Making Your Operation More Efficient, Effective and Responsive
By Matthew Inman
In today’s challenging economic environment, it’s more important than ever for parking operations to be efficient, effective and responsive. Those that effectively address operational, organizational and management issues are better prepared to meet current challenges and primed to become even more successful in the future. To help parking professionals assess the effectiveness of their programs, this six-part series of articles will provide an evaluation process that focuses on key areas of every parking organization.
Based on information gathered while conducting parking operational and management assessments across North America, as well as on independent research concerning current parking operations and management best practices, this series will review six essential points of organizational assessment: Planning, Facilities, Technologies, Staffing Issues, Policies and Procedures, and Marketing and Communications. Entwined within the discussion will be major customer service issues that impact the perceptions people have concerning parking operations.
Assessment Point #1 – Planning
Confucius said that “a man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” Truer words have never been spoken, especially in the context of today’s economic climate. Parking administrators are being forced to do more with less. Customers still expect quality service and facilities, even though net revenues may be stagnant or falling due to decreased utilization, artificially low parking rates, increased expenses, etc.
Now is the time to either review your current plans or develop strategies for addressing your future parking needs. When assessing how your program deals with planning-related issues, the following items should be included (at a minimum):
Does your parking program have a strategic plan? If yes, when was the last time it was updated to account for current conditions or changes in management goals?
A strategic plan typically covers a three- to five-year period and addresses several primary operational and management questions, including but not limited to:
• What are the goals, mission, vision, or guiding principles of your parking program?
• What is the existing business environment, and what are the organization’s current core products/services?
• Who are its customers, and how are they served?
• What are its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
• What should the organization be doing to support parking program goals, mission and vision?
• How will it be positioned to support the stated business goals/concerns?
• How will management implement the strategic plan and monitor progress?
The strategic plan should provide a “roadmap” to realizing the stated vision for the parking system. Products, services and initiatives that support designated goals and objectives should be given priority over ideas that do not enhance the organization’s market position nor support customer needs. A well-thought-out strategic plan, with significant input from community stakeholders, will help make decisions concerning resource allocation simpler and easier to defend.
However, simply having a strategic plan is not enough. All too often parking organizations put a significant amount of time, energy and money into developing strategic plans that end up collecting dust on a shelf. Successful implementation requires providing adequate resources, communicating goals and milestones, monitoring progress and holding employees accountable.
A strategic plan should be viewed as a living document that needs periodic adjustments to ensure that unforeseen prevailing conditions do not derail the program. It should be reviewed annually to ensure that the organization is on track and necessary adjustments are made to account for market changes or shifting management objectives.
Parking Master Plan (Parking Supply and Demand Analysis)
When was the last time you completed a parking supply and demand analysis for your market? Do you have a plan for how future parking demands will be met and mitigated?
In some environments, parking supply and demand conditions may not change much over long periods of time. In other cases, parking adequacies can change from year to year. A parking master plan can provide the data and alternatives analyses necessary for determining program needs no matter your supply/demand situation. Being driven primarily by quantifiable parking-related data and assumptions about demand generators, such a plan could help support your decision to add parking spaces or quell concerns about perceived parking shortages.
A parking master plan typically includes an assessment of current parking supply and demand conditions for a given study area; a review of current parking management strategies; significant public/community input; a projection of future conditions (typically up to 10 years); and an analysis of alternatives for meeting future demands.
Such an analysis might include adjusting parking inventories, reducing parking demands through the use of transportation demand management strategies, or adjusting operational and management strategies. With respect to adding parking supplies, the plan could also include potential locations for new facilities, estimates for how much parking could be added per site, basic conceptual designs, and estimated costs.
The primary keys to a successful parking master planning effort are quality data, significant stakeholder input and a realistic implementation plan. It should be updated as needed to account for significant changes in demand and future developments.
Management, Operations and Marketing Plans
Does your organization have written management, operations and marketing plans? Have they been updated to address current conditions? How will you market your parking program to the community?
Unfortunately, many parking organizations lack formalized management, operations or marketing plans. This is somewhat puzzling as nothing is more fundamental to every parking program than determining how services will be provided and marketed on a daily basis.
Your parking management, operations and marketing plans should address – but not be limited to – the following issues:
Management and Operations Plan
• Organizational Structure
• Management Structure
• Facilities and Equipment (including Maintenance)
• Method of Operations (by facility, if necessary)
• Services Provided
• Operating Hours
• Staffing and Training
• Customer Service
• Safety and Security
• Revenue Control
• Reporting Requirements
• Budget and Action Plan (as necessary)
• Review of Existing Market Conditions
• Assessment of Competition
• Analysis of Customer Groups
• Identification of Marketing Objectives
• Preferred Marketing Strategies
• Budget and Action Plan
The management and operations plan should provide sufficient information to explain which services are provided and how they will be provided on a day-to-day basis. The marketing plan should provide a realistic analysis of the parking market and customer needs and desires, as well as implementable strategies. Both plans should be reviewed annually to ensure that they continue to support the goals and objectives detailed in the organization’s strategic plan.
What are the financial priorities for your parking operation? How will necessary expenditures be funded? How will the program pay for facility maintenance? How will rates be adjusted over time to cover increasing expenses?
The ultimate success or failure of any parking program will depend on the resources allocated to it. All other planning efforts will likely fail without a plan that addresses the financial implications of each new or sustained strategy. A parking program financial plan should address – but not be limited to – the following issues:
• Review of existing and historical revenues and expenses
• Management, operations and marketing budget needs
• Facility maintenance
• Parking access and revenue control equipment
• Staffing needs/changes
• Products/Services changes
• Alternatives for reducing expenses
• Marketing initiatives
• Rate adjustments and new revenue streams
• Projection of Future Revenues and Expenses
• Action Plan and Monitoring Strategies
The development of a financial plan will help ensure all appropriate budgetary needs are adequately addressed, proposed program improvements are financially viable, and sufficient time is provided to make adjustments when necessary. Parking program revenues and expenses should be reviewed on a monthly basis, and the financial plan should be reviewed quarterly or annually (as needed).
Developing a strong parking program requires adequate planning. The amount of effort required to develop your plans will depend on parking program goals and objectives, the size and scope of your program, and the detail required to develop appropriate action plans. However, the effort required to properly position your parking program for future success will result in numerous long-term operational and financial benefits.
Matthew Inman, Vice President of Studies and Operations Consulting at Carl Walker Inc., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (480) 505-0088.
Well-thought out management, operations and marketing plans can provide several significant benefits to any parking organization.
First, the plans will provide the basic structure for the system to develop around. They will help ensure operations and marketing support for the strategic plan, help administrators develop appropriate policies and procedures, and ensure expenditures support approved objectives.
Second, the plans will help explain parking operations and marketing to parking employees, managers and the community. Even the best parking organization will struggle to succeed if it doesn’t adequately market its facilities and services, as well as communicate its goals and policies.
Third, the plans will clarify requirements and service expectations for parking staff – eliminating ambiguities and misconceptions. Finally, well-developed management, operations and marketing plans will show the community that the parking program will be operated and managed in a professional, accountable manner.
Article Abstract from August, 2011