Magazine

Notes from Big Ben …

‘Show Time’ in London, Chicago and Amsterdam

By Peter Guest

Last month, I commented that March would be “show time,” with the PIE, Parkex, the British Parking Association (BPA) awards and Intertraffic Amsterdam 2010. So here’s a brief rundown of what’s been happening.
First, Parkex, in central London – it has alternated between Birmingham, London and Manchester, but the Manchester show is going away since it really doesn’t work.
Parkex 2010 was big – JVH said it’s the biggest in the world, bigger than the NPA’s, the IPI’s and the PIE combined – and went well. The BPA, which owns the show, organized some seminars and launched its “hospital charter.”
I commented recently on the fatuous government consultation on whether to charge for parking at National Health Service public hospitals. The BPA hospital charter tries to set out a sensible and fair approach to that. Although this is an honest endeavor, it does all seem a bit wordy and generic. I’m not sure it really moves the argument forward too much.
Moving on to the Parking Industry Exhibition in Chicago, sponsored by Parking Today: As I said last time, JVH wanted me to do something but was pretty reticent about just what. We finally sat down and roughed out something about half an hour before we went on, and I think that it went OK.
Anyway, I had fun, and my principal rule of thumb for an OK performance – they didn’t walk out or throw anything and clapped at the end – was achieved.
Perhaps the best bit for me at the PIE was meeting Larry Donoghue, who is an incredibly nice guy and one of the few people who have been in the parking industry longer than me. Long life, Larry, and hope to have the pleasure of talking to you again soon.
The PIE was really interesting for me since it’s all about the U.S.A. way of doing things (obviously), and I see how dramatically different things are on your side of the water. You are much more focused on the money than we in the UK are (it’s not quite polite to talk about money here, doncha know, old boy).
But having said that, I am amazed at just how primitive some of the revenue control systems used in the States are. Bits of paper, stickers on tickets and $5 rubber stamps that can be bought down the road in any stationery store; it just doesn’t make sense. Some of the stuff that Dennis Cunning talked about at the PIE would be eliminated immediately if you in the U.S. just bought the sort of systems that we in the UK use, and they would probably pay for themselves in days.
I also got a chance to talk to some nice guys from Anchorage, AK, who seem to be in a different world from the one that I know. With a metropolitan area of a third of a million people, they have just two cops writing tickets. They used to use the baby cops just out of the academy as well, but with the recession, they are not running training courses, so no baby cops. You have my number, guys, when the pain gets too bad.
Disturbingly, two people at the PIE quite separately “recognized” me based on the photo that heads this column. That’s “Big Ben,” the clock tower at the Houses of Parliament! It’s often been suggested that my face would stop a clock, but this is the first time I have been mistaken for one! It hurts!
That brings me to Intertraffic Amsterdam. The big show news was that Parkeon, the French parking meter company, and Skidata, the Swiss pay-on-foot systems people, announced a “strategic partnership” to pursue both on- and off-street opportunities together. Not quite sure how that works since Parkeon also makes systems that compete with Skidata’s.
The day this was announced, I met an old friend who represents Parkeon in an overseas market and one of Skidata’s competitors for off-street parking systems. He also wasn’t sure how it would work in real life. Skidata already has representation in his region, he said, so what is he supposed to do – turn up in the morning promoting his competitor and come back in the afternoon and try to sell the stuff he has? Perhaps a little more thought might be needed?
Just as at Parkex, none of the operators at Intertraffic had a stand, and European stalwarts such as Q-Park and Vinci Park were noticeable by their absence. I sort of understand this; the main attendees as visitors are other businesses and public sector parking people. All public sector work is publicly tendered in open competition, and so the operators really don’t have much to gain by spending thousands of dollars on a stand – apart from avoiding the inevitable scuttlebutt that they are in difficulty if they don’t show.
The most fun in March was the British parking awards, which are getting increasingly like the Oscars but without the speeches. Everyone has a good time (drink is taken), and this year the event moved to a bigger venue to get everybody in. There were about 16 awards; the judges tend to bend the rules a bit and move things around.
The good news at the BPA awards was that a parking assistant working at a cancer hospital got to be the “parking personality of the year” because he went the extra mile for every customer and the hospital was deluged with letters of praise.
The bad news, to me, was that none of the new parking structures really came up to scratch and didn’t get an award. As judge for this category, this led to some rather petulant correspondence from one designer, but, hey guys, don’t blame me if you can’t get it right.
It’s not all high-tech super-stuff. One entry was a “car pool” car park, where the operator came up with a simple solution to keep single drivers out. No cards, no cameras, no bureaucracy – the car park barrier is opened by two buttons that have to be pressed simultaneously from opposite sides of the car. One person can’t reach, not even with a stick. Appropriate technology in one.
And, finally, how to screw your customers in one easy lesson: In Amsterdam for Intertraffic, I was staying at an edge-of-airport car park hotel – let’s call it “Vacation Tavern” to avoid naming names. The hotel is pretty remote from anything but runs a “complementary” shuttle bus to and from the airport, which also has a rail station (and the Intertraffic RAI exhibition center is two stops up the line). Well, I say complementary bus, but that’s not quite true. The bus is free to the hotel but costs 5€ to get back. What a cheap trick!
From JVH: I can’t let Peter’s degradation of U.S. parking equipment go without a small comment. He’s right, of course, in one sense; in another, he is wrong. You know the old saw about not criticizing until you walk a mile in another’s moccasins? This is a perfect example. We in the U.S. validate parking. It’s a national pastime for the merchant, hospital, university, shopping center or whatever to pay for the parking (or part of it) of its customers. It’s our way of life.
They don’t validate in the UK. Period. It’s just not done. So, yes, the manner of validation is primitive, but it’s changing. Dennis Cunning also pointed out that there are ways to handle this phenomenon and mitigate the problem. That being said, there are a number of very high-tech ways of handling it and solving the “bits of paper” issue. However, those also cause other “commercial issues” for the operator, tenant and parker. You can read all about that in last month’s PT.
Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from May, 2010




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