Magazine

Notes from Big Ben …

‘Land of Sand’

Peter Guest

Another day, another dollar, and I am still splitting my time between “The Old Country” and Abu Dhabi, the “Land of Sand,” as we pursue what is probably the biggest single parking project to bring something like 70,000 street-parking spaces under control.
We started last year with just about 1,000 spaces in a small area acting as a pilot/test bed to sort how things could be done, but the people here decided to move straight to the main event, and we have just pre-qualified bidders to operate the whole city.
The numbers are truly frightening. Starting from a clean sheet of paper, we want to set up a complete city parking management program. That will require 3,000 to 4,000 pay-and-display machines; fines management; a residents’ permit program; tow trucks and boots; a parking management system, including a mobile phone payment system; and hundreds of parking wardens – all established from nothing in two years, if the city gets its way.
What will this cost? We think more than $50 million a year to operate. What will it earn? It could easily top $500 million. Not a bad return if we get it right; a disaster if we get it wrong. Watch this space.

Dumb and Dumber
Valet parking has never really caught on in the U.K. People seem to be reluctant to hand over their car to a valet. So we tend to want to park our own cars, rather than give these precious items into the even temporary care of a stranger. Apart from a few up-market hotels and restaurants, the only place that valet parking has had any impact is at airports, where off-airport parking companies offer a collect-and-deliver service.
A story that caught my eye was of a woman who was flying out of Gatwick Airport south of London for a week. Rather than pay the $25 a day to park on the airport, she searched the Internet and found a company that, for less than $100, would collect her car at the airport, park it off-site in a secure compound for the week and then bring it back to her when she returned.
This was too good a deal to miss, and so she duly made the arrangements and turned up at the airport to hand over the keys to her high-spec Audi and $80 in cash to a man who met her at the airport.
You’re probably thinking about now that the car was never seen again, Oh Ye of Little Faith! When she returned a week later, the car was there to meet her, but with some rather obvious accident damage. The company was very apologetic, the driver had skidded on ice on the way to their compound, it was winter, and they of course would cover the repair bill.
However, the next day the woman found that the CDs in the car were definitely not hers (she was into Vivaldi, these were hip-hop). Then she found that the “chauffeur” had left her a little something extra in the glove compartment – his stash of grass. The killer, however, came when the local police sent her a letter telling her that she would be prosecuted for being involved in a hit-and-run accident.
Subsequent journalistic investigation showed that the “secure” compound was, in fact, a back street in an industrial area, and when the journalist left the company with a tagged car, it was driven at more than 100 mph in a 70 mph limit seven times in the week that the company had it.
Just goes to show you get what you pay for, and this story has not progressed the cause of valet parking here.

Institute of Parking Professionals
The industry here in the U.K. is, I suspect, quite different from yours in that it has historically been dominated by municipal parking activities (some suggest 90%) where a professional and business-like approach has been fairly low on the agenda.
For many government councils, parking has been operated as an amenity, rather than a business, just like the public toilets, and so the approach has been “minimum cost.” The picture is now changing as the cities begin to realize that far from being a nuisance, parking is the goose that lays the golden egg and continues to do so year after year.
This has led to a gradual lift in the professional standards of our staff, and this year at the Parkex show, we will formally launch the U.K. Institute of Parking Professionals and establish a professional institution for our people.
This will be a first in Europe, and I am looking forward to a future where we will see “Member of the Institute of Parking Professionals” at an appropriate level as a necessary qualification to work in our industry.
In parallel with this, we also are launching a board, which we call the Sector Skills Board, which will oversee the development of professional training and formal qualifications for our new professionals.

Parkex
And, finally, a plug for the British Parking Association’s show – Parkex 2007 – which will be held April 17-19 at Birmingham. This certainly is the biggest show dedicated to parking in Europe. Parkex 2007 will showcase the major suppliers in the European parking industry and, I understand, will be used to launch a number of new products and services.
It seems to me that many U.S. cities are changing or thinking of changing from the traditional parking meter to pay-and-display meters, where one machine is used to control many spaces by issuing a ticket that is placed in the car. We have more than 25 years’ experience with these systems, and if this is on your agenda, I really would encourage you to come to Birmingham and share in our experience.
All the major manufacturers will be there, plus many parking managers who can give you an inside view of the good, the bad and the ugly. Hope to see you there. I will be happy to say hello on the British Parking Association stand.

Peter Guest, PT’s correspondent on all things Europe and Middle East, can be reached at peterguest@parking1.freeserve.co.uk. He is a
consultant in the U.K. and president of the British Parking Association.

Article Abstract from April, 2007




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