In 1905, it was E=MC2
In 2005, a New Parking Formula?
You're Kidding, Another Parking Formula?
You might be thinking what the world needs now - aside from "love, sweet, love", as the lyrics go - is not another parking formula. Or does it? A formula beautifully captures reality. A formula elegantly shows how variables interact to produce a given outcome. Even Martha Stewart might say, "It's a good thing." And this year, we mark the 100th anniversary of perhaps the most important formula of all time: E=mc2.
Happy Birthday, E=mc2
Albert Einstein's formula predicted an outcome for the amount of energy* contained in matter. Perhaps no formula before or since has so affected our quality of life for better or for worse - depending on your point of view! By showing the interaction of complex variables through formulas, Einstein unlocked the door to outcomes ranging from nuclear bombs to nuclear medicine. But how does this relate to parking, you ask?
Parking programs are also interactions of complex variables which yield outcomes that affect our quality of life, for better or for worse - again, depending on your point of view. Drive within the boundaries of an effective parking program, and you'll be more likely to quickly locate convenient parking; walk within one, and chances are you'll be safer crossing the street. Imagine the formulas we would have if Herman and Pauline Einstein had encouraged their son toward a career in parking management!
Albert Einstein, Director of Parking??
Suppose it had been Al the Parking Director, instead of Einstein the Professor. Or Albert the Parking Analyst, not Einstein the Physicist. Would he still have been compelled to find one formula that could capture and predict the outcome of a parking program? Who can say? But as a tribute to AE on this hundredth anniversary of his Annus Mirabilis=, or "year of wonders", what if we attempted a formula to predict the outcome from effective parking? How would we show the interaction of variables that affect the quality of life for motorists and pedestrians? Where do we begin to tell the story of how great parking could be?
A Five-Step Program for Measuring Parking "Outcome"
Whether serving a small town, large city, university, private development, airport or hospital, a parking program's loftiest outcome is not its contribution to a bottom line, but its contribution to motorist ease and pedestrian safety. Key variables that influence the latter include, though aren't limited to: effective policies, procedures and regulations; quality leadership and supervision; the legal authority to organize and staff the program, and an ability to influence the cost of parking. But the actual list may be as infinite as time and space itself.
To identify the variables and show their interaction, this and future articles will detail a FIVE STEP APPROACH for measuring and optimizing "the parking outcome". Borrowing liberally from the scientific method, this approach will have us observe, measure, test, analyze and draw conclusions about parking programs and the quality of their service outcomes. The first step involves observing the program through the eyes of others.
STEP ONE: Obtain Customers' Opinions on Program Performance - Stop, Look and Listen
Just because your observations should be objective and quantitative does not mean they can only be numbers-based. You need to ask questions of the right people to learn how your program's strengths and weaknesses are perceived. Depending on your particular universe (municipal, university, private business, airport or hospital), you should regularly attempt to obtain the opinions of citizens and elected officials, patients and administrators, students and chancellors, and everyone in between. Within the program, include everyone from front line staff to program executives. What do these customers believe about the program, and about the quality of service provided? To enact STEP ONE:
1. identify your customers;
2. develop questions that test for key performance and perception issues;
3. schedule and conduct one-on-one interviews and/or hold focus group sessions;
4. develop and distribute written questionnaires or surveys that test for perceptions, opinions, and parking (and/or transit) behaviors and experiences;
5. document all responses (they will form a baseline for future comparisons);
6. tabulate, analyze and summarize the responses by issue and group;
7. develop statements of how the program is perceived and experienced by its internal and external customers;
8. share the summary with coworkers at all levels within the program and with the external customers, and solicit their ideas for improvements;
9. develop recommendations and an action plan that capitalizes on the program's acknowledged strengths and targets its validated weaknesses;
10. execute and monitor the action plan;
11. provide updates to all customers on the plan's progress;
12. identify related actions that may be needed to further implement improvements (see future STEPS in forthcoming issues of Parking Today); and
13. repeat items 1 through 12 as appropriate.
As a desired outcome for STEP ONE, perhaps the most important element in realizing your program's Energy potential is to make the above actions a part of your organization's routine management approach. That way, you'll always have the benefit of your customers' opinions and experiences as a barometer of your program's service quality.
The following STEPS to appear in upcoming issues of Parking Today will help us develop our own formula for parking outcomes:
* making first-hand observations of your parking (or combined parking/transportation) operations;
* analyzing available program information, and if necessary, developing the means to collect additional data;
* designing, supervising and analyzing parking activity and transit field surveys;
* assessing the true effectiveness of your program's supporting infrastructure (organizational design, facility conditions, organized labor agreements, overarching governance, etc.).
Last But Not Least
It is only fitting to close this first article with a bit of the Professor's wisdom that seems as timely today, given the state of our world, as when he wrote it 55 years ago in his book, Out of My Later Years: "Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom."
Joe Sciulli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org