few years ago. I thought I had seen good emergency preparedness plans in other cities where I’ve worked, but this one was on a whole different plateau. Of course, the southern edge of this district has a unique architectural feature called the White House, so the Golden Triangle BID has to think about all kinds of terrorist threats as well. But anyone who thinks terrorism can’t strike in their town isn’t paying attention. Remember the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City?

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, I called a hasty joint meeting with International Downtown Association members and members of BOMA, the Building Owners and Managers Association. We arranged a conference call with members in perhaps a dozen cities, and several people on the call expressed fears for their downtown skyscrapers. Not Minneapolis. The BOMA representative in Minneapolis said his greatest fear was an attack on the Mall of America, bookended by massive parking garages. A truck bomb in either one or both would be devastating.

Now would be a good time to review (or create) a robust emergency preparedness plan for your parking system. You may find that one possible danger isn’t physical, like a bomb, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado. It may simply be a major loss of revenue occurring when customers, out of fear, don’t show up.

Did You Hire Them or Create Them?

Mark D Napier

I have had the opportunity during my career to teach courses on management and leadership. Without exception, every time I teach a course, there will be one or more students who lament about the poor quality of his/her subordinates. The subordinates are generally long-term employees but occasionally are recent hires. The student wants to know how to “fix” the subordinates. Will training work? What about progressive discipline? Should I reassign him/her?

It is clear that when we find an employee who is not performing acceptably, we need to act to correct performance. After all, that is what some of us were hired to do. When I dig a little deeper, I find this is not an isolated incident of a few rogue employees, but an almost circular occurrence of one employee after another. This takes significant time from the supervisor and drains positive energy from a significant segment of the workforce. The supervisor may tell me success stories in which he/she was able to terminate or retrain a substandard employee. Affirmative action to correct performance is a good thing.

Unfortunately, we do not examine the most important issue: Did you hire a substandard employee or did you create one? Let me be clear, those are absolutely the only two possibilities. Failing to examine this reality is dooming the organization to perpetually revisiting the address of underperforming employees. We all want to believe that our hiring processes are sufficiently discriminating. If that is true (big if), we hired a person capable of acceptable performance. How then did we end up with this poor performing employee?

We must examine the culture of the organization, the effectiveness of supervision, and the merit of our evaluative processes to determine where they failed. If we did not create this substandard employee, then we hired him/her. We must examine the hiring processes and the pool of potential employees we draw from to determine how it failed to yield an acceptable employee.

When the fire department responds to a fire, they promptly put it out. Next, they try to determine what caused the fire so future events might be avoided. Your underperforming employee is analogous to the fire and you have to respond to it. Now, determine what caused the fire!

Rare Compliments


About a year ago, I sent a complimentary email about someone to his boss, thinking she should know about the great job he was doing. Several hours later, she wrote back, “Thank you for your note. We don’t often hear from people with good things to say.”

Tell me that doesn’t break your heart just a little bit. Maybe you’re nodding in agreement with her. We’re (the editorial “we,” of course, not you and me specifically) very quick to file complaints, verbally or in writing, when someone slips up on the job, but those nice notes? They seem to get lost in our mental shuffles. So much to do; so little time.

A friend told me a few weeks ago, “We live on compliments,” and I think it’s pretty spot-on, especially in an industry such as parking where the complaints and insults can fly a lot more frequently than the niceties. We all like hearing we’re doing a good job and most people don’t hear it often enough.

It’s Friday, and where I am, the sun is shining and the day feels full of potential. I’m issuing myself a challenge and I hope you’ll challenge yourself and your colleagues with me: For every complaint (maybe every two or three; we’ll be reasonable), give someone a compliment. Say something nice. Tell someone they’re doing a great job, in our out of your department. Tell someone who works for you, the barista who foams up your latte, the guy or girl who rings up your next cart of groceries, or even your spouse, significant other, kid, or neighbor. And then give yourself a pat on the back, because you just did a great thing yourself.

What is Your Vision for Parking Enforcement?

Mark D Napier

When considering the title question, I fear some of us (assuming a measure of honesty) are thinking, “To write more citations than last year to ensure an increase in revenue.” Really? If this is our enforcement vision, clearly stated or only inferred, how does this translate into a serious examination of our parking management success in terms of organizational goals and enforcement officer performance? Will this enforcement vision generate public support?

