The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s song starts, “It was 20 years ago today,” but in my case, it was 45 years ago. I, along with several other young people, was selected by Rotary International to represent our respective countries through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, living for a year overseas and being immersed in an entirely different culture.
Fortunately, the country I went to—Sweden—was populated by friendly, outgoing, and caring people; I didn’t understand a lick of their language when I arrived on August 4, 1969. But in 45 years, there has not been a day I haven’t reflected on someone or a place or an event during that year.
How does that relate to the wonderful world of parking? After a 10-year career as a cop, I jumped into parking in 1986. It had to be easier than dealing with drunks, physical altercations, and the mind-numbing process of shift rotations and court days. Nine to five, Monday through Friday, with weekends and holidays off—how hard could it be?
For one thing, parking was a cash-rich environment; back then, there were few computer systems (I had a typewriter on my desk). Tracking that cash was a huge consumer of time. Anyone not inside of the industry had no concept of the dynamics of parking. It was generally an afterthought.
Modernization was slow to start. The highest-tech gadget available was the electronic single-space parking meter. Things such as multi-space parking meters, pay by space, pay on foot, etc., moved forward in Europe, but not here. Thankfully, in the last decade, there has been a revolution in parking technology.
I remember wanting to purchase a PARCS for our operation to link all three of our garages together. I wanted all remote devices hosted on a single network so that I could view real-time activity from my office across campus. Vendors looked at me as if I had a third eye before delivering a lecture on how that was not really what I needed.
Today, the applications of technology seem endless. It has created a new and evolving language we’re all learning. The social effects are astounding. Computer-driven lighting systems and new luminaires are reducing the consumption of electricity and positively affecting the environment.
New materials and construction techniques are extending the lifespans of parking decks. Everywhere we look, the technological revolution that was so long in coming is growing exponentially. GPS applications are locating open spaces for drivers, who pay for parking with their phones. Efficiencies in locating parking, of course, leads to a decrease in gasoline consumption and a reduction in pollution. All of this is good.
A complete change of culture is in swing. In other words, parking is shifting, and rather quickly. Like being plunged into the foreign land of Sweden many years ago, change can be painful or it can be exhilarating, vexatious or liberating.
Welcome to the brave new world of parking.