Merry Christmas, for Pete’s Sake.

I visited a friend at a major corporation last week. When she walked into the lobby to greet me she said “happy holidays”  I responded “Merry Christmas.”  The receptionist said under her breath, but loud enough for all to hear – “I like that much better.”

Have we reached the point where political correctness is ruining everything, even those things we hold dear. Whether we like it or not, the US is a Christian country. Nearly 80% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. The next largest group is Jewish with 1.7% and it goes down from there. About 16% are “nothing in particular, agnostic, or atheist (1.6%)

So why is it that we are so afraid to mention that this time of year is the Christmas Season. The name comes from the dominant religion in the country. No one seems to be afraid to wish Jews “Happy Chanukah”  or wish Muslims well during Ramadan. Just what is wrong with wishing folks “Merry Christmas.”

The tradition of Christmas, its stories, myths, and legends, goes back two millennia. We learned as children about stars going forth leading wise-men, of a babe in a manger, shepherds and angels. The story is wonderful, magical, and filled with peace and hope.

There are of course stories that have evolved over the centuries. Santa Clause and gift giving, and of course Dickens’ wonderful “Christmas Carol” with Bob Cratchett, Tiny Tim and old Scrooge himself.

Then there is Christmas music.  We can’t play it in the malls, or sing it at parties, after all we might offend.  The greatest composers of all time wrote songs for the season. I guess we have to listen to them on earphones. We wouldn’t want to offend.

I think this all began when the concern about the separation of church and state groups started of complain about prayer in school — forced prayer (how do you do that). Then we had to get any religious icon out of the public square (pull the cross off the seal of the county of LA, remove the cross that has been on the hill side for a hundred years, and for heavens sake, get those animals, mangers, and folks in their bathrobes out of the park, some poor child might be corrupted.)

Fine — the government should not promote any religion. Got it. But what has that to do with the cards I get or email greetings? Are private businesses so afraid that they might offend that they can’t even put the word “Christmas” on their greetings? I guess so.

I received one out of more than 100 greetings that had the word Christmas on it. Its so sad. This is one of the happiest, blessed, and mystical times of the year. Why do we take things that are wonderful and see them as offensive.  Come on, if someone wishes you ‘happy holidays, respond with a jovial “Merry Christmas.” Lets start a trend.  If someone takes offense, so be it.

I quote from PT’s Christmas Greeting going out Monday:

Merry Christmas to all our readers, friends, and business associates. Whether you be Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist – whether or not you participate in the rites that give this time of year its name, please receive out best wishes for a most happy, merry, and holy holiday season.

JVH

 

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Parking Elf Strikes Again

A Colorado Springs business owner is making it a holiday tradition to dress up like an elf and hand out parking money. According to gazette.com, Richard Gorman, will be giving parkers change for their meters today, Monday and Tuesday.

This is the second year for Skorman as the Parking Elf. “It’s great because people are not expecting it,” he said. “It’s a fun gesture that takes people by surprise.”

Naturally, Mr. Skorman owns a toy store, so fun is part of his business, but I think this is a terrific stunt and a brilliant public relations strategy. I wouldn’t doubt his Christmas spirit, but I like how well he’s using holiday cheer to promote his work. That’s just smart.

Mr. Skorman welcomes photo opportunists and says, if you need quarters, but can’t find him, just stop by his store.

For the rest of the article, click here.

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A lot of Holiday Parking

In a move that could be called genius, but is really just plain common sense, San Antonio International Airport has opened an extra parking lot for the holidays. According to ksat.com:

The new “Green Lot” will be open starting Monday, Dec. 22. Travelers can use the lot for a cost of $8 a day. Parking at the lot can only be paid for by credit card.

The organization Airlines for America is reporting that 45 million people will travel between December 17  and January 4 this season and that December 19 will be the busiest day of all.

A4A Senior Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Policy, says airports around the country are profiting from increased travel by U.S. consumers, and they are using those profits to improve their facilities.

“Airlines continue to invest heavily in airport infrastructure and there is not a single project that is not being realized through existing funding resources,” said Pinkerton. “Since 2008, the 29 largest airports alone have started or completed over $52 billion of capital projects, with significant airline support. We believe airports have adequate resources to fund necessary projects instead of raising taxes on airline customers, who contribute to airport revenues with every ticket they buy.”

If you can’t make money at an airport during the holidays, through tickets, vending or parking, it’s a darn shame. In San Antonio, a holiday lot is win-win for the airport and its customers.

For the rest of the article, click here.

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Something About Glass Houses

We all make mistakes. I never do anything much worse than forget to floss, but it’s a mistake nonetheless, and I hope people will not judge – my teeth, gums and dentist will punish me enough. OK, and maybe I speed sometimes, and, as a policy, I take more than one sample per table at Costco.

But this blog isn’t about my mistakes, pathetic as they are. It’s about a mistake made in Dallas, Texas, where parking meters were installed on a bike lane.  The Dallas Morning News reports in its city hall blog, with plenty of sarcasm, the details about this serious blunder.

Jared White, the Bicycle and Transportation Planner in the city’s Planning and Neighborhood Vitality Department, blames the new meters on “a mix-up involving the contractor” and says they will be removed today or, at the latest, Friday.

It’s just like the quote says. Meters were ordered and scheduled for installation, but during that process the location of the installation was misconstrued, misunderstood, or not clearly defined. City officials say it was the contractor’s mistake and the contractor will pay to fix the mistake.

And even though it seems pretty ridiculous putting parking meters on a bike lane, we all know how easy it is to make a mistake like this. Many of us are only spared heaps of humiliation because we are fortunately not in the position to make mistakes of this magnitude. I remember quite well a mistake a colleague of mine made, a mistake I should have noticed, but didn’t, that involved the publication of 100,000 magazines and our company’s biggest client. I remember the mortification well and can make myself sweat bullets again just thinking of it.

