An interview with Toronto's Maurice Anderson
That's What We Are, Aren't We -- a Service Business?'
Editor's Note: Chatting with Maurice Anderson, head of the Toronto Parking Authority, is like talking to your favorite uncle. He says some things that are most reasonable, some things that are outrageous. But you dismiss him at your peril. During the three hours PT spent with Maurice, we were on and off the record so many times we lost count. We finally agreed to let him peek at the story to be sure we got it right. He's bright, he's fun, he's irreverent. He doesn't remind you of the kindly, gentle archetypical Canadian. He tells it as he sees it, and pulls no punches. He knows what he wants and how to get it. A consummate politician, he certainly understands the ins and outs of Toronto's City Hall. The fact that his organization puts nearly $95 M in gross revenue per year and adds $60 M in taxes and parking revenues into the city's coffers can't hurt. An additional $70 M is generated from on-street parking and traffic offenses. He's secretary treasurer of the IPI and head of the Canadian Parking Foundation, which sponsors the World Parking Symposium every other year. We spoke with him in March in Toronto.
"When we installed the first pay-on-foot system in the city in 1995, I went down to the garage at midnight on the first day to see it turned on. I wanted to be there and help with any parkers that need instruction. Can you believe it? The first guy had a problem. He came up, fiddled with the ticket dispenser, got frustrated, cursed and stormed off. Turned out he was the president of the union that represented the cashiers."
It's now a decade later and Maurice Anderson, head of the Toronto Parking Authority, has 5 garages running pay-on-foot, with online credit card processing, credit card in and out features and monitored from a central location in the city.
"We were the first [Parking Authority] in North America with online credit card processing and the credit card in and out feature that is prevalent today. Then it took 15 seconds to authorize the transaction; now it takes 2. I felt that if we were going to take credit cards, we had to do it right. None of the systems in those days did online authorization in real-time. I insisted that ours did, and our vendor stepped up to the plate. ...
"Problems? Of course there were some problems, but we expected that. We were on the very cutting edge of technology at that time. But we stuck with it and so did they, and we worked it out. Parking is a business where there aren't enough sites to work through the problems. Each company has to fight through each installation until they get it right. That takes time. ...
"I saw a pay-on-foot machine I liked at a trade show -- the Canadian Parking Association show. It had a lot of great features. I insisted that it give change in banknotes. It did, but it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. The banknote dispenser was tacked on the side of the unit like an afterthought. But it did what I wanted.
"I asked about the machine having the capability of processing credit cards on line and allowing the feature to enter and exit with a credit card. The fellow in the booth told me to come back tomorrow. Turns out he spent the night on the phone with his engineers in Europe and the next day had my answer. He said it would take a year; it took two. But we got it going. And eventually, it had bill acceptors and changers internal to the system. Oh, yeah, the bill acceptors are Canadian. They are cheaper, smaller and work as well as the others.
"In the beginning, we couldn't use credit card in/out; the authorization was too slow. However today, with the 2-second authorization, it works fine. In 1995, about 20% of our transactions were credit card. Today, we are well over 50%."
PT was told by the manufacturer that the reason it was able to do online verification in Canada was due to a quirk in the Canadian phone system that allowed a compression feature to speed up the transaction time. That wasn't available in the US at the time. Of course, online Internet processing today solves this problem.
"It took us two years to get all the bugs out of the system and to get it accepted completely by the citizens of Toronto. Now we are converting all the garages that can be converted to POF and all new garages are designed for pay-on-foot.
"The benefits? Well, from a parker's point of view, it reduces exit time. It reduces our complaints from parkers about attendants, and it reduces staff.
"We find that the minute POF goes into a garage, our complaints about that garage go to near zero. Think about it. Most of the complaints you have in garages are caused by the people who work there. If you lower the interaction between the people and the parkers, you lower the complaints.
"We haven't hired a new cashier in seven years. In '98, we had 135 cashiers; now we have 69. We have more garages, fewer cashiers. We had no layoffs. We simply moved people to different positions and let natural turnover reduce our staff.
"We moved ahead with our on-street operation, too. We were the first city in North America to have an integrated online on-street pay-and-display program. We use it in our surface lots as well as on-street. As we replaced single space meters with on line pay and display machines, staffing, maintenance and enforcement got easier.
"With the off line units we had to check each machine early, around seven in the morning, to be certain the machine was working and full of tickets and the like. With the new ones, we simply start our enforcement rounds at 10 AM or so. They tell us at the central monitoring station if they have a machine that has a problem and dispatch a technician. That two or three hour difference in putting manpower on the streets is a big savings, plus it frees up our officers to do the enforcement job properly."
Anderson handles enforcement of his off-street surface lots himself, with the city police enforcing on-street violations. He has submitted a proposal to take over on-street enforcement.
"It's a case of attitude. The police are measured by the number of tickets they write. If they see a meter down or a machine not working, what is their motivation to report it? They have to write tickets, generate revenue from that direction. They see no upside in fixing a broken meter.
"The Authority enforcement officers look at it differently. We want people to pay their parking fees and we go out of our way to be certain all the equipment is working. In addition, if people have issues with their parking tickets, we can't help them. They call us, we refer them to City Hall. We want to be able to make the parking experience easier. We give those that haven't paid a courtesy envelope and most pay up. We simply ask for the amount due. If they get three envelopes in three months, we tack on the $30 ticket. Most pay up.
"I had to laugh - When we moved to Pay and Display for on-street in a certain downtown area, I got a call from a merchant complaining about the new system. What was the complaint? When we removed the meters, we also removed the posts. What are meter posts used for, besides holding up a meter? Bike racks. People were complaining that there was no place to lock up their bikes. Now we leave a few posts on each street for that purpose.
"We had 16,000 meters when we began to switch to P-and-D. We now have about 3,500 left. ... Don't let anyone fool you. You can put 5-10% more cars in the same area with P-and-D. We don't mark the spots, and people park as they can.
"Once again, we are almost complaint-free. With meters, store owners are repeatedly asked for change. Now, with the credit card facility, that goes away. About 35% of our parkers on-street pay by credit card.
"The beauty of both pay-and-display and pay-on-foot is that it puts the onus on the customer. They now are empowered. They have many different payment options. They don't have to argue with a cashier. They have a receipt in their car that tells them when their parking is up. And if they get a citation, then there is something in writing they can check to see if they were treated fairly.
"What's next? We are working on an online chip card that businesses can use to track the parking costs of their employees who are required to move about the city and park often every day. It's in trial now, and I think it will work just great! It's one more way to give service to our customers. That's what we are, aren't we -- a service business."
The Toronto Parking Authority uses Zeag and Parkeon equipment. John Van Horn, editor of Parking Today, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.