Parking and Hospitals: Should You ‘Do It Yourself?’
By Kevin Warwood
I have spent many years in hospital parking, here in New Zealand, as a parking operator, on sites where demand exceeds supply, “greenfield” sites, sites with an iniquitous distribution of parking spaces.
But the major scourge of hospital parking is the idea that it is like some do-it-yourself project that can be done by anyone, usually in facilities management.
The poor old hospital patient has a lot to tussle with beyond the regular struggles with parking. On top of this, they must put up with healthcare professionals who will ignore the fact that the healthcare visit starts and ends with the car park, and not do a thing about it.
Airports have mastered this approach sometime ago, with the understanding that a customer has their first “touch-point” at the car park, believing that the arrival through to the check-in desks and the retail lobby can only be helped by setting the mood, by having a good experience through the car park first.
Parking is the conduit to deliver the passenger to the airlines and retailers. Is hospital parking
Could you imagine the frame of mind that patients might be in if they happen to arrive at a hospital where parking not only is taken seriously as a touch-point for the delivery of patients, but embraces it as a serious discipline? With a possibly traumatic experience in front of them, parking could be seen as the first point in the delivery and comforting of patients, ready for their clinics.
The first touch-point can deliver some reassuring messages and images. What about pleasant colors in the car park as relaxing music swathes the patient from the car park to the reception, or even equipment clever enough to remember the names of regular visitors (“Good morning, Mrs. Smith.”)
Would this help in the care and rehabilitation of the patient? Anything has to be better than the cold concrete lots that pervade our healthcare facilities now. They can seem so unkind and pitiless.
When I set up a hospital parking site, I will talk of the principles of the project and have them written into the project charter, well before the project detail is sorted out. This allows a route to solve many questions, issues and complaints during the project and beyond.
And that prime principle is: In parking, the public, and patient, comes first. All other groups subvert to the public and patient, while slotting in under them in that hierarchy in their various levels, from management to admin staff (management will usually get reserved parking). All issues raised in the project and in discussions with stakeholder groups get answered, if you go back to that principle.
There is an argument that hospital staff are no different from any other employee group. Why should their employer go through the process of finding parking for them, especially in the city? Very few employers do that now because it costs too much and distracts resources from the purpose of their business. The private sector usually provides only visitors car parks.
A hospital is an activity that generates a lot of traffic, and if it is designed correctly, it can pay for itself and then there doesn’t need to be a shortage anywhere. A parking building pays for itself.
To take advantage of a weak medical pun, it’s a no-brainer.
I have never understood why hospitals don’t just go and build a new car park building. A parking structure, in paying for itself, then doesn’t need to come out of “vote health” at all. Yet one of the biggest gripes about hospitals is a lack of parking.
I believe that if you had to charge for parking and gave everyone the choice of parking on-site, as public or patient and staff, then demand would fit supply. The by-product is increased revenue, and that’s a good by-product to have.
Hospital parking inevitably gets back to pricing and the fact that people don’t want to pay at all. Generally, parking should be run in an effective and efficient manner, delivering the benefits of the resources to the most in need. But most hospitals use a mixture of legacy and other local/political influences to come up with a solution – and it’s generally tailored to the site.
UCLA Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup writes about the benefits of having occupancy of 85%, or 1 space in 8 constantly being turned over, as being efficient and effective, but being off-street and mostly behind barriers, the occupancy rate can be managed much higher than that.
You can then manage supply and demand to get a price. Occupancy and demand drive price.
If there is one golden rule in parking, it is that occupancy is the main parameter that tells you the resource is being used efficiently. Spread the resource through the hierarchy of stakeholders, patients and visitors first, and use price to control it.
Price must be able to go up and down with occupancy and hospital seasonality. Then the resource will be used as efficiently as you may ever get.
All of these understandings are second nature to a parking professional. I suspect that if you started to talk about occupancy, average length of stay and an efficient use of parking resources, most hospital staff would look at you strangely.
“It’s just parking,” they would say, as if it’s just a Home Depot DIY project. And you will smile back at them with an embarrassed grin, agreeing with them as they are the potential client. We have all done that.
Providing a balanced parking system that operates a methodology that embraces good principles, provides some solutions for all users, supports the vulnerable, and is highly auditable, all while connecting with a good technology mix, gives the hospital the best chance of providing a touch-point with the patient that will enhance the healing process, in its own small way. And that is a good thing.
One day, hospital parking will become important. As knowledge, technology and innovation push forward, hospitals will require a parking professional, who will be the only one who understand how to dovetail parking knowledge into the increasingly busy hospital sites.
Marrying the complexities of a hospital site with those of modern parking methodologies and technologies means the solution will not be some do-it-yourself project, but a full-spec solution left to professionals. The day is coming.
Kevin Warwood is a parking consultant and blogger
(at www.parkingithere.blogspot.com) based in New Zealand.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from April, 2013