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Free' Parking at Christmas, and a Newbie

John Van Horn

I got an e-mail the other day from a new member of our industry. It read in part: I started working in parking in March 2005. I have been researching and soaking up all parking-related info. Your blog has served me well. I have been reading "The High Cost of Free Parking" and am on the verge of becoming a full-fledged Shoupista. Do you have any suggestions or advice for a parking industry newbie? Thanks!
My first bit of advice is networking. We really don't have a resource in our industry for problems you will encounter. Network, network, network. Join your state association and attend all the events. Meet people in your job in other cities. They will have the same problems you have and perhaps an answer or two.
Second, avail yourself of what training does exist. The PIE conference in Chicago will have a lot of training programs for you. "Boot Camp" is a great place to start. I am prejudiced about the program, but it's a good beginning. There also are the IPI and NPA programs.
Third, read PT every month. There are a lot of good ideas in the magazine that might help.
Fourth, there are discussion boards on our Web site, and on others, plus list servers that can give you information, and quick.
Be a sponge. Absorb everything you can about what's going on in your city.
Get out and visit the locations, spend time in booths, follow enforcement personnel, ride with the meter repair folks, and find out what they are doing. Ask questions, and if you don't like the answers or they don't make sense, follow up. Remember that parking can be complex, but it's not quantum physics.
Most experts who really know about parking started as sponges. Of course, now they are old like me and took 30 years to learn the job.
And remember one thing, if nothing else. You are in a profession that really means something to your community. What you do affects most parts of it. Be proud of your career.
The city of Marietta, WV, had a gift for its citizens -- "free" parking downtown during the holiday season. City Council members rushed through a measure to cover the parking meters until after the first of the year. They thought it would be a good idea.
The merchants, it seems, have a more sanguine view on the subject. They say people don't complain about parking fees, but about merchants' employees who park all day and take up the space. WOW!!! They are getting the idea.
So, let's see. The City Council says free parking, but what will be the result? I drive downtown, can't find a space to park because the free parking has brought out the poachers and cheaters, so I decide it's too much trouble and head for the mall.
Will the local press follow up and report the results of this little gift? Let's just wait and see.
A week later, I got a bit of correspondence. "I was wanting to know if any other cities allow "free" parking at metered spaces during the holidays. In my opinion, that's a time to really write parking tickets for "squatters."
It hasn't been proven to me that allowing free parking in December increases shopping in a downtown business district. You are allowing free parking for only employees or business owners to park in front of their business and are not allowing paying customers to patronize the businesses."
The correspondence was from a city clerk's office in Alabama: "Free" parking doesn't help the problem, it exacerbates it. If the city wants to help the merchants, and the customers, it will ensure any way it can that there is plenty of parking for them. Making it "free" only makes matters worse.
Now that fellow understands.
As you read this, it's January, and we are entering the winter doldrums. Dark days and cold nights. We have just completed the holiday season and are oh so looking forward to the spring thaw.
I was chatting with a London cabbie when I was in the UK last month -- how can you not? -- and we were discussing the holidays.
He agreed that even with the commercialism that has overtaken Christmas, there is a "magic" that transcends this time of year. It's a time when, in spite if everything else, we have that feeling deep down inside that something is going right.
My cabbie friend said it had to do with memories. He then regaled me with a great one about a crabby brother-in-law and some switched brandy. Then he said: You always remember the great things that happen this time of year, don'tcha?
Yes, my London friend, that we do.
All the best in the new year to you and yours.

Article Abstract from January, 2006




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