Notes from Big Ben ...

Are Salespeople 'Artistic?'

By Peter Guest

I had some interesting conversations at Intertraffic in Amsterdam, but I think the following two exchanges stand out as extreme examples of the salesman's "art."
Sales Pitch #1:
Me: "I am looking to buy this type of machine. What's the maximum temperature that your company's equipment will work in?"
Salesman: "Up to 40*C."
Me: "In my target country, it can get over 50*C."
Salesman: "This machine will work at over 50*C."
Me: "My traffic signals engineers tell me that temperatures inside their traffic camera housings can reach 80C."
Salesman: "This machine will work at over 80*C."
Sales Pitch #2:
Me: "I am looking to buy this type of equipment to use in the Middle East."
Salesman: "This is a new product, and I don't want to offer it to you until we have enough experience to be certain that it will work in that environment."
Which one would you buy a used car from?
Bad Day for Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart came into the UK market a few years ago when they bought the ASDA supermarket chain, and so far, they have been doing pretty well. Just recently, however, they got the worst possible publicity following a fatal accident in one of their car parks.
There had been a number of problems in the car park, and ASDA had installed a gate to close the car park at night. The gate was in the form of a metal bar that could swing horizontally to be locked across the entrance and then opened during the day. When open, the gate should be locked in position so that it cannot swing across the entry lane. Sadly, on the day of the fatal accident, the gate had not been secured, and just as a car turned into the car park, the gate was swung closed by the wind, penetrating the windscreen and killing the driver.
The subsequent investigation revealed a catalog of shortcomings in the way ASDA managed the car park, and resulted in a finding of unlawful killing. This could mean that someone in ASDA could be charged with manslaughter. The company response has been to immediately remove all such barriers from their sites; meanwhile, the BBC discovered many similar accidents with this sort of barrier and are now campaigning to have them banned. It's sad that something done to improve safety has resulted in someone's death.
A Bit of a Bother in Iberia
A recent court case in Spain has started a Europe-wide debate on how we charge for parking. In most places, charges are based on hourly steps where a driver pays, say, a dollar for one hour, two dollars for two hours and so on. Charges may be structured to discourage long-stay parking (the charge will increase by more than a dollar an hour after, say, three hours) or set to favor long-stay, where there is a maximum fee to stay all day.
In the Spanish case, it was argued - successfully - that it was inherently unfair for a driver staying for 15 minutes to pay the same "up to one hour" charge as someone staying 59 minutes. The result has been a tariff with much finer steps. However, if the average stay is, say, 40 minutes, then it is simple math to realize that the charge for a 40-minute stay has to return the same income as the previous "up to one hour" charge, and so the net result has been that parking charges have risen. The phrase "Pyrrhic victory" springs to mind.
I am fascinated by the idea of applying this logic to other industries. Imagine going to a restaurant and at the end of the meal asking for a reduction in the bill because you didn't eat the bread roll; or staying in a hotel and asking for a discount when you check out an hour early! (Yes, there are hotels where you can rent the room by the hour, but I'm too young to know about such things.)
Different Strokes - or Not?
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a short talk at Intertraffic about the need for formal standards in our industry. In Europe, we all drive similar cars and use the same machines and equipment, and one would have thought that, therefore, we would have a similar requirement for car parks and equipment, and yet there is no common acceptable "design norm" for anything.
The purpose of my talk was to initiate a debate about (a) whether we needed a common framework, and (b) if so, how to go about doing something that would be useful and wouldn't just become a bureaucratic nonsense. Well, I certainly started a debate! For the next three days, it seemed as if everyone I met had an opinion that they wanted to share with me, and a European Parking Association panel of experts has taken the debate onboard.
The question is: Should this dialogue extend to your side of the Atlantic? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. In the excellent Walker Parking Consultants book Parking Structures, Mary Smith - whose opinion I greatly respect in most things - rules out the idea of perpendicular parking in a car park with one-way traffic circulation, a design philosophy adopted in most European car parks. It works for us, so why doesn't it work for you?
And Finally
When we have roadwork on our main motorway network it is normal to impose a temporary lower speed limit for safety reasons. Being a roadworker is the most dangerous job in Britain, apparently. These limits are enforced using speed cameras to record violators. One camera near Liverpool has managed to raise more than a two million dollars in fines (at $100 per offense). Motoring organizations have criticized the cameras as being nothing more than a way of ripping off the drivers. Personally, I think that since the $100 fine clearly isn't deterring speeding, let's double the fine and use the extra money raised to pay the extra pensions of the roadworkers who will reach old age as a result.

Peter Guest can be reached at

Article Abstract from June, 2006

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