In 1905, It Was e=mc2 -- Now, a New Parking Formula?
Observe Parking From the Outside
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles seeking to answer the question "Can a formula be devised to predict the potential output or 'qualitative outcomes,' associated with parking or transportation management programs?
To commemorate Albert Einstein's 1905 formula calculating the energy output from the atom, Parking Today (November 2005) asserted that the potential output of parking or transportation programs could be measured through a five-step approach:
1. Obtaining stakeholders' opinions on program performance.
2. Conducting first-hand observations of your operations.
3. Analyzing program data, and if necessary, developing the means to collect other key data.
4. Conducting field activity surveys.
5. Assessing the true effectiveness of the supporting infrastructure (e.g., organizational design, labor agreements, overarching governance).
In Step One, 12 actions were listed to measure how well the program was understood and viewed by key stakeholders. The manager who implements Step One views his or her operations through the eyes of outside constituents to identify the program's strengths and weaknesses to capitalize on the former and improve on the latter. If Step One views the program from the outsider's perspective, then Step Two places the program under a microscope designed for your eyes only (thanks, 007).
In Step Two, your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to see your program again, for the first time, from an outsider's perspective. You may have had a hand in program design, and you may have written some of the procedures being - or not being - followed. Making yourself the customer lets you experience for yourself (rather than just observe), the good, the bad and the ugly of your own service provision. One way is to conduct covert observations of your service quality. As a starting point, the following ideas are submitted for your consideration:
* Use your personal vehicle to locate an on-street parking space at noontime or other peak period. How long did it take or how difficult was it to locate parking? Would Clint Eastwood think you were "feeling lucky" in your hunt for parking?
* Test the enforcement program in your personal vehicle or rental car by not feeding the meter to see how long it takes before you're ticketed. What portion of violations is ticketed on your repeated drive-bys? Is there unticketed double-parking where there shouldn't be?
* Call the customer service number on the back of the ticket to "feel" how you're being treated. Were you frustrated by your own automated voice response system?
* Stand in the heat, rain or cold and see if your park-and-ride bus or circulator shuttle arrives on schedule. Better yet, use these services for a week to really gauge their quality.
* Are your buses and shelters clean and inviting? On a clear day, can you see forever, or does 11 in the morning look more like a rainy night in Georgia?
* Do your bus seats remind you of Thanksgiving at Grandma's: You can see or smell the stuffing? How clean are the carpets and walls in your office's common areas or employee locker rooms?
* Do field employees represent the program as they should, in terms of dress, bearing, courtesy, demeanor and language?
* Anonymously, strike up conversations with your customers on the street, in the garage or at the bus stop. Talk about their impressions of "your" service quality. Visit your cashiers, facility attendants and other activities at off-hours. Are buses laying-over where they shouldn't?
* When you walk through one of your agency's garages, do the dirt and the grime on the floors and doors want to jump right up and into your pores?
OK, maybe the last one's a stretch, but there are at least three overall lessons from the ideas above (I'm sure you could name more):
Lesson One: There's nothing like walking a mile in your customer's shoes. It's one thing to read a daily operations summary from the comfort of your desk, located perhaps 20 feet from your reserved parking space. But like "The Love Boat," adventure is waiting for you at the park-and-ride or the crowded street.
Lesson Two: Insist on cleanliness, if nothing else; it means a lot. Equipment or facilities might be old, but judging from 20 years of consulting experience -- not to mention riding a mass transit system everyday -- I know some managers just don't get it. There's no excuse for exposing your employees and customers to dirty facilities and equipment. And a customer's first experience of your operation - or his 100th - is a lasting one. As an airline executive once said, stains on the flip-tray imply poor engine maintenance.
Lesson Three: An energetic, involved manager can make a program successful. The manager's personal energy, involvement and field presence can help ensure that standards set in the office are achieved in the field. The involved manager strives for improvement, and as a pretty smart contemporary of Einstein's has been quoted: "Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits."
So, by now, we have Steps One and Two, the first variables in our formula to measure the output of a parking or transportation program's true product.
But formulas on the blackboard eventually have to be tested in the field, and it is only by attempting these steps and acting on what you find will you realize any benefits from the time spent reading these articles.
So where the first chapter in this series closed with a quote from Einstein in recognition of the 100th anniversary of e=mc2, it is fitting to end here by hearing from the U.S. president during science's momentous year of 1905, that man of action named Theodore Roosevelt: "In the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things" and "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."
Joseph P. Sciulli is Vice President and Senior Operations Consultant of Chance Management Advisors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.