Tracing the path of the mistake is easy, reparations are usually possible and forthcoming, but living down the shame is hard. Let’s all just give each other a break.

Read the article here.

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$25 an hour, on street…

I also saw this story  as I was perusing parknews.biz.  Seems the city dads and moms in Brisbane in the land of OZ are giving the first 15 minutes at a parking meter for free. They were told that it was going to cost nearly $2mm. I have only one questions. How do you know?

How in the devil are they going to enforce this?  The only way I can imagine is that they are using DCA’s parking sensor system.  That way, the enforcement officer can know exactly how long a car has been there and can nail them as one local councilperson said “in the split second they go past 15 minutes.”

I can only see trouble on the horizon. This will fall under the heading of ‘no good dead goes unpunished.”  I can just see when some Aussie Lad or Lassie shows up a split second after the 15 minutes and gets a $100 ticket.  What’s next, 5 minutes grace on the 15 minutes free?

I really like variable rate meters. The first hour is really cheap  say 50 cents. The second hour is $3. The third hour is $25. and so forth. Do away with citations altogether. This only works if you use a credit card meter combined with a sensor. The machine knows when you arrived, knows when you left, and nails your card for the total amount.  No need for citations, the fee equals the citation. Just you watch. Its coming to a main street near you.

JVH

 

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Should On Street Parkers Pay by the Foot? The Donald Thinks So!

Don Shoup is at it again. We ran an article in Parking Technology Today in October which was scheduled for his “Access” magazine.  We titled it “Can Policy make Parking Meters More Attractive. Today, Astrid has blasted it all over the internet at parknews.biz. since Access is not on the street. I have to comment.

He leads with using pay by license plate and by doing so, enables cities to charge different cars different prices.  First of all, a local resident might pay less for a space than say a visitor from out of town.

Some might say that that is discriminatory and The Donald says, yep. Local residents are already taxed to pay for streets and sidewalks and should be given a break. However, if I were a local merchant I might want to think twice about penalizing out of town customers. Hmmm.

He then goes with charging different amounts for different types of cars. There is a great table on his magazine’s site (and on parknews.biz ) that compares a Rolls Royce Phantom with a Smart car — one being 20 feet long, the other a mere 8. Don doesn’t stop there, he also compares mileage with the Roller coming in at 14 MPG and the Smart Car at 36. His idea is that if you are going to spoil the environment with a Rolls Royce you should pay more to park it.

My well known feelings on that subject are for another time. I do, however, agree that paying for parking by the foot is a good idea.  Why shouldn’t a guy who parks his 20 foot long monster pay twice as much as the guy who could park two of his minnows in the same space, with room left over? That makes sense to me. In NYC garages charge limos twice as much to park as a standard car, for the same reasons.

Shoup has other ideas, read the article. But in the end, it seems to me that anything that gives a parker a break is a good idea. Make it easy, make it responsive, make the parking experience cool.  By the way, Eric tells me we have sessions at the Parking Industry Exhibition at the end of March that tell you how to do just that.

JVH

 

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Holiday Parking Perks

Besides the gifts and the parties, there’s something else about that holiday season that makes it so enjoyable: the sense that just about anything can happen. I remember when I was a child the magic of the season being all the little moments when adults changed the rules in my favor. We got to stay up late, eat lots of sweets, open one gift Christmas Eve so we wouldn’t die of anticipation; our teachers were a little funnier and eased up on the homework; Santa showed up on our street on the back of a fire engine. It was a parade of happy, unexpected moments.

Age brings experience and a good helping of cynicism, but there are perks out there for adults, and some of them are parking perks. My city offers free meter parking downtown every December, and I read an article about another city that takes donations of canned goods in lieu of parking fines.

People who owe the City of Birmingham money for parking tickets can have their fines forgiven during the holidays by making donations of canned goods at Birmingham Municipal Court.

The donations will be accepted now through Jan. 30, 2015, as part of the court’s new program, “Operation Feed My Friends, Forgive My Fines,” according to a city news release today.

One case of food equals $50 in parking fines. I don’t know about you, but if I lived in Birmingham and I owed money for parking tickets, I’d be jumping for joy while I searched my cupboards for canned goods to donate. Somebody’s got to eat that can of Cream of Celery I bought on accident.

Read the article here.

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Parking Lot Attendant Gets Envelope Full of…

…Money

I’m sure most parking attendants and enforcement officers out there have dozens of stories about being yelled at, sworn at and threatened, but a parking lot attendant in Oklahoma has quite a different story to tell this week.

Mr. Mike Hay is a disabled veteran who works part time at a Norman parking lot. This week a friendly customer stopped to chat, wish him a Merry Christmas and hand him and envelope.

Hay said he had to attend to other vehicles who were parking, but when he got around to looking inside the envelope, he found $1,000 in twenty dollar bills.

I can’t go on and on about Christmas cheer or Holiday cheer or whatever you want to call it, but it gives me positive feelings to think of the kindness shown to this man by a complete stranger. We don’t all have an extra $1,000 laying around, but we might have $5, or $10 to give to someone who needs it more. Money’s not the only thing we can give generously: smiles, ‘thank yous’, ‘you’re welcomes’ and ‘after yous’ all make people feel good and don’t cost us a thing.

Read the article here.

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Credit Card Data Not Exactly Secure

The consumerist.com reports that a 7-month breach of the garage parking payment systems run by a major parking provider in several states has put customers’ credit card information into the hands of thieves.

We’ve all depended on the security of our credit card information for so long, it’s hard to get in the habit of worrying about it now. As technology changes and criminals become more adept at stealing credit card information, it’s starting to seem like using your credit card is a risky business.

Network security news site SecurityWeek reