Magazine

On Street Parking: It Really Is A Business

Patrick Ryan

Downtowns across America are facing a difficult challenge; How to remain attractive and relevant places to work, shop and do business on an ever-shrinking city budget; How to compete against office parks and mega-malls for fewer available consumer and business dollars. Although cities have long been aware of the need for the businesses within their downtown districts to be successful, in recent years one vital fact has become clearer than ever before. Cities need to be successful businesses themselves. Needless to say, a city's primary goal is to serve the public, but cities that can operate like efficient and successful businesses can better fund civic and community programs. Translating that into today's reality: better funding equals fewer lost jobs and program cuts.
A city's downtown is not only its geographical and emotional heart - but a prosperous and vibrant downtown is usually the economic heart of any city's ability to support its citizens. So it's important that civic leaders achieve the right mix of office space, retail stores, sporting venues and entertainment to attract people to downtown to set up their offices or to part with their hard-earned cash. Of course, part of what makes downtowns attractive to workers and shoppers is convenience. Like it or not, we love to drive our cars. We love to drive them straight to our destinations and park right in front. This is where parking meters come in.
It's well established that meters promote vehicle turnover, ensuring that all those visiting get a fair opportunity to park in front of where they want to visit. It's also well established that the best way to ensure that motorists don't overstay their welcome is to charge them for parking and to cite them if they are in violation. But what's long been seldom spoken about the subject, is that cities really need the revenue from the meters and citations. In many cases parking meter and citation revenue provides millions of dollars for vital city programs. Without this revenue, whole city divisions would not operate and people would be out of jobs. What's talked about even less is the amount of potential revenue that is not being collected in most cities in America because of outdated or unsuitable meters.
Running a computerized revenue model to analyze a city's parking operation will quickly reveal where most fall short. The Combined Parking Revenue Model (COPERM) is an independently audited mathematical model that looks at an operation's key sensitivities, including occupancy, compliance, days of operation and average length of stay. While these things are difficult to change, the COPERM reveals that updating old meters with the right new on-street technology can make the biggest difference to a city's parking operation via the key sensitivities of meter up-time and enforcement efficiency.
Recent experience across the US has shown that most new parking equipment will increase meter up-time dramatically over older equipment. The leading electronic single-space, MultiBay and Pay and Display machines are all very reliable and will increase a city's meter revenue significantly, depending on the age and condition of the previous equipment. So if a city is looking for an increase in meter revenue, most new equipment will do the job well.
While meter up-time and meter revenue are important, it is enforcement efficiency that provides the greatest revenue increase by far. The model shows that the nickels and dimes of meter revenue do not nearly add up to the Dollars of enforcement citations. The COPERM shows that new meters that are easy to enforce from a vehicle will allow officers to quickly and efficiently move between violators, ignoring those vehicles not in violation. Meters that allow direct downloading of data to an enforcement officer's handheld computer also improve enforcement efficiency, resulting in greater revenues. Recent modeling of actual city revenue data has shown that even an incredible 50% increase in meter revenue can be cancelled out by a drop in enforcement efficiency of just 5%. A very small increase in enforcement efficiency will bring in far more revenue than even a massive increase in meter revenues.
It should be pointed out that becoming more efficient at collecting citations is certainly not akin to being overzealous. In reality, most cities could double the number of citations they currently write on parking meter violations and still leave 50%-80% of meter violators without a ticket. The graph nearby, derived by the COPERM using real city data shows that the vast majority of vehicles in violation are not cited, resulting in the loss of the majority of potential revenue from a city parking operation.
Of course there are other things that cities need to consider when looking at new on-street parking technology, such as aesthetics, user-friendliness, convenience, functionality, climate and politics. If, however, a city depends on the revenue it receives from on-street parking, there is no better place to start than by running the numbers.

Patrick Ryan is President of Reino Parking Systems. He can be reached at Patrick@multibay.com

Article Abstract from February, 2004




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