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Comments From a Manager

What Do You Know About the Parking Industry?

By Robert Milner

I recently attended the joint conference of the Middle Atlantic Parking Association (MAPA) and the Parking Association of the Virginias (PAV). The keynote speech focused on the parking industry and where it may be headed.
The conference proved to be exceptionally gratifying as my son, Matthew, accompanied me and I was given the opportunity of show-boating my profession to him (although, admittedly, the comparison of my job to his mom's job at NASA is very different). However, grasping my creativity, I explained to him that while Mommy sends things up into space, Daddy sends cars up into parking garages -- pretty cool, huh! Besides, I told him, some customers drive their cars into our garages as if they were astronauts!
Ultimately, the entire experience got me thinking about what do people outside/inside really know about the parking industry? So I decided to do a little research -- you know, the good old question-and-answer kind. Short on time and money, I decided to limit my "unscientific" research with just three individuals: my two sons and myself.
First, a little bit about the interviewees (a.k.a. the victims). My older son, Robby (age 10), is just like his mom -- academics come very easy to him. Although very good at soccer, he works hard at improving his skills. On the flip side, my younger son, Matthew (age 8), is just like his dad -- not necessarily a good thing. He is outgoing, friendly and active, and has great natural athletic abilities. Also, just like his dad, academics do not come easily for him. He must really apply himself to achieve a passing grade. As for me, I have been in the parking industry for more than 18 years, with experience in both the private and now the public sectors. Along the way, I have also obtained a master's degree and my Certified Administrator of Public Parking (CAPP) certification.
Basically, this unscientific research consisted of my putting a few questions to my boys about the subject at hand: parking. The result was more like Bill Cosby's (or Art Linkletter's, depending on your generation - editor) TV show "Kids Say the Darnedest Things." Here are some of the raw questions and answers from our session:

What do you think Daddy does to make money for the family?
Robby: You make more parking areas. Help build parking garages. Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Matthew: You are the Director of Parking.

Do you know what the parking industry is?
Robby: I have no clue.
Matthew: They collect money.

What do you know about parking cars?
Robby: You have to go into a parking spot and put the car in park.
Matthew: Never park too far in or you will go over that bump and hit the wall.

Do you think people should have to pay to park their cars?
Robby: Not really, because if you have to park your car somewhere, why would you have to pay to do that?
Matthew: Yes, they should, or Daddy won't get any money.

When you get bigger, do you want to do what Daddy does to make money?
Robby: No, I like other things, kinda like what Mom does a little. She works for NASA and helps build things that go up into space.
Matthew: Yes, I want to be the Director of Parking.

At the joint MAPA/PAV conference, I was asked to fill in for the scheduled keynote speaker (who happened to be under the weather). This caused me to think back over the last 18 years and ponder how I personally became involved with the regional parking associations. Here's how the speech went:
I was just a "wet behind the ears" kind of parking person (I was an area manager running about eight locations spread across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC), when a parking guru much wiser and a wee bit older suggested I join the Middle Atlantic Parking Association. I said that though I will not name names in this speech, I am sure the initials R.S. will fit this parking guru perfectly.
Anyway, with application in hand, I went to my boss to request his approval. Much to my surprise, my boss informed me that the company wasn't interested in joining this association; furthermore, he could teach me everything there was to know about parking. Upon recounting these words to my parking guru, he suggested I pay the $50 fee and join anyway. I took his suggestion, paid the $50 and became a member of MAPA. This suggestion and further guidance from R.S. led to a positive mentoring relationship.
Now, one may ask, does MAPA benefit the customers who park in the University of Maryland, Baltimore garages? Yes, I believe these customers do reap benefits, although not easily recognizable. This is evidenced when we conduct our customer service survey (every two years). Historically, customers rate our cashiers very high; coincidently, the majority of these individuals have attended MAPA's customer service seminar "Home Grown Customer Service." Hence, the customer has reaped the benefits of MAPA. Besides, where else can one send an employee for $35 for a highly effective customer service seminar coupled with a hot lunch to boot!
Did I hear someone say "just the facts, please"? OK, the fact is that I was a member of the MAPA board for more than 11 years, and for each of those years, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and appreciated the opportunity to grow with the industry. More important, the fact is that MAPA benefits our customers and employees, as well as myself, because we (the university) get involved. Being involved means being active, and being active means being alert. There is a cliche that says, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Same holds true for any organization. Simply paying the dues might get your name in the book; however, if you want your name in the book of "knowledge," then you have to get involved.
So, in closing, I leave you with this tidbit of information. Recently, our campus opened up our 10 building Bio-Tech Park, which includes one garage already open and two more in the future. Invitations were sent to well over 900 VIPs to attend an elaborate program. However, none of the 900 invitations were sent to our parking office. But, lo and behold, attached to the gala event program was a list of six important names and cellphone numbers, should any emergency/problem arise. You'll never guess whose name and phone number were included in the "Lucky Six" (as we affectionately called them). You guessed right: my name and cellphone number. See, we really ARE among the most important people -- it's just that other people haven't caught on yet!
Keep in mind that our industry is what we make of it, and do we really want to settle for the likes of statements that have come across in Parking Department reports: "Overall, feedback about parking services was positive, which is very complimentary about a service that patrons are forced to pay for."
"Not I," said the parking man. I know we can do
better.

Robert Milner is Director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He can be reach at rmilner@parking.umaryland.edu

Article Abstract from February, 2006




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