Magazine

Point of View

PIE 2013, Chicago and Sandy

John Van Horn

I am very excited about the program that we have laid on for PIE 2013 coming up next month in Chicago. We lead off with Keynote Speaker Craig Hickman, co-author of “The Oz Principle.”

I am particularly excited about hearing Hickman. He speaks to taking responsibility for problems in our companies and fixing them, no matter what level you are in the organization. It can happen – after all, the problems may be your fault.

Our exhibit hall is filling fast. We will have 40% more booths and exhibits this year than last. Plus, you will have the opportunity to win one of 50 Kindle Fires or one of four flat-screen TVs.

Throughout this issue of PT, we have short articles on other seminars and programs we have lined up. If you are a municipality, university, office complex, venue, airport or parking operator, there are seminars focused directly at you.

See you in Chicago!

 



Speaking of Chicago, the “Windy City” has won the parking lottery — as of Jan. 1, it now has the highest on-street rates in North America, with $6.50 an hour in its fabled “loop” area.  It’s followed by San Francisco ($5.50/hr), New York ($5/hr), Los Angeles ($5/hr) and Seattle ($4/hr), based on research by The Expired Meter.

In just 5 short years, the $.25 meters are now $2; the $1 meters $4; and the $3 meters are now $6.50.

Well, Chicago Parking Meters LLC happened.  The city leased its parking meters to a private firm, and as part of the lease, the firm was authorized to raise rates. This is the last mandated raise; however, it will increase in the future based on inflation.

This experience tells us something. Raising parking rates is politically unpopular. The aldermen in Chicago were unable to raise the rates, at least if they wanted to keep their jobs. So they sidestepped the situation and basically sold the meters to a private firm for a billion dollars. The onus now falls on CPM LLC, and the local government gets away scot-free.

I have been suspicious of these deals. If government gets money, they spend it. In Chicago’s case, the billion was gone after the first three years year, mostly to pay off previous incurred debts. Now the money that flows in from the streets of “that toddlin’ town” goes into the pockets of the bankers who came up with the billion in the first place.

You won’t find any criticism of CPM LLC here. They are businesspeople who cut a good deal. They are also working hard to give Chicago a better parking system, and probably will. However, we could learn from other public-private partnerships such as the one in Indianapolis. There the money is coming in dribs and drabs – they did get a healthy upfront payment – and it is earmarked for infrastructure improvements. In Indianapolis, as the money comes in, streets get repaired, sidewalks are fixed, street lamps replaced.  In Chicago, not so much.

Which brings us back to hiking rates from 25 cents an hour to $6.50 in five years. Had Chicago over the years raised rates a bit at a time, say, 25 cents a year over 20 years, they would have been close to their current number. But like the frog in the boiling water, the citizens wouldn’t have felt the pain and would have adjusted to the increase. But then, even 25 cents may have been too much for the aldermen in the “hog butcher for the world” to bear.

 

I parked in Battery Garage in lower Manhattan last month. It’s two blocks from Ground Zero, a block from the Hudson River and around the corner from Wall Street. The place is a complex of two buildings, ramps, bridges, and a lot of parking. It seemed that all the parking was above ground, so I mentioned to Laz Parking Manager Salik Syed that he must have escaped a lot of water damage due to Hurricane Sandy.

He laughed.  “Well, our basement is where all the mechanicals are for elevators, heating and AC, the phone system and the like. It was a real mess.  See the signs that say ‘cash only?’  That’s because we have no phones and no Internet. We can’t clear credit cards.”

Their lane equipment was fine; water never reached above curb level.

He stepped away to take a call on one of the four cellphones

he carries.

“At least you have cellphones,” I said.  A man standing in line to pay for his parking heard my comment and piped up: “Hell, cellphones don’t work either.” Syed mentioned that’s why he had four.  Some work some times, some at other times. Some times he has to walk down the street to get a signal.

I noted that at least he had power.

“We were fortunate,” Syed said. “We got power after about a week.  I think it’s because we sit on top of the Holland Tunnel, and they wanted to get the tunnel working, so our part of the grid got priority. They say the phones won’t be back for a while. It seems that water destroyed a lot of the copper wiring under the streets. They are replacing it all with fiber, but that will take time.”

Sure, cellphones work as radios, but they have to get to landlines at some point. And the cell towers need electricity.

I thought back on my visit to the “cloud” earlier in the week. If these garages were running on a cloud, they would be home free.  Then it occurred to me, if there is no Internet, how are they going to connect to their servers perhaps half a country away? Mother Nature gives with one hand and takes away with another.

Syed’s PARCS system was working fine, gates were going up and down, access cards were working, POFs were taking money (cash only), and on the surface, everything seemed fairly normal.  He was still concerned about invoicing his contract parkers — they had no way to run credit cards through the system and bill tens of thousands of dollars for monthlies. More than 90% of his customers had put their cards on file. He was working with the manufacturer to hook up a hot spot to run temporarily until the ’Net is back up.

Laz Parking was able to get a VeriFone and a hot spot running, so they could take credit cards manually for payment for daily parkers. Solutions are there, but you need to be creative. This manager seems to be in control.



 



John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. Contact him at jvh@parkingtoday.com.

Article Abstract from February, 2013




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