Magazine

Management-Speak and Parking Program Effectiveness -- A Consulting Retrospective

Joseph P. Sciulli

Well before the offspring of baby boomers had alpha suffices to tag their generations (Gen-X, Gen-Y, etc.), the American workplace had been saturated with some greatly overused management-speak. Terms such as "efficiency" and "effectiveness" were being thrown around like dice in Las Vegas, and were being overused along with other golden phrases, such as "doing more with less," being "proactive" and the inimitable "thinking outside the box." Even today, "at the end of the day" is a popular catchphrase.
So at a time when the mantra was definitely "doing more with less" (and if you guessed the mid- to late-1970s, then you win two leisure suits and a disco lesson), the concepts of efficiency and effectiveness entered the world of parking management. (For our purposes, let's define efficiency as "doing things right" and effectiveness as "doing the right thing.") With quite a bit of success, large cities around the country (starting in Washington, DC) began consolidating their organizationally separated on-street parking functions into consolidated programs in the "single responsibility center" model. Thus began the modern age of parking management as we know it today.
But eventually it came to pass that the interpretation of words such as efficiency and effectiveness could be blurred. Enforcement officer "efficiency" and "productivity" could be misinterpreted as one of the indicators of parking program "effectiveness." Granted, an effective parking management team would undoubtedly create an efficient corps of enforcement officers. But there was a risk of equating the concept of "program effectiveness" with the number of parking tickets issued per officer per day. (If you guessed the mid-1980s, then you win the soundtrack from Live Aid and a Don Johnson poster -- remember "Miami Vice"?)
Interestingly during this period, there was a bit of reluctance among some parking folks to use terms such as "productivity" in polite conversation with field officers. Such discussions might invariably open the door to accusations that the "Q" word, ("Quota") was being communicated to the work force. So at an operating level, a gulf existed between the quest for efficiency and productivity, and the words and numbers to talk about these issues constructively with field officers and supervisors.
But by the time Bill and Hillary had been residing on Pennsylvania Avenue for a few years (the mid-1990s), two developments helped open a constructive discussion on "program effectiveness" within a parking agency that was in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, specifically).
First, a sufficient number of consultant-led downtown parking activity studies and informal surveys had been performed nationally to assess key performance indicators in what were then "maturing" parking management programs. Whereas data previously pointed to a national productivity average of 75 tickets per officer per day (in the Jimmy Carter era), it was generally the case that cities then possessed neither efficient nor effective means of processing, collecting and adjudicating parking tickets. An updated look at each of the parking management key performance indicators revealed that in cities having consolidated programs and good collection infrastructures, illegal parking rates and violation capture rates were relatively consistent, even though officer productivity averages might vary widely. (The violation capture rate is the number of unique tickets divided by unique violations during a field survey period.)
As cases in point, field surveys in Los Angeles and Philadelphia during the mid-'90s generally revealed meter violation rates of 7 percent or less and overall violation capture rates of 20 percent or more. In both cities, ticket collection rates were approximately 70 percent and daily officer productivity averages approximated 40 tickets; further, vehicle turnover at meters was at least 100 percent or more of the expected level, given the regulated parking durations surveyed. In Washington, DC, and Boston, the ticket collection rates equaled or surpassed those of L.A. and Philly, but while daily productivity averages were nearly double those of the larger cities, parking violation and capture rates were substantially the same.
Second, as a result of the availability of the above data, enforcement officer "refresher" training seminars supported by strong consultant-client relationships within the Philadelphia Parking Authority were able to address productivity issues head-on. Terms such as "productivity," "efficiency" and "effectiveness" were openly and properly defined for field officers, supervisors and managers to understand and discuss. By using parking activity survey statistics, officer efficiency reports (including issuance by time of day) and a bit of blackboard arithmetic, it was proven that:
True parking program effectiveness is rightly measured by the parking violation rate and the vehicle turnover rate. These two indicators reflect how well the parking management agency fulfills its mission of supporting economic development and public safety. These indicators also portray the suitability of curb regulations to the adjacent land use.
An officer's daily ticket productivity average is ultimately an indicator of deployment, beat design and patrol strategy efficiency; officer, supervisor and manager communication and dedication; and a host of other qualitative factors. But it is NOT the measure of parking program effectiveness.
Ticket issuance "quotas" would be extremely counter-productive to both the public image and overall success of the parking management program.
Officer, squad and department efficiency and productivity, as well as projected and historically proven violation levels per beat, can be discussed openly and productively to optimize the operational efficiency of the program, as any modern organization must do if it seeks to be a good steward of its resources.
In sum, consulting approaches that optimized the effective use of data to address quantitative concerns helped address qualitative interpretations of the true parking management mission. Parking management effectiveness is not indicated by officer productivity -- but it is indicated by parking violation and turnover rates.
I could be wildly productive and issue 300 parking tickets per day by citing marginal violations to vehicles parked on improperly regulated curb space. But would I be contributing to effective parking management? If you answered "no," then You Are the Strongest Link, the Head of Household, and the Ultimate Survivor (early 21st century).

Joseph P. Sciulli is Senior Operations Consultant for Chance Management Advisors Inc., Philadelphia.


Article Abstract from November, 2003




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