I introduce these questions to stimulate thought. Consider that in reality a continued increase in the number of citations we write is an indication of failure. If we can agree the purpose of enforcement is to change behavior and that enforcement should have an educational nexus, we then have to face the fact that increasing noncompliance is an indication that we are failing to deter and/or failing to educate. Another possibility is that our parking programs are so woefully inadequate or so poorly marketed as to nearly invite noncompliance. This, too, is not indicative of any parking management success.

Enforcement personnel who are primarily evaluated on the volume of citations they write will find violations. However, these may not be the violations we really should be pursuing and may be motivated by a need to produce some magic number of citations each day without respect to the merit of the presenting violation. The possibility for unethical behavior on the part of enforcement officers is a concern and, stated or not, this could be considered a quota. Finally, any vision of enforcement that is evenly subtlety predicated on a number of citations as a goal effectively feeds into the very stereotypes of our industry we seek to dispel.

Whether a campus or municipality, we must consider what our vision for parking enforcement is. We have to determine if that vision is in harmony with our larger organizational goals, if the vision provides positive guidance to enforcement personnel, and if that vision could stand the test of the light of day.


Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

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).

Warrior or Ambassador?

Dave Feehan

With the nation’s attention recently focused on Ferguson, N.Y., and other police shootings, it might be a good time to revisit how parking systems provide security in their facilities and offices.

Some parking systems hire and deploy their own employees as security officers. Some contract with private security firms. Others may hire off-duty police officers. Some parking facilities are patrolled by Business Improvement District (BID) personnel.

Law enforcement has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Today, by some estimates, there are as many private security officers as publicly employed sworn police officers. Foley, Minn., recently disbanded its police force and hired a private security team to patrol its streets.

Discussions of security are generally not the hottest topic at parking conferences. Yet security is sometimes a life-and-death issue, and parking systems that handle security poorly may be putting customers and employees at risk, to say nothing of liability concerns.

Several years ago, when I was the president of the downtown organization in a midwestern city, we provided additional security through our BID. We patrolled downtown sidewalks and the skywalk system as well as augmenting parking garage security. The first important question we had to address was, should we employ our own security workers or contract with an outside firm? We elected to hire our own, because we wanted more control over who was hired and what kind of training was provided.  Fundamentally, we had to decide: Do we want to employ warriors or ambassadors?

There is an old saying in human resources that I often find extremely helpful: Hire attitude and teach skills. In our case, we wanted security patrol personnel who were ambassadors first and warriors only when absolutely necessary. If I were putting together a SWAT or SEAL team, I might think differently about whom to hire.

So what advice might I give a local parking operator or manager? If your facilities are not frequent crime locations, having security officers who are friendly, outgoing, and knowledgeable about their surroundings, who carry maps and event schedules, but who know what to do in an emergency might be the right choice. Your officer is more often going to be helping someone with a dead battery or chasing away a skateboarder than apprehending a murderer or bank robber.

Of course, there are many other considerations when evaluating parking security—cost, internal capacity, availability of good contractors—but if parking is the first and last experience for many downtown users and if your security personnel are the first people they encounter, what message do you want to send? Does your garage feel like a war zone or a hotel lobby?

Parking Permit Fees: Cost vs. Price

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

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.

Big Time

Rachel_Yoka 2013

One of the things I love about my career is that I get to meet amazing people all the time, both in the parking world and beyond. In our industry we connect with so many other areas of life—academics, politics, real estate, transportation, healthcare, you name it. I am always pleased to find commonalities and, of course, challenges that overlap and relate to one another in every sector and market segment.

During the holiday season, I found that a fellow dinner guest also worked in parking, for a large private operator in Philadelphia. When we received tickets to a luxury box for the Sixers, we found our host started his career in parking and got into the hospitality world that way. I recently connected to a friend of a friend on Facebook. As we chatted through the typical “what do you do” conversations, I learned  he runs a high-end valet parking operation in the suburbs that specializes in healthcare and retail clients.  When I got around to what I do at IPI, his first comment was, “You all are big-time.”

Parking is big business. Very conservatively estimated at $30 billion, our industry has far-reaching and considerable effects on each of those intersecting sectors. (As a side note, IPI is beginning some exciting research to explore the actual size and impact of our business—stay tuned for more on that.) As I gave his comment more thought, I realized that, indeed, we are big-time. IPI’s LinkedIn group has more than 5,000 followers, and that is the tip of the iceberg.

The 3,000 parking professionals who will join us in Las Vegas later this year for the 2015 IPI Conference & Expo will no doubt agree: We are big-time. And if we don’t already have a seat at the table to make decisions in every one of the sectors mentioned above, we are well on our way.

Demand Exceeding Supply: Parking Professionals Wanted!

L. Dennis Burns

Normally when I contemplate parking supply vs. demand, it is for a client trying to document the adequacy of their existing parking resources compared to current or projected needs. This is a fundamental type of parking analysis. Lately however, a new dimension of parking supply/demand has had me scratching my head.

More than ever, I have been actively engaged in helping communities either developing or updating strategic plans for their programs. Another trend has been to help communities that have never developed a formal parking program begin that process from scratch. It is great testament to the growth and maturity of our industry that more and more communities are realizing the importance of having a strong parking program to support nearly all other aspects of healthy urban or campus environments. The message that Parking Matters® has definitely made it to primetime!

It is rewarding and exciting to see this level of appreciation and understanding of the complexity and value of parking and the larger realm of access management, but it is also leading to new challenges and opportunities. Along with this growing understanding of the importance of having strong and well-managed parking systems comes the need for strong and experienced parking professionals to run these programs. There is clearly a growing need for more parking professionals to meet the demand that is emerging. I know of at least 10 communities that are actively searching for top level candidates and know of another half-dozen will be doing so in the coming year.

Exacerbating this issue is a growing tide of existing parking professionals who are considering retirement! Several of my closest friends and colleagues are beginning to map out their plans to leave their parking executive positions. And while there are many talented younger professionals in the pipeline, the demand for this level of top-level talent, at least from my perspective, is far exceeding the demand.

This may be an interesting challenge for IPI to consider in coming years. In the meantime, if anyone is looking for new opportunities, please drop me a line!

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).

Winter Snow and Parking

Bruce Barclay

Looking out at the almost whiteout conditions on the runways at Salt Lake City International Airport, I am amazed that the planes have clearance to take off and land. Weather-wise, we have been extremely fortunate this winter compared to the Northeast, Midwest, and even the Southern U.S. Until this morning, Salt Lake City had less than 7 inches of snow this meteorological winter, defined as December through February. We average about 56 inches of snow each winter. The winter of 2014-15 will go down as the warmest and least snowy meteorological winter since records have been kept dating back to the 1870s.

We often underestimate the effect of snow and freezing rain on our facilities. The effort that goes into clearing the runways, roadways, and parking lots to keep the airport safe and open is critical and often goes unnoticed. The mobilization of huge snow brooms to clear snow from the runways is like watching a symphony perform. Each instrument knows its role and performs admirably. Without a clean runway, planes cannot take off or land, essentially shutting the airport down.

The challenges facing parking facilities are similar. If parkers cannot gain access into the lots, they cannot board the shuttles to the terminals and therefore cannot board the planes. Cars park for days at a time at an airport. The additional labor involved clearing a parking lot that is near capacity poses an additional concern. Wind rows that are formed as plows go behind parked vehicles are difficult to deal with during freeze/thaw scenarios. Small cars have a difficult time maneuvering over built-up snow and ice in the lot. If enough snow has accumulated, the additional challenge of snow removal from the lot comes into the equation. Many areas of New England have more than 100 inches of standing snow. Much of that will be there until the spring thaw.

The challenges facing a university or municipality are quite similar. If the roads are not cleared prior to morning rush, workers and shoppers cannot get into the central business district. Surface parking lots need to be cleared of snow and ice to facilitate parking. Adequate chemicals need to be on hand to facilitate the melting of ice and snow. Walkways and sidewalks need to be cleared for pedestrians, especially on college campuses where many students walk between their dorms and classes.

Although the snow will only last a short while today, it is refreshing to get back into winter mode, mobilize our snow desk, and deal with the cleanup of the runways, roadways, and parking facilities. There are other parts of the country that remain inundated with snow and are in much worse shape than Salt Lake City.