Point of View
Parking PR in Reverse, a New Structure, and the Wall Street Journal
I read where Lowell, MA, succeeded in taking parking money and upgrading its services, but in Glasgow, Scotland, the reverse happened. The parking department began to remove mature trees to install solar-powered pay-and-display machines. They were stopped by local residents who were up in arms at paying for parking anyway.
This is the reverse of using parking money to support the neighborhood. The neighbors are upset, the trees are attacked, the meters are in limbo, and the city is seen as the bad guy.
Now, what if the city had told the residents that the money from the parking meters was going to repair the streets, upgrade the lighting, trim the trees, replace those trees destroying the sidewalk, and overall make the neighborhood a better place?
Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what would have happened. Lowell, 1; Glasgow, zip.
Here we go again ...
I know this is going to sound like one frustrated editor, but here we go. The city of Mount Vernon, WA, is considering building a parking structure because "there's not enough convenient parking downtown." Who says so? The merchants, that's who.
It worked like this: Skagit County was charging $15 a month for its employees to park in 255 spaces downtown, off-street. The employees aren't dummies. They would rather park on-street where it's free. (Do you see where this is going?) The solution? Remove the $15 fee and let the employees park for free. Now, about 70 percent park free off-street, and the rest -- 75, I did the math -- take up valuable on-street parking all day.
So what's the solution to the convenient parking problem in Mount Vernon? Simple: Build more parking. What do you think the chances are that these folks charge for parking in the structure -- parking that isn't needed now, it seems?
Oh, how many of you who have been following my rant for the past few months believe for a moment that many of the employees of stores in the downtown district don't park for free right in front of their store? Or better yet, just to keep it clean, in front of the competitor down the street?
The plot thickens -- They seem to be needing more parking for the courthouse (added another judge) and for the jail (expanding). I am confused as to the jail -- I guess they want to provide free parking for the local criminals while they are in court or serving their time.
The last line in the story? How are we going to pay for the new structure?
OK, one more time -- you in the back row, begin the chant: "Charge more for on-street parking than for off-street parking.
Let's hear it from the mezzanine: "Charge what parking costs; set the price so 15 percent of the spaces are available most of the time."
Now, you in the front row: "Unbundle parking from the cost of the building so people can make a choice."
Now everyone all together: "Take all the money generated from parking and make the neighborhood a better place to visit. Better lighting, security, streetscapes, storefronts, etc. etc. etc."
By George, they've got it. But will the folks in the Skagit Valley, home of Mount Vernon, WA?
Oh, when you look at the article -- you have to log on to PT blog to check this out, but it's worth it -- notice the picture that accompanies the story. Not only is there an open space in front of the camera, but the lot where they are going to put the new garage has at least 10 empty spaces that I can see. And this is a community with a major parking availability problem?
On-street: The WSJ finally catches up
I knew that on-street enforcement was hot when it was standing room only at the on-street presentation at the IPI. I also noted that booths with pay-and-display, pay-by-space, pay-by-cellphone and other like products were the busiest at the show. My friend and resident scholar, Dale Denda, has moved an entire division of the Parking Market Research Co. to the study of on-street enforcement.
However, the mainstream media have finally caught up with our industry. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has invested half a page discussing the different types of on-street fee collection.
Although it's great that half a dozen companies -- including Mint, POM, Duncan, Cale, Autovu and Innovapark -- get some great PR, it is interesting that except for the Autovu GPS system and pay-by cellphone, there's not much new under the sun.
Payment by in-car meters, P-and-D and card systems at meters have actually been around for a decade. One of the first articles we did in PT years ago was the P-and-D system in Vail, CO, also used in car meters, permits and debit cards.
What has happened, I think, is that the amount being charged to park has risen to the point where cities are now looking for different ways to collect it. Technology that was slightly ahead of its time, now sees that its time has come.
A really big show
The Intertraffic/Parking Industry Exhibition is scheduled for next month in Baltimore. There's a lot of info on it in this month's PT. See you there.
To get all this and much more daily, log on to my PT Blog at www.parkingtoday.com.
Article Abstract from August, 2005