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Is Reusing an Existing Building for a Garage the Best Idea?

Parking and Property A meeting of parking pros and building owners

We had the third annual “Parking and Property” seminar in late May here in London. This event came out of a conversation that I had a few years ago with the managing editor of Parking Review magazine and another consultant.  

We were bitching about the way that the role of parking – particularly parking structures and their role in property and development – was being neglected, meaning that there really was no forum for the industry and developers to exchange ideas and to share good practices. Mark Moran, the editor, responded by setting up this annual event, which goes from strength to strength.

The “Parking and Property” event is still quite small, with about 75 attendees and a few trade stands in the breakout area. However, I think that it works – with people from the property and development fields in the same room as operators, carpark designers and builders, architects, consultants and equipment providers.

The program was quite diverse: We had a presentation on robotic parking and a very interesting case study on a major city center redevelopment, where the team had to choose between building a new carpark or conserving and reusing what is claimed to be the oldest carpark structure in the UK.

In the end, they reused the old building, and I have to say they probably made the wrong decision. The costs of the two options were probably not too far apart, and what they have done is to strip back the old building to the basic parking deck, repair this, add new stair and lift towers, and re-clad the building, turning the ground floor, which was the bus station, into retail.

 The problem is, however, that the internal geometry is still what was thought OK in the 1930s. The issue was highlighted for me when one of the team buttonholed me to talk about the European Parking Association’s European Standard Parking Award (ESPA), which I helped write.

Their old/new carpark will look wonderful, but cannot meet ESPA minimum criteria for design of the parking deck, which should have told them all that they needed to know. The desire to preserve the historical building is laudable, but given the major refurbishment, only the cognoscenti will actually be able to tell that hidden under the 21st century skin is a 20th century building.

The surprise of the day for me was a presentation by someone from a property company who made the case for keeping carpark operations in-house. Now this is a point of view, and I can see that, depending individual circumstances, there are arguments both for and against using a parking services company to run your shopping mall or whatever.

What did surprise me, however, was that at no time did this speaker seem to recognize that parking companies contributed any expertise to the work that they do; he seemed to view them as little more than labor providers.

In a recent Parking Today editorial, JVH commented on a conversation that he had had with Dennis Burns at the IPI over their briefing card. JVH made the point that the card had rather missed the point (my words, not his), in that it talked about the technology of what we do and missed completely the perspective of the user and what they want and need.

This “Parking and Property” seminar gave two crystal-clear examples of how not to deal with an issue:

Item 1: A consultant from the rail industry argued for station parking to abandon cash payment at their pay-and-display machines in favor of pay-by-phone and credit card. All the reasons were about the efficiency gains for the train company, avoiding the cost of cash handling and cash collection, etc.; nothing was about what the customer wants.

I had written before about this, and when I challenged him, his response was that because more than 80% of payments were already cashless, the need for change was obvious. That didn’t sound right, and it isn’t. The 80% was for all transactions, including ticket sales and parking season tickets.

There doesn’t seem to be data for casual parkers, the ones who pay a day charge in the machine, but I would have thought that it’s highly likely that most pay cash, and to eliminate this option without data simply because it makes the operation easier, seems to me the height of arrogance and folly.

Item 2: A London borough is moving to remove all parking meters and force parkers to pay-by-phone (at a surcharge, I suspect). The justification is that some of their parking meters were broken into, and they lost too much money (which presumably they weren’t collecting daily).

So they made a bad purchasing decision when choosing meters and haven’t got the cash security sorted and now the customer will lose the ability to pay by cash? Kinda misses the point, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, the British Parking Association (BPA) believes that it’s finally able to answer the question, “How many carparks are there in Britain?”

For a very long time, the answer had been, “Nobody knows,” because there was no central database and, indeed, no formal record of where people parked a car, and therefore, what actually counted as a parking space.

Now the BPA commissioned some research that claims that, nationwide, there are an estimated 10 million parking spaces, including some 17,000 carparks.

One thought, though, or perhaps two. There are something over 26 million cars in the UK, and it is widely accepted in the transport planning fraternity that there are about three parking spaces per car in our system. Hmm.



Peter Guest, a consultant in the UK, is PT’s editor-at-large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian.

Reach him at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from August, 2013




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