Point of View
$1.4 Million Stolen, Venture Capital, a Video, and a Parking Ticket App
John Van Horn
PT Correspondent Michael sent in a Washington Post story about a couple of parking attendants who, over a three-year period, stole $1.4 million in cash from the 2,000-space surface lot at the Smithsonian Institution’s air and space center near Washington, DC. They were caught after a confidential informant tipped off the Smithsonian and the FBI.
Its Office of the Inspector General and the FBI then began auditing the facility by actually, can you believe it, counting all the cars that came in on given days and reconciling the number with the amount of cash turned in. (This was a flat-rate lot, so it was a rather simple procedure.)
Once they had some numbers, it was fairly easy to extrapolate the amount stolen, determine the culprits and send them to jail.
Does anyone see a problem here?
It seems the lot was being run by a parking operator, a very well-known and respected operator in the DC area. Where were they when all this was going on? The inference is that the manager of the lot was at least aware of the scam and getting some kickbacks.
Don’t operators have auditors and shouldn’t they periodically sit outside the lot, count the cars coming in and compare that with the “take?” This is not brain surgery. It seems that the operator did little to stop the thefts until the customer, the Smithsonian, actually discovered it and took action. (They did install counters, but they were easily unplugged. The customer installed tamper-proof counters after the theft was discovered.)
And you wonder why customers complain about the fees charged by operators.
Almost weekly we see that venture capitalists are investing in start-up companies in our industry. I’m told the scenario goes something like this:
A person gets an idea and then scrapes together initial funding from friends and family. They get to a stage where they can show the idea in some reality to a potential customer or an investor.
They then approach a potential investor and, if they pitch it right, get an investment. There are certain goals to be reached. If they are, all is well; if they aren’t, well … They then move forward with their company, and typically a year or so later, they still have no substantial income but have increased their visibility, and they go back for a second round of funding.
This time, noting that the goals weren’t reached, the venture capitalist (VC) received a percentage of the company, let’s say 30%, sets new goals and provides more funding.
A year later, nothing again; the goals weren’t reached. The VC now receives a greater percentage of the company, let’s say an additional 30%, and puts someone on the board to oversee company operations.
You might note what just happened. The original founder of the company is now an employee, and the venture capitalist is for all intents and purposes running the company. The time frames may vary, but VC companies know that they are risking their money. They are looking for substantial return and will do whatever they can to ensure it.
Remember, the idea may not be to “make money.” The goal may be to develop the idea so it can be sold to Yahoo! or Google for millions. That works, too.
The problem with the parking industry, it seems to me, is that the technology acceptance is glacial. The larger companies take time to get their technology in place and then stick to it. Cities and universities find that changing is risky and often balk.
The phrase “nobody ever got fired buying IBM” fits well in our industry. Even though new ideas may work better and save money, few want to take the risk before someone else does. Buying the tried and true may be a stodgy approach, but it’s safe.
This means that start-ups had better be in it for the long haul. They need to convince their VC folks not to expect quick turns on their money. Or they need a rich uncle.
A year or so ago, the International Parking Institute (IPI) produced, at some expense, an animated video asking people to get consulting firms involved in their parking planning early on. Fair enough. New Zealand-based Parking Consultant Kevin Warwood, in his Parking It Here blog, noticed the piece and recently commented on it. The gist is as follows:
I was disappointed in the message because it proved to be loosely about parking and more of a message about transport planners and traffic engineers being involved in parking and little about parking operations. Most of the people I know and have worked with over many years wouldn’t know anything about transport planning or traffic engineering, but [they] are parking professionals.
Most of the clients I know would not hire anyone to get advice on those things either, as they want advice on optimizing their parking garages or making their parking operations more efficient. This video is all about “road corridors” and transport planning, all things that occur before parking occurs.
I hope the [IPI] gives sufficient and equal time to parking in their next video. Nice video, though.
Warwood is very kind to the video; however, one of his correspondents isn’t. I quote without comment:
Wow you were very politically correct. I would have said something like “What a pile of ____; there was no value added in that ‘advert’ at all.” Feels very “Apple”-ish.
There are millions of apps out there for your smartphone. They can do almost anything. Now there is one that will tell you how to avoid a parking ticket in Baltimore.
An enterprising app writer has gotten all the parking citations written over a certain period and determined what areas receive the most attention from the enforcement officers. The app can then tell where you are most and least likely to get a ticket, based on the time of day and location of your vehicle.
As was pointed out in a bit of correspondence from Executive Director Michael Klein of the Albany (NY) Parking Authority, this supports my contention that most citations never get written. Sure, if you park in certain “high ticket” areas where the local merchants or residents have lobbied for good enforcement, your chances are pretty good. In other areas, however, your chances of getting a citation are pretty much nil.
The idea behind this app is not new, as a number of newspapers have printed similar information to “inform” their readers about parking ticket rates in certain areas. This is the first time, however, I have heard about mechanizing the process.
Mike adds this comment: Sending this to my favorite group of thought leaders … He sent it to IPI Executive Director Shawn Conrad, NPA President Christine Banning, and moi. Wow! They are a pretty heady couple to be linked with. Mike, you turn my head …
Article Abstract from April, 2013