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Point of View

A Business, A Political Football, A Bridge

John Van Horn

Parking – is it a business, an amenity, a way to effect social change? Is it simply a place to put your car? Is it a “bridge,” a way to move from one mode of travel to another? Is it a political football? Let’s take a look.

Certainly parking is a business. Just look around. There is a sign on every street corner advertising parking, and billions of dollars go into the parking industry. We are responsible for millions of jobs, huge construction projects, and a lot of cash flow (just ask your local airport.) Goes without saying.

Developers of office complexes, shopping centers and apartment often see parking as an amenity, like escalators, restrooms, carpet in the halls, perhaps a concierge or doorman. Some are absolutely necessary (can’t build a ballpark without a restroom) and some are “nice to have” (we can do without the carpet in the hallway). As an amenity, parking can be necessary (surrounding a suburban ballpark) or not (surrounding an urban ballpark).

UCLA Urban Planning Professor Don Shoup sees parking as a way to change the way we live. If we reduce the amount of parking, we can increase density, decrease traffic and alter the general populace’s commuting habits. By charging more for parking, we can, perhaps, move masses of cars off streets and into garages; or masses of people out of cars and into buses and trains. The simple choice of designing urban areas with high rises, lots of shops and clubs within walking distance, and not having so much parking gives choices a population might not have considered.

Hey, I have a garage; it’s a place to put my car (when it’s not filled with junk). The apartment across the street has underground parking; people put their cars there. There’s parking on the street: People put their cars in that space, and without regulation, would most likely leave them there forever.



I love the “bridge” analogy. I first heard it years ago at the Temecula Parking Group. You are in your car, you park it, and you go immediately to another mode of transportation. It might be feet, or elevators, or shuttles, buses, trains, planes, boats, horses, goats or camels. So we in the parking industry are part of the transportation system; not, as many think, the end of the trip, but a transition from one part of the trip to another, a bridge between one mode and a different one.

It seems like politics infects every part of our lives, and parking is no different. If I ask a municipal parking manager whether his office exists to protect a valuable asset or to make money, he asks me if we are “on the record” or “off the record?” If I say off the record; he says: “to make money.” The difference isn’t just political; it is pragmatic. He wants to keep his job.

Politicians see the parking industry as another way to generate revenue. They take the money, put it into the general fund, and there you are. It’s no wonder that people don’t want to pay for parking. They can see no “result” of their payment, except for the use of a couple hundred square feet of real estate for a few minutes. The money just “disappears.”

With all of that, do we consider parking an asset? One to be protected, renewed, and nurtured? Cities see parks as an asset that needs to be properly maintained. Building owners are constantly repairing roofs, or replacing boilers, or checking elevators and replacing lights. But what of their parking asset?

Garages require more maintenance than the structure of the average building, but do they get it? The investment is in seven or eight figures over the life of a garage, but seldom does an owner have the foresight to spend to maintain that asset.

Garages literally fall down. They leak, they drop pieces of concrete on cars and people. It may take longer to happen in Phoenix than in Chicago, but it will happen.

So we don’t seem to care as much for the structure that houses cars as for the building that houses people.

Cities spend millions on parks that are used by a few, but often argue for years over how to properly maintain the asset that everyone who owns a car will most likely use at one time or another.

Like parks and elevators and the concierge in the lobby, parking needs to be considered an asset, whether it’s in a garage, on a surface lot, or in the street. Just as with any other asset, the money it generates needs to be plowed back into the garage, lot or street so that it thrives and prospers.

If we in the industry don’t respect our parking assets, who will?

It was all over the news here in LA. A parker got a ticket and just knew there still was time left on the meter. He contacted a local TV station ombudsman for help, and help he got.

With the prodding from bright lights, cameras and microphones, the city’s parking division was enticed to check its records.  Since they have new, computerized, online parking meters, the information was there.

They compared the citation with the meter and found, yep, that when the ticket was written, there still was plenty of time on the meter. Seems that among other things, the meters – in this case, IPS – also keep track of when money is added and how long the meter is active.

The parker had paid his citation – required before any challenge could be made – and quickly received his refund. All is right with the world.

Oh, the city said the citation was hand-written, and the enforcement officer must have made a mistake.

Article Abstract from March, 2013




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