Removing the Gate, and Hiring the Right Senior Manager
I was auditing a parking lot at a commuter train station. It has 840 spaces and fills to 80% each morning. Naturally, people arrive with the train schedule, and this stresses the revenue control system.
The lot management understands this problem. People want to catch their train and not be held up by the parking system.
The solution was to remove the gate arm from the entrance gate and collect the $7 flat rate manually. This certainly speeded up entry, but at what cost?
Having attendants standing in the lanes with pockets full of money is risky. It puts them in the unenviable position of having a lot of temptation at their fingertips.
If they were to let even a few cars park and, on purpose or accidentally, keep the money, the numbers could be staggering. Just 50 cars a day, less than 10%, would be a loss of $91,000 a year. And the numbers go up from there.
So what is the solution?
First, for much less than a year’s loss (see above), they could add a second or third entry lane. If the geography doesn’t allow that, they could go to a permit system and have the parkers prepay. If they raised the fee to $10 a day but gave someone who bought a monthly permit $3 a day discount, they would have people lining up to buy permits, and most of the money would be out of the lanes and auditable. (An AVI system would greatly speed up the process.)
What about a pay-by-space/cellphone system so people could park, and pay by cell on the way to the train? Or even on the train? You could do away with gates all together that way and still make it convenient for your customers.
Sure, they hand-issue tickets, and drivers are supposed to leave them on the dash. But many of the cars I saw had a dozen tickets on the dash. Enforcement isn’t easy, and smart attendants have many ways around issued receipts.
Now take a look at this lot, in Hawaii. I label it “Darwin Awards in Parking.”
My correspondent actually saw a driver move the trash can and drive around the gate. Solution? A post with a lock on it so it can be removed if need be. This isn’t revenue control or security; this just makes things difficult for parkers.
Many people ask me what I see as the biggest challenge to the parking industry in the coming years. My knee-jerk reaction is “dealing with new technology.” But I had a discussion with a friend the other day, and he gave me a new idea.
“The problem,” he said, “is that there aren’t enough people with business and management experience in the parking industry. People get promoted through the ranks, and they have excellent skills at parking operations. But do they have experience in running a huge business with many “stores,” hundreds of employees, and marketing and sales issues?
“Look, parking managers do a great job. But as the industry matures, sometimes the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality creeps in, and change becomes difficult. Some companies adapt, others not so much. The problem isn’t the technology; it’s the inability of senior management to embrace that technology.
“Look, I run the parking at a major urban university,” my friend said. “I understand that I need technology, but frankly I don’t understand it. I was like a person lost in the fog, until I hired a senior manager who understands the ins and outs of technology and the problems we will incur when we make certain changes.
“Without him, I have to rely on the university’s IT people, and frankly, they don’t understand my problems, and I don’t understand theirs. My new manager has made a world of difference in coordinating and implementing technology change.
“The problems are similar,” he went on, “in dealing with unions, personnel, sustainability, training, and a myriad of other business issues. I know how to park cars, collect revenue and maximize the turnaround in a lot. The rest is difficult and, frankly, uninteresting. However, as my organization grows, it becomes more important.”
Smart man, my friend.