Magazine

Point of View

A Trip to Hell, Scotland and Going Mainstream

By John Van Horn

There was a self-serving piece on KNBC-TV in Los Angeles late last year that reported a shake-up in the Los Angeles Bureau of Parking Enforcement. (Of course, the only reason the city did this was because of an investigation that the TV station did earlier last year, but I digress.)
After a number of problems, including enforcement officers involved in porn shoots and arrested for shoplifting, came to light, the mayor put an LAPD commander in charge of parking enforcement. Three senior managers were replaced; a number of officers were fired or reprimanded.
Referring to the bureau’s traffic officers, who write tickets and have a reputation for rudeness, LAPD Cmdr. Michael Williams said, “We want them to be more engaging, more professional, to be more friendly with the public.”
The KNBC news report pointed out that there were two groups of officers in the LA parking enforcement office: those who were “in” and those that weren’t. Those “in” were allowed to get by with most anything.
You can imagine how this management style went over with the rank and file. There had to be a lot of frustration in the ranks, and that frustration could easily spill over into their interaction with the public. Consistent management, like that required in a police department and the military, can make a world of difference. Sounds like Williams is the right person for the job.
LA parking enforcement seems to have a different take on life in the past six months. My personal experience is that the officers are helpful, friendly and chatty. My observations in the four interactions I have had with them recently are that they are pros who are “doing their jobs” and seem to give the benefit of the doubt, but ticket when it’s appropriate. (I make it a point to chat with them when I see them on the street – professional curiosity.)
Professionals who take their jobs seriously but understand the PR and marketing sides of their interaction with the public will have little problem enforcing the law. Simply rolling over doesn’t solve the problem, and creates others.
Someone once told me that a great skill to develop was to be able to “tell someone to go to hell and ensure they enjoy the trip.” No one likes to receive a ticket, but if you have positive interactions with enforcement officers in non-confrontational situations, when the time comes for you to get your ticket, perhaps your anger will be directed inward, where it belongs.
***
Heh — Over the past few years, I have been railing against the Scottish government and its ban on parking charges in local hospitals. Yes, there is a Scottish, Welsh, as well as an English government in the UK. The Welsh and English tend to let the hospitals make their own decisions.
It seems that local hospitals in Scotland are finding that they don’t have enough parking spaces and patients are now missing appointments because they can’t find places to park. Didn’t have those problems in the old days, when charges kept folks from the local main business street from poaching on hospital spaces.
Now hospitals are asking for the right to charge, and the local government is holding strong. The money quote from a BBC Scotland report:
“A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘The abolition of car parking charges did not end the duty of NHS [National Health System] Boards to manage their car parking appropriately and to balance the parking needs of patients, visitors and staff.’”
Right — You can manage your parking, but for crying out tears, part of that management can’t be charging. So what are they to do? Hire patrols to ensure that people who park in the garages actually go into the hospital? Set up a complex validation program to ensure that patients and visitors park for free and others get caught at the gate?
Of course, all these “schemes,” as they call them in the UK, cost money – money that the stressed NHS doesn’t have.
If you are paying for a person’s parking, why not also pay for his taxi, bus, trolley or bicycle? Those folks seem to be able to pay for their transportation; it’s just the drivers that need to be subsidized.
Rule, Britannia.
***
I noted some months ago in my Parking Today Blog that I was interviewed by a writer for Los Angeles magazine. It’s a local publication that basically tells LA residents what they want to hear. It’s glitzy, it’s glossy – think Cosmo or Vogue for a city.
The author, Dave Gardetta, has written one of the best descriptions of the parking problems faced by modern cities (“Between the Lines,” online Dec. 1, 2011, at www.lamag.com). I am impressed.
In reality, it’s an interview with UCLA Urban Planning Professor Don Shoup, and supporting information from folks like me. Gardetta delves into the history of parking in LA, and how parking requirements shaped the city. Some of the references are local, but other local landmarks could be in any city.
Gardetta quotes yours truly accurately, which in itself is amazing, mostly about my comments that only about 10% of all people who break parking rules ever get cited. I am in heady company with Shoup, former Pasadena, CA, Mayor Rick Cole, LA parking notables Andrew Pansini, Ray Liesegang and Clyde Wilson, parking meter inventor Carlton Magee, and LA DOT traffic engineer Dan Mitchell. Here’s my money quote:
“If you received a ticket for every violation,” says Van Horn, “you’d be yelling ‘Parking Nazi!’ and ‘Selective enforcement!’ Elected governments aren’t ready for that outcry, so cities hold back on tickets.”
Yet if we evade enforcement as often as Van Horn claims, Gardetta writes, why does the sight of a ticket on the windshield unhinge our natures?
“We break the law often and get away with it,” Van Horn says. “Deep down inside we know that. What makes us mad is getting caught the few times we do. Ninety percent of drivers on this street got away scot-free today, but I get the ticket? That makes us crazy.”

Article Abstract from February, 2012




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