Point of View
Do Commercial Operators Get the Press They Deserve?
By John Van Horn
I was in a bit of a kerfuffle last month over an article that never appeared in Parking Today. The details arenít important. Suffice it to say that the article wasnít in the best of taste. A couple of operators got wind of it, and therein lies the tale.
The article got loose for a couple of days, and before I could corral it, feelings were hurt and tempers rose, and rightly so. In addition, it gave the impression that PT and JVH were arch enemies of commercial parking operators. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For all this, I can only offer my sincerest apologies to those involved.
As I have said many times on these pages, operators have an impossible job, are paid very little to do it, and are often placed in positions where itís very difficult to succeed. Yet they show up every day, provide a service that is necessary and important, and all in all, perform it well.
If any good came of this incident, perhaps it brought to light the fact that some in our industry have a negative opinion of operators. That opinion is often fed by rumor, gossip, and sometimes personal experience.
Are parking operators perfect? Of course not. Neither are owners, asset managers, customers, auditors, or for that matter, editors. Everyone has issues.
What we need to do is not paint with too wide a brush. We hear about an operator having a problem, but we donít hear about the 500 other locations that are running smoothly.
If I can say anything negative about commercial parking operators, it is that they donít spend a lot of time telling the positive side of their story. They arenít alone. Few of us in the business world take the time to tout our good sides. We are very busy making a living, and letís face it, in trying times, thatís often hard enough.
However, theirs is a good story and needs to be told. Many smaller companies just donít know how to do it; larger ones are enjoined by everything from corporate rules to Sarbanes-Oxley.
The mainstream media like bad news. ďIf it bleeds, it leads.Ē They get a story about a manager who is less than honest or a mistake by an enforcement officer and, boy, itís banner headlines on the front page. However, if an operator institutes a new program to let people pay their parking fees with toys at Christmas, or adds additional staff to help senior citizens find their way in complicated garages, no one will ever hear about it.
So we here at PT are adding a new monthly feature. We are going to tell the operatorís story. It may be about a successful off-airport operation, or how an operator helps folks trying to catch a train into town. It could be about that new shuttle program being set up to ďincreaseĒ the amount of parking at a university or hospital by providing convenient off-site parking for employees.
We start this month. See if you can find the article. Oh, donít worry, we will continue to bring you ideas and help with your parking operations, just as commercial operators do every day.
From an Associated Press story by Daisy Nguyen:
Traffic engineers across the country are turning to an unlikely weapon in their fight against congestion on city streets Ė parking meters. And drivers will feel the pain in their pocketbooks.
To reduce traffic caused by drivers circling the block to find parking, cities are testing new technology to direct people to open spots and experimenting with a concept known as congestion pricing.
The strategy calls for hiking meter rates during peak hours when parking is scarce and lowering the cost when spaces are plentiful.
Transportation officials believe the higher prices will discourage drivers from staying put for too long. That, in turn, could increase the turnover of spaces and reduce carbon emissions caused by cars on the prowl for curbside spots.
They suggest the extra money from the meters could be used to improve mass transit ...
It drones on and one for two pages, but you get the point. The problem is that the reporter didn't know the questions to ask, or made up answers.
True, fancy meters will enable the cities to alter pricing more on a free-market model, but the result isn't necessarily turnover; itís enticing people to make parking decisions based on their pocketbook.
If there are cheap spaces off-street and expensive spaces on-street, most people will immediately to go the cheap spaces, thus getting them out of the cruising mode. Congestion is reduced because people park quickly. Turnover is caused by setting limits, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you will have less cruising. Quick parking choices eliminate cruising.
So the reporter neglected to ask whether the pricing on-street was going to move parkers off-street and if there was parking off-street to handle the change. In addition, using the money from the meters to improve mass transit is, from my point of view, a non-starter.
The money should be used in the neighborhood for infrastructure to help make each local area a better street scene. Better for merchants, better for visitors, better for residents. Mass transit should pay for itself. Yeah, right.
The May Parking Today is our ďrun-up to the IPIĒ issue. Look for IPI stories both here in the magazine and on our new fabulous website at www.parkingtoday.com
Article Abstract from April, 2009