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Point of View

Three Little Words, the IPA and 30,000 Pennies

By John Van Horn

I was having breakfast with a buddy while in Melbourne for the Parking Association of Australia convention. We were discussing the complexities of parking software systems, and he mentioned that one of his staff had damned one of his company’s products as being too complex for the job. The staffer said that it wasn’t “fit for purpose.”
It’s like using a machine made by Caterpillar or International Harvester to turn over the dirt in your back garden, when a nice shovel would do perfectly. The Cat did the job, but it wasn’t fit for the purpose.
Many systems we find in the parking environment have similar issues. They do the job, but they also do so much more.
Revenue control systems often have features that might seem wonderful on the surface but have no relation to the job at hand. One might be an analysis program for computing long-term rate structures in a garage that has only monthly parking. Another may provide the capability to review transactions back years, but the folks running the facility have no understanding of how to pull those tidbits from the complex innards of the system.
The facility needed something that would allow the staff to turn on and off cards and open gates when those cards were presented. The facility owners were prepared to pay staff to provide those functions. The system, however, also could launch the space shuttle. It simply wasn’t “fit for purpose.”
Of course, such systems also have other issues. The more complex, the more possibility there is for a problem. Just as a Boeing 777 requires more maintenance than a Cessna 150, complex software requires more maintenance than the system that runs the sprinklers in your front yard. You might be willing once a year to change the timer or set the clock when the power goes out, but it’s doubtful you want to call IBM’s 24/7 hot line when your grass starts to brown.
When we purchase these systems, it seems to me the first questions we need to ask is that simple one asked by my Aussie buddy’s staffer – is it fit for purpose?
***
Canada’s a great country. I spent a weekend visiting my buddies at the Canadian Parking Association. Unfortunately, due to scheduling problems, I was unable to play golf. However, the foursome that became a threesome due to my absence won the CPA tournament. My loss, their gain.
Parking Today and Parking World were honored to be able to sponsor a meeting and luncheon for representatives from the International Parking Association. Its President (Je-Han Kim from South Korea) and Director General (Robert Lu from Taiwan) led the group.
The IPA is a new body, only three years old, but has representatives from Taiwan, China, South Korea, Australia and Canada. There is some issue with the Japanese, but that is soon to be resolved.
We were joined in the meeting by Sandra Smith from Whistler, BC; Gwyn Thomas from the City of Toronto; Danny Ho from the University of British Columbia; and Richard McCoy from Virginia Tech.
The CPA, as usual, did a wonderful job. The venue for its conference was the Empress Hotel in Victoria. Couldn’t have been a better spot. The trade show was sold out, the sessions well-attended, and Carole Whitehorne and her staff did a terrific job. Kudos all around.
***
I had dinner recently with a fellow from Perth, Australia, who runs an 800-car garage in that west coast city. He was grousing that Perth had installed numerous electronic signs throughout the metropolitan area and was directing people to parking structures – but only city-owned parking structures. He was muttering about “restraint of trade” and “city-owned monopolies.” When he came back down to Earth, he made a good point.
Perth was touting the signage as a “green” feature. That is, people could find parking spaces more quickly and thus save on “cruising” and reduce the amount of fuel used and hence the amount of dreaded carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere.
Fair enough, he noted; however, people following the signs often drove past his open spaces to go to garages owned by the city, thus actually increasing the amount of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere.
I told him to hire the consultant sitting next to him for a study to find how much additional carbon dioxide was put into the environment due to the city signage issue, and then send the study to the local council and the newspapers. Problem solved.
***
A retired fellow in Santa Cruz, CA, brought 30,000 pennies into the parking office to pay $300 worth of tickets and they were refused. The retiree claimed he was making a point since he believed that the tickets were written improperly but he couldn’t contest them until he paid.
After the city’s refusal, he simply said he wouldn’t pay and deposited the money in his granddaughter’s bank account.
This will nag and grow and sometime six months from now, they will put a lien on his house or take his car and it will be news again, and they still won’t have the money.
Wouldn’t it have been better for the city to have accepted the money, adjudicated his claim, and forgotten about it? Instead, it’s now national news. Everyone is rooting for the poor retired tree trimmer, and the evil city is made to look foolish. (Probably his goal all along.)
I know, I know … the city will say that it didn’t have time to count the pennies (hell, it might have been 10 cents short) or the bank couldn’t deal with it. Nevertheless, the bad publicity is certainly not worth the $300.
Obviously, the bank will take the money – the retiree deposited it back into his granddaughter’s account. I think the city was just being prissy.
Loser – The City of Santa Cruz
Neither winner nor loser – The Retiree
Winner – The Granddaughter.

Article Abstract from December, 2008




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