Magazine

Point of View

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

By John Van Horn

I have been looking back over some recent “Parking News” on Yahoo!, and it’s hard to get excited about the stories. They are all basically the same. The local merchants/citizens/students are up in arms over parking in the community, and the local /city council/mayor/administration is worried/confused/taking some action on the topic.
Rates are being raised/lowered/eliminated/started to solve the lack of enough parking that supports the local business/building/venue/university/hospital.
Citizens are irate/happy/annoyed/demanding/marching/yelling over the situation.
In the end, the problems go back to public sector parking. It either costs too much or too little, there isn’t enough of it, and it’s in the wrong place. Fair enough.
But where is the outrage over private parking? When there’s not enough parking, the people just take their business elsewhere. If it costs too much, the price is lowered or the merchants pick up the tab.
If the lack of parking is a problem, the businesses involved make more, install shuttles, hire valets and the problem seems to go away.
There is no democracy issue – businesses sink or swim based on parking availability. The customer is always right. But there is someone to pay the bills – the owner, shopkeeper, parker. The private sector understands this. If you charge someone for something, you had better deliver.
An example, there is “free” Wi-Fi at some airports; it usually doesn’t work at all. Then there is “pay” Wi-Fi also available. It almost always works right, has high power, and is easy to get access to. You get what you pay for.
In the public sector, democracy is in action. Committees are formed, studies done, the mayor’s wife gives her input, and decisions are eventually made. And all hell breaks loose.
There were 500 parking articles in U.S. newspapers in a recent week, virtually all about on- and off-street parking issues that relate to the public sector. I tried to find one that dealt with the private sector and could not – even though half of the parking in the U.S. is from the private side. Why?
I think it has to do with a term we are hearing more and more these days – “stakeholders” – which Wikipedia defines as “a person, group, organization, or system who affects or can be affected by an organization’s actions.”
Well, let’s see. If I am in private business, the relationship is one on one. I am the businessperson and you are the customer. There aren’t really a lot of other stakeholders in the relationship. If I screw up, you vote with your feet. Pretty easy.
There are hundreds of stakeholders in the public sector, and they range from private citizens (each having individual and group interests) to businesses, to government bureaucrats, to politicians.
When a private business takes an action, it may affect its customers, but that’s usually it. However, when the public sector takes an action, everyone’s ox is being gored. Wow!
A private sector decision is made and that is that. On the public side, hundreds of stakeholders may be involved in the decision. For good or bad. Triangulation and the ability to “sell” the deal take over. Is the best decision made, or is it a compromise, satisfying few?
I have great respect for the public parking sector. They have tremendous pressures and have to work their way through them. Ah-ha! Perhaps a workshop for the IPI? “The Politics of Parking – Maneuvering Through the Tangled Web of Public Parking Policy.”
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” The phrase was brought home to me recently when I interviewed the inventors of a new product for the parking industry. It’s a way to sell validations and validate tickets over the Internet. I don’t want to go into too much detail, since, after all, I want you to read the article later in this issue.
Suffice it to say, these folks aren’t really in the software application business, but they saw a requirement, investigated and created a computer app that solved the problem.
Of course, there is the corollary to “Necessity is the mother of invention” – Milk is a necessity, a locomotive is an invention. Therefore, milk is the mother of the locomotive. OK, I’m told it’s faulty logic – much the same as if you look out the window and see wet grass at night and the lights are on, you assume that the lights caused the rain.
However, my buddies at Sentry Control Systems in Sun Valley, CA, did the deed.
Abu Dhabi, UAE, has instituted a new parking system to get its chaotic parking under control. They are charging for parking – it was free – and beginning to enforce fines. Here are some quotes, from MenaFN (the Middle East North Africa Financial Network):
Humaid Al Shamshi, Emirati trade finance officer with a bank in Abu Dhabi, said, “Illegal parking really crammed the hotspots of the city, but now we feel at ease during the day. Parking should always be organised, as disorganised parking, especially in the night, put others in big trouble as other cars block their way out. We can now move easily.”
Mohammed Rawwas, government relations officer at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, said, “Paying Dh2 (about 50 cents) for one hour of parking in the day is not a big deal. Now, we can see the parking is well organised. After the introduction of paid parking, people don’t leave their vehicles for long hours, a common practice earlier.”
Atif Quadri, a trade officer, said, ‘‘Parking fees should be paid by the company for which we work. It is an extra burden on us to pay, say, Dh15, every day. To save this money, we park our vehicles far away from our office in free parking areas.”
Alexander Maddasoc, a civil engineer, said, “I brought my wife for treatment at a hospital and easily got parking, which was earlier difficult. Monitoring during night is a good move as the Khalifa Street area is very crowded in the day as well as night.”
I love the third one – well, duh, that’s exactly what is supposed to happen! It’s working. Abu Dhabi is civilized in its manners and its business – now it’s becoming civilized in its parking.

Article Abstract from April, 2010




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