Parking Tickets: A Great Way to Ruin a VacationBreckenridge, Colo., a ski resort community 9,600 feet high in the Rocky Mountains, attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year. Tourism being the community's one and only industry, the last thing the town needed was parking complications to keep visitors from returning.
While many municipalities view parking as a source of revenue, it is quite the opposite when tourism is a town's primary industry. Obviously, the main focus must be on attracting visitors and giving them a positive experience - with the hopes they will come back soon and often. And when the municipality relies heavily on tourism for revenue, parking shouldn't get in the way.
In fact, the issuance of first-offense tickets and poorly planned parking can be extremely costly for a resort town and can actually lead to loss of revenue. A tourist's first impression can make or break an opinion of such a municipality, and vacation memories shouldn't include problems finding parking spots or being ticketed.
Breckenridge saw room for improvement in how parking was managed. Jim Benkelman, its Transit Director, initiated a comprehensive study to learn how his town could improve parking inefficiencies.
"We needed to control traffic congestion and make access easy to restaurants, shops and ski slopes without upsetting visitors," Benkelman said. "To us, parking enforcement is needed to maintain parking turnover, not generate revenue."
The town previously had limited data and means for communicating with first-time offenders, so it set out to improve its communications processes with enforcement officers working in the field. It also focused on finding a more user-friendly back-office software system that would help integrate all of its parking issues and processes.
To help meet its goals, Breckenridge looked to T2 Systems, a provider of parking software systems. "The way we interact with the software and the amount of information available to us is one of the biggest advantages we've realized," Benkelman said. "Our database stores vital information that can be pulled up whenever needed."
Sometimes, visitors just want to know where they can park and the town's policies. With the help of the database, new procedures allow for more education and warnings, and fewer citations and tickets for visitors.
Breckenridge is able to track and store tourists' vehicle information using an Internet browser-based registered owner look-up service. The improved data make it possible for parking officers to offer a first-time parking offense warning, saving visitors the irritation of receiving a violation while on vacation.
"Our traffic officers can check to see if it's a first offense and print out a warning, all from a handheld computer," Benkelman said. "The warnings are used to educate residents and tourists on parking lots that are available to them and increase turnover. It's much more valuable than seeing a vehicle as just another car."
Another area needing improvement, according to the study, was availability of parking spaces. To eliminate congestion and help preserve the old mining town's charm, delivery trucks that had flooded the town's Main Street were rerouted and better organized, creating more space for tourist parking.
"We've increased our delivery zones from 20 to 85, establishing these in places that make the most sense without affecting visitors' perceptions," added Benkelman. "Better yet, the database helps us track the permits and make changes if needed so things continue to run smoothly."
Operations are running more smoothly behind the scenes as well. The system now helps Benkelman manage other parking-related functions, such as accounts receivable, citations and appeals. "Having the new integrated system has totally reduced the amount of paperwork on my desk," he said.
Benkelman also noted that the new system enables the town to address parking issues that are most pertinent to a resort community, and specific to Breckenridge. "Every time we open up the new software, it's as though it was specifically built for us - the personalization for our needs has been great."
Breckenridge Isn't Alone
Aspen, Colo., and Winnipeg, Canada, also have invested much research and technology into their parking operations to ensure that their objectives are met. Like Breckenridge, those municipalities now use a unified platform for parking to minimize duplicate work between various systems.
When it comes to resort town parking, the common goal is to manage an efficient operation while avoiding activities and practices that can leave bad impressions with visitors. And for Breckenridge, Aspen and Winnipeg, visitors are everything.