Point of View
Whining, Parking Wars, again, NHS and Kansas City
By John Van Horn
Cities are whining because their revenue is down. Wow! Da ya think? Can you believe it? There is a recession, and suddenly cities are saying that they don’t have enough tax revenue. I mean, gee, people are spending less, so there is less sales tax.
Cities were spending like drunken sailors and housing prices go down a bit and they are, OMG, not getting enough revenue to cover their expenses! The solution? Raise fees, taxes, rates, whatever you got.
Let’s see ... I run a car company. I sell Belchfire Eight’s. I find that due to the recession, I’m losing money. The solution? I immediately raise the prices of the fabled Belchfire. Guess again.
If I’m smart, I do a number of things.
First, I look at my costs and see what I can do about keeping them in line. Maybe that new startup I was planning should be put off a couple of years. Second, I look at the Belchfire. Maybe the car I make could be changed a bit to better fit the needs of the folks who might buy it.
Third, perhaps I need to look at my marketing and get smart about who uses my product and how I can better reach them. Fourth, maybe it’s time to go back to my core business. Perhaps that airplane division and the factory making refrigerators need to be closed or sold off to someone who knows how to do it better.
Have you heard any government agency even hint at doing any of these things? Let me parse it for you.
How about a goal of reducing costs 10% in every department in the organization. Let them come up with plans to cut, cut, cut. Of course, the police department will start with street cops, so there needs to be some emphasis on the 47 deputy chiefs in charge of public relations and sustainability and the like.
Are the street department and the library and the schools delivering what we promised? If not, why not? Sometimes we lose sight of why we are here. Are we supposed to teach students or change the social fiber of the country? You get the idea.
Who are the government’s customers? Probably 75% of the populace never use the services provided (except maybe the street and water department), so why do we provide them? Is this the right thing to do? Maybe many programs need to be re-thought and canceled and then re-justified.
What is our core business? Should we be collecting trash? Running recycling programs? Selling water and electricity? Owning Parking Garages? Running a rapid-transit system? Owning hospitals? Building housing? Or should we get out of the way and spend our time making it easy for private industry to do those things?
Or we could just raise parking taxes and fees and forget the whole thing.
Extra, read all about it! Charging for parking creates parking space. The UK is embroiled in hospital parking issues. The National Health Service or whatever is getting it in the neck for charging a “sickness tax” – read that, “parking fee” – to those who park at hospitals.
However, as reported in the Lancashire Evening Post, authorities have noticed that when parking charges were put in place, space was created. Up to 200 spaces a day. They charge the £10 only if you stay longer than four hours. What that did was push out all those folks who were parking at the hospital and then walking down the block to work.
See, creative thinking can solve the problem without creating another one. However, just for the record, I believe everyone should pay something for parking, and they might do so at Lancashire hospitals. This is an excellent example of how parking fees can affect parking habits.
I read that although many business and community leaders want Kansas City to become a more sustainable city, they have differing views about the role that parking — especially subsidized parking — should play in Downtown’s development.
The local enviros want the city to take tax dollars and build light rail; the developers want rebates on taxes to cover the cost of parking.
I think both are wrong. If a development needs parking, it should pay for itself. Ditto for light rail. If charges for parking are high enough, people will look for alternatives, and light rail would become viable.
Just sayin’ ...
A comment from a reader of a Parking Today blog posting on the “Parking Wars” TV show:
But showing people paying their tickets in an orderly fashion would not be good reality TV! Of course, the producers of “Parking Wars” will show all the “ugliness” of parking enforcement. As someone wise once told me, “Parking is a grudge cost.” It’s difficult to make this industry into a bed of roses when customers pay us because they have to!
The reader is absolutely correct. We have a huge PR problem. People love to hate parking, parking charges, parking tickets, parking enforcement, and the like. What to do, what to do.
First, we need to start treating parkers like customers. I heard a story today at lunch about a parking enforcement officer in a Colorado city who saw a woman walking out of a high-end store with her arms full of packages. Her parking meter had just turned to red.
What the officer wanted to do was go over, help with her packages, and quietly mention that maybe she could put another coin in the meter next time. What he was required to do by his boss, who was tasked with filling the city’s coffers, was write a citation.
This officer had the right idea. That woman probably just paid more in sales tax than the ticket was worth. But the bad taste might be just enough to drive her to the new tony mall outside town, and her business is lost forever. He wanted to treat her like a customer, not a scofflaw.
We must change our attitudes before we correct the “Parking Wars” problems. The change has to come from the top, not the front lines. Most of those on-street are faced with this issue every day: quotas from the boss, sensible enforcement staring them in the face.
What if, when an enforcement officer came across the situation above, they issued a “Thank you for your business” citation that listed all the things the money collected from parking provided. Let our customers know what they are getting for their bucks, more than just a parking space, although that is important.
Explain how charging for parking ensures that there will be a space when you need it. Show how enforcement is important so those employees in the area don’t take all the spaces needed for customers.
Show how that money paid for the new sidewalk, streetlight or extra police patrol. How about a contest and randomly pick a parker to receive a free whatever and get it in the newspaper? I could go on and on.
The enforcement folks in Philly are actually very professional and patient. But maybe they need a few more tools in their bag.
Article Abstract from October, 2009