Magazine

Parking Vs. Pop Culture

‘Parking Wars’

By Isaiah Mouw and Matthew Clay

Parking vs. Pop Culture is a series of articles dedicated to significant parking references found in pop culture. The winner, either parking or pop culture, will be determined by whether the parking ended as a positive or negative experience in the particular pop culture reference. This issue’s parking reference is taken from the A&E Television Networks series “Parking Wars.”

When people ask us what we do for a living, we ask if they have ever seen the TV show “Parking Wars,” and go on to explain that what is seen on the show is exactly what we do for a living.

“Parking Wars” is a reality TV series that follows the day-to-day interactions of traffic enforcement officers of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) with the city’s parking public. (The Detroit Municipal Parking Department was added as a filming location in the third season.) Now in its fourth season, with additional filming in Hoboken, NJ, the series first aired on Jan. 8, 2008, on the A&E TV network.

Parking Today recently ran a blog on their website entitled, “We Deserve Better than Parking Wars” which begins by asking the question, “How do you have a professional industry if you don’t have a modicum of self-respect?” The question is an introduction to how Parking Today believes the show “Parking Wars” not the greatest PR for the parking industry and only depicts people at their worst. (See Sidebar)

“Parking Wars” actually got its start about nine years ago, when Hybrid Films did an hour documentary on the Philadelphia Parking Authority as a special for an A&E Investigative Report. The production company had a history of making documentaries in non-fiction TV, such as dealing with law enforcement, hostage negotiations and homicide detectives. A&E, along with the PPA, was real happy with documentary, which led to discussions that eventually led to the series.

Naysayers in the parking industry contend that “Parking Wars” hurts the industry because the series focuses on ticketing, ‘booting’ and towing confrontations.

“They don’t want to tell stories about PEOs (parking enforcement officers) saving lives or handing out candy,” argues one prominent parking professional. “They want to tell stories about screaming parkers and the parking professional’s mistakes.”

Let’s face it, confrontation TV sells, and focusing on the conflict does not positively promote the parking industry. However, Dan Flaherty, co-executive producer of the series, believes it does reflect positively on the parking industry.

“I think it really humanizes the job,” he said.

“Most [viewers] at first, will automatically side with the ‘violators.’ Everyone has gotten parking tickets, and no one likes getting them. Your instant reaction is to say, ‘Those people who give tickets are bad. They are just out there to get you.’

“What ‘Parking Wars’ has done is really turned that around,” Flaherty said. “Now when people watch the show, they go, ‘Oh, these are actually real human beings, with real feelings, and are out there doing a real job.’”

PPA enforcement officers seem to agree. In “‘Parking Wars’ Personalities Enjoying Better Treatment,” Hadas Kuznits of KYW Newsradio 1060 in Philadelphia reported several PPA employees’ comments on how the series has garnered them nice reactions from people on the streets.

“It’s nice that people, instead of cursing us, will come up and shake our hand,” said the PPA’s Sherry Royal.

Colleague Steve Garfield added: “They’ll ask Sherry how her kids are, and me about my cat, because that was on the show. So I think that has made us much more likeable. People don’t hate us nearly as much as they used to,” he said.

Flaherty said the series not only attempts to humanize parking enforcement professionals, it also educates the public on the importance of parking enforcement, as well as the result of not paying your parking tickets.

“I think people understand the ‘boot’ process as a result of the show. How they are likely to get caught if they don’t pay their parking tickets,” he said.

“Parking Wars” has been helpful not only in educating the public, but also been in educating employees. The original Hybrid Films documentary on A&E was used for years by the PPA for training new hires.

PPA management also has used the show to change some of their procedures, such as dealing with the public while applying the boot. “Management doesn’t always have eyes in the street. It’s been very helpful for them to see it,” Flaherty said.

Love it or hate it, the series does bring the parking profession and the need for parking professionals to the masses. Said Flaherty: “I think people understand the importance of parking enforcement and understand that those who do this job are human beings.

“Even people who aren’t on the show but do that job or a similar job, [say they] get a kick out seeing their job being represented that way. That’s what I think the show has done for the parking industry.”

We would have to agree with Flaherty. While confrontation may be the focus of “Parking Wars,” the humanizing of the job and the educating of the public override the silly banter, and that’s why we think parking wins this round.

Isaiah Mouw and Matthew Clay work for Republic Parking System. Contact them at imouw@republicparking.com or at mclay@republicparking.com.



Sidebar:

JVH: We Deserve Better than ‘Parking Wars’

How do you have a professional industry if you don’t have a modicum of self-respect? Look, I’m the first guy to set myself up for a few laughs, most richly deserved.

Self-deprecation is a tool used by most in the public eye to increase their public image. Fair enough. But I believe that the trait can be taken too far, and the ongoing series “Parking Wars” does that.

I understand that the folks at the Philly Parking Authority and the series’ producers think that the result of the show is positive. The enforcement staff has been quoted as saying that the attitude of Philly parkers toward them has been much more positive since the series began.

Obviously, the public likes “Parking Wars.” It’s been renewed for another season, and Hollywood doesn’t make a series that doesn’t sell. (Heck, even the IPI promoted it at its convention last year.)

It’s a TV reality show. It’s inexpensive to make, and the fans eat it up.

Basically, reality shows depict people at their worst. They are shown making fools of themselves, and the public can’t get enough of it.

On this series, the “reality actors” yell and scream while the poor browbeaten enforcement staff takes the guff and comes back for more. The story line is perfect. Yep, parking causes problems, and there are plenty of people to react negatively to it.

We are a professional industry. We generate billions in revenue each year. We build large structures that house our product. We create millions of jobs. We deal with the public every day, day after day. Our errors cause huge political upheavals. Our “wins” solve a myriad of problems. We touch almost every aspect of daily life.

The parking industry has a lot of which to be proud. Can’t we somehow tell that story? “Parking Wars” certainly doesn’t.

I prefer to think that my industry is made up of innovators who are trying new ideas almost daily. Pay-by-cell, credit cards on meters, pay-and-display, pay-on-foot, parking guidance and automated parking systems, in-street data collection, parking apps, LED lighting – they all work toward making parking easier and better for our customers.

You want “green” – the parking industry can give you green in spades. Whether it’s LEED-approved structures or solar panels on the roof, it’s there. What about the campaign to get electric-vehicle charging stations in garages or systems to speed up parking and thus reduce pollution?

The concept of market-based on-street pricing of parking could actually do more to reduce congestion in downtown areas than all the rules and laws considered by many city councils.

We are a good industry. We are coming of age. We are a proud group of pros who make lives easier for drivers every day. We deserve better than “Parking Wars.”

Article Abstract from March, 2011




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