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From Cigar Box to High-Tech Is it the Tech, or is it the Training?

From Cigar Box to High-Tech

Dennis Cunning

After chasing cars longer than I would like to admit, these eyes have actually seen the dramatic change in parking access and revenue control systems (PARCS). Realizing that this expanse of time spans two-plus human generations, I know buzzwords such as “state-of-the-art,” “PARCS,” “Windows 8,” “cloud computing,” “Apple,” “DOS,” “RFID,” “mag stripe,” “barcode,” “iPad,” “tablet,” “passback,” “Office 2013,” “Wi-Fi,” “Internet,” “websites,” “texting,” “gigabyte,” “terabyte,” and “mobile payment applications” were not always in our everyday vocabulary, or as we understand the meaning of those words today.

We have all heard the “urban legend” quote from 1981, attributed to Bill Gates, that “640K of memory ought to be enough for anybody.” My “smart” phone has 32GB

As I started in the industry those many years ago, a sophisticated parking system consisted of a mechanical cash register, time clock, treadle and Sedeco print recorder. That was state-of-the-art! Also, I suspect I just lost 90% of the readers after the words “time clock,” as the other two items are now on display only in a parking museum. Today’s generation has no clue as to what they are or were.

Many items have driven the advance of technology that has filtered down into how we do Parking Today (couldn’t resist that). I will muse only about two of them in this article …

But first a side comment about how today’s younger generation – I’m actually talking about the 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds – accept and use technology. How often do your children or grandchildren sit in the same house, same room or at the same table with you and send you a text message as opposed to having a verbal conversation? And they do it at 10 times faster than we can even find the letters on our phone to respond! SWAK we know, and we may have a clue about BFF. But how about TTBOMK, YMCMB or >:( :) … ? A new language is evolving!



This is where technology is as you read this article, and that is how the younger generation sees the world in which we live. Where will they take technology in the next few years, and are we remotely ready for it in the garage, lot or on-street spaces?

One of the biggest issues pushing technologies in today’s PARCS is the banking industry, or more correctly, the PCI (Payment Card Industry) part of it. As the parking industry heads at almost the speed of light to an “electronic purse collection” method over generations of cash collection methods – even down to the “lonely” nickel parking meters that have so long stood sentinel over our city streets and parking spaces – terms such as “Network Penetration Testing,” “Mobile Payment Acceptance Security,” “P2PE SAQ,” and “Password to Pass-phrase” are becoming part of our language.

Not only do we need to know something about these terms in general, we also need to understand how they will affect our day-to-day business of being a parking professional and how they will impact the costs of parking in general.

 

The move to an electronic purse and away from piles of crinkled “dead presidents” stacked on the desktop being counted for the daily deposit and DRB (daily reports of business) computation has been difficult for some. I have actually heard more than once that, “Well, it’s not like it’s real money” or “I simply refunded the charge back to their credit card, no big deal.” This is a completely new form of revenue erosion, where only the customer and often the local tax authority benefit!

After all, with tax rates in many cities at 15%, 20%, 25% and 30% or more, the parking operator nets only part of the electronic collection after taxes. However, when the manager gives back the full amount in an electronic refund or credit card reversal, the customer receives 100% of the initial charge, but the operator nets only a portion of the charge since taxes were paid on the full charge. And he has just lost from 15% to 30% or more on that transaction, not to mention the 2% to 3% credit card processing fees charged to do electronic collections.

This leads to the second area of “from cigar box to high-tech”: garage managers and the level of training they receive.

When purchasing a PARCS today, many are loaded with bells and whistles included. As part of the sales pitch, the system is sold for far more than to just open and close gates; it’s now sold as an information-gathering system.

Used correctly and with constant review of the data collected, we can alter the necessary staffing patterns of labor coverage, and better manage the rates and the increments where rates increase. We can better determine our occupancy and vacancy factors to best know how much of an oversell factor we can achieve on monthly accounts and still have sufficient space for the daily customers.

We can minimize the amount of time necessary to audit tickets and validations; the monthly invoicing for parking and validations received; and frequently minimize the human contact between customer and staff.

Yes, all of this is possible; unfortunately, most systems sold and installed are never used beyond 20% to 25% of their ability, and I am being generous with that estimate!



    Why have you asked now? Because many parking operations will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a PARC system and nothing on training or retraining. The larger the parking company, the less they spend in employee training on PARCS. Managers are promoted because that have longevity with the company or they are perceived as honest, hardworking and customer-friendly

I have found that the smaller citywide or regional parking operations often do a far better job at training their employees. As companies are purchased, merged or combined, employee training is the casualty.

Consider how a now-bygone large regional NYC-based company that mandated that all area managers, general managers and facility managers attend quarterly training and review classes on PARCS that lasted about two to three hours. Attendance was mandatory, not optional.

As new software releases were offered by the PARCS suppliers, it was back to the classroom to better understand what these releases meant to the facility operation. Sadly, that company is no more, and the company that bought it has also been bought by another company.

Consider the New Jersey-based company founded by two brothers around 1955. It is a small family-owned/run company, with maybe 55 to 60 locations. Today, they are self-made billionaires – yes, the letter “B” – and they will out-generate the parking revenue of a facility beyond the wildest dreams of the mega-operators today. Why? Because they pay attention to the details, have learned to use technology as a tool, and train, train and train their employees again and again.

Many smaller companies continue to invest in training, as that is how they are growing and generating more profits for themselves and the owners they represent. They out-perform others simply because they train their staff and have supervision of facilities at reasonable levels. (Sorry, with 28 to 30 locations for an area manager to supervise, it’s not reasonable or even feasible for them to know what is occurring at any location and to influence the outcome.

There are many issues to discuss in high-tech PARCS, but until you have learned to crawl, and then walk, you cannot consider running or entering that marathon. After all, those who run train all the time.

To enter the Boston Marathon requires a time of between 3:04 and 4:55, based on age. Of the top 500 winners, there has been a spread of only 5 minutes 3 seconds. That’s what training can do for you and your facility – make a champion of your organization!



Dennis Cunning, a Consultant in New Jersey, can be reached at dlc_park@ix.netcom.com.



 

Article Abstract from January, 2013




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