Just How Important Is Parking Management?
By Mark Rimmer
I usually like to start my day with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, after which I will sit down at the computer and spend the next 45 minutes to an hour browsing the Internet looking for stories from the past day related to parking.
Seems like every day I come across multiple stories about cities that are claiming the only way to avoid a communitywide fiscal disaster is to generate more money from parking, either by raising rates and fines, or through some monetization process. The same thing goes for airports, hospitals, universities, sports venues and numerous other entities.
Conversely, I see just as many stories on a daily basis where cities, hospitals, universities et al are claiming that the only way they are going to be able to save their business or their retail merchants, serve the public, attract businesses or revive their commercial districts is by eliminating all parking fees and any and all enforcement of parking regulations.
These debates have been around for years, and it’s doubtful we will ever see universal agreement on what is the right policy. What should be obvious from these differing positions is that, regardless of which parking policies are right or wrong, you still have to have parking policies. And if you have parking policies, then somehow you have to manage those parking policies.
With that being said, I can now get to my main point, which is: “If parking policies are so darned important to the success and failure of what appears to be everything, then why are the decisions on who is going to actually manage those parking policies based on the low bid?”
If we are to believe all the hype coming from both sides of the debate, we the parking managers have within our grasp the ability to determine the success or failure of almost every business or municipal facility in existence. We apparently wield great power.
Yet, when these same businesses and government entities come to us asking if we would provide them with a proposal wherein they will allow us to exercise these powers, we engage in bloody battles among ourselves in an attempt to see who can prove that they, and they alone are the ultimate superpower of parking management.
Then, in exchange for being given the honor of providing them the services that come with this ultimate power, we the parking managers agree to do so for a fee that is the lowest of the low.
Seriously, what is wrong with us? We know we provide a valuable service, and we know we can provide that service at a level our clients would never be able to duplicate for a price anywhere remotely close to what we can do it for.
Is it that the clients look upon us as if we are nothing more than unskilled labor that could be replaced at the drop of a hat, or do we simply undervalue ourselves?
It’s not just revenue that parking provides to these clients – it is the beginning and end of the entire experience for that client’s customers. When that customer pulls into the parking facility of that particular venue, they have “arrived” at their destination. They are no longer at the mercy of “those idiots at Traffic Planning” or “those crazy drivers”; they are now beginning their experience with the client.
Their first impression of this experience is when they actually enter the parking facility. Once they park their car and open the door, they are then beginning the “pedestrian experience” – something that many planners and consultants have pegged as one of the most crucial aspects of any successful project or development.
Once they leave the parking facility, there are all kinds of things, over which parking management has no control, that can influence their lasting impressions of the visit; but at the end, they must once again enter the parking facility. As they open their car door, they come to the conclusion of their pedestrian experience, and upon exiting the facility, they get their last impression of their experience with the client.
So, let’s recap: Parking is responsible for their first and last impression, and the beginning and end of their pedestrian experience. This takes us back to the original premise that parking is a lot bigger than just revenue generation. It really is a very powerful tool, with a tremendous amount of influence that extends way beyond the parking facility itself.
So again, why is it that the ultimate decision on parking management continually comes down to nothing more than a mathematical calculation to determine who is the cheapest? How do we get those decision-makers to understand just how important a role their parking manager plays and what really is the true value of that service?
On the other hand, is it possible that they do know and are just playing us for suckers? Maybe it’s we the parking managers who don’t realize our real worth; maybe we as an industry are suffering from some sort of inferiority complex. If that is true and “we” are the problem, then “we” are also the answer.
When interviewing a candidate for a parking management position, has anyone ever, or known of anyone ever, who made their decision based on a candidate’s saying they would work cheaper than anyone else? No. Other than some possible exceptions in government, those decisions are made based on who is going to deliver the most value.
To a certain extent, that decision is influenced by what the candidates say they “have done” at previous jobs, but the biggest factor is (or should be) what they say and what you believe they “are going” to do for you. The winning candidate has to sell themselves and get you excited, and in most cases, the way they achieve that is by standing out from the crowd in some way.
When an RFP comes out and all the respondents provide identical information in an identical format, the results are always going to be the same. Then the next time around, the same thing will happen, except since everyone will know what the winning number was last time, we’ll see a game played where everybody tries to guess what percent discount they’ll need to apply to that previous winning number to get the deal this time around.
Eventually, we’ll end up at zero, and that’s a hard number to discount. That’s what happens when nobody stands out, when nobody takes a chance on doing or presenting something different.
We the parking managers created this process, and we can change it; we need to change it. We have tremendous value, and we have control of something very valuable
We need to make clients realize that their search should be for the best value, not the cheapest price. A parking management proposal should involve more than a calculator.
Anybody can “operate” a parking facility, but “managing” a parking facility is a whole different concept. It’s time we stop keeping that our little secret.
Mark Rimmer, Owner and Manager of RTA Consultants, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from May, 2013