Magazine

Point of View

Dealing With a Hostile Media, And the End of Private Vehicles

John Van Horn

My buddy Dennis Burns, over at the IPI’s Parking Matters/The Blog, recently talked about how to change the topic when the media come after you about parking issues. He said we in the industry should take a positive tone and refer to all the great accomplishments parking has made.

He referred to a “briefing card” prepared by the IPI that gives potential answers to questions from a hostile media. Fair enough.

Unfortunately, the briefing card speaks from the point of view of the parking industry, and not from the point of view of our customers.

It speaks to technology, to the need for more parking professionals involved in parking decisions. It blames garage design for backups at exit, notes that parking tickets aren’t punitive, and so forth.

But what if we stepped back and looked at this from the point of view of the person parking, not from the point of view of the person who runs the garage?

The parkers frankly don’t care if some hotshot designer didn’t work on the garage; they just care that they had to wait. They don’t care that the technology they used to pay was world-class; they just want to know where the money went. They don’t really care for the reasons they got a citation; they just know they don’t like it.

It’s like talking about a new radar system Delta is using on its 777, when passengers are asking about surcharges for baggage.

I think we in the industry may be missing the message.

If I the parker could be sure the money made from parking actually went to pay for streets or parks or police, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad about renting a few square feet of space for $5 an hour.

If I could see the results of the technology (such as wayfinding red/green lights), then maybe I would feel better about my parking experience. If the solution to the long lines were a different way to collect the money, and when it was instituted, the lines went away, then I wouldn’t be concerned about it.

Parkers care about the moment. They care about the few minutes they take paying, they care about the instant they receive the citation, they care about how easy or difficult it was to park or whether the space was available.

I know the Delta passenger doesn’t want the plane to crash, but some things are assumed. If they worried about that, they never would get on the plane.

When we talk about fancy technology or reasons for citations or why you have to pay, we are talking to ourselves. I don’t think we are talking to our customers.

People may not be able to change, but they can understand, and feel better about

the process.

Our streets are better because I paid for parking. Or better yet, money from this parking operation helped pay for the new wing on the Children’s Hospital. If my first citation was a warning, maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad when I got the real one next time.

Talking about what we are “going to do” or “it would be great if we did it” means nothing. If your garage is dark, light it. If people back up, fix the problem, if it’s dirty, clean it.

There are cities out there that really work to get their parking problems solved. I have been to universities where they worry about the most minor problems and then solve them. They communicate with their customers, and it makes a difference.

I know that these issues are difficult. But problems like this are solved at the neighborhood level. Sweeping rules don’t work everywhere. We need to think globally but act locally.

If I change the tone of the discussion with the media, the discussion is still there, and the reporter feels stonewalled. He knows he personally has experienced parking issues and wants answers.

Know your facts. Know your community. Know where the parking problems are and what is being done to solve them. If nothing is being done, say so. Then go out and solve the problems. One by one. Bit by bit. Things only get better when you take action.

JVH

Michael Klein alerted me to an article, by Emily Badger on TheAtlanticCities.com, titled “What the Steamship and the Landline Can Tell Us About the Decline of the Private Car.” Basically, it says that all technology has a shelf life, and just as with the buggy whip, the sailing ship and the telephone landline, private cars will slowly fade away.

 The steamship replaced the sailing ship, because technology gave us something that would cross the seas faster and safer. However, we didn’t stop crossing the seas; in fact, I’m certain that the gross tonnage of freight carried by steamships has far outreached that carried by sail. They are still there, they provide the same service, but they do it with a different technology.

The telephone landline is similar. Cellphones replace a landline, but they don’t replace people communicating with one another.  We could say that landlines replace telegraph lines, or for that matter, smoke signals or the Pony Express. It didn’t replace communications, just the way we do it.

The difference between private cars and, say, mass transportation is related to freedom of choice. The car means that I can go anywhere I want, any time I want. I’m not restricted by train schedules, bus schedules and the like.

Much of the freedom we enjoy is related to the use of private vehicles. How I purchase food, where I work, when I work, what entertainment I enjoy, where I can spend time in recreation – are all related to the private vehicle. How much time I can spend arguing over a particular topic is directly related to whether I have to catch the last bus or train, or whether I can simply drive home when the discussion is completed.

The economics of my life are related to my ability to go shopping in big-box stores and get the benefits of scale. I can pop down to the supermarket, maybe five miles away, and save on my purchases. A can of tuna fish costs a lot less at a Ralph’s than at a 7-Eleven.

So, unless we see a paradigm shift in how society lives its life — which many social scientists are attempting as we speak – the need for private transportation will continue as well as the need for individuals to have places to park it.

That’s not to say that the private car won’t change. Compare a Model T to a Toyota Camry, and you can see a huge difference. However, the actual use of the vehicle has changed little.

Which begs the question, is the freedom that private vehicles give us a good thing? You will note that most people who want to do away with them live in urban centers. They can easily walk to the market, the concert, or the ballgame.  Public transportation is ubiquitous and cheap.

However, if I live 50 miles out of town and want to go to a concert, ballgame or even the supermarket, what now?

Will the private vehicle change – yep, it will become self-driving, it will become less polluting, it will become more comfortable and safer. It may even fly.

But just as with the steamship and the landline, I’ll just bet that the reason for its existence will survive the technology shift.

JVH



 

Article Abstract from May, 2013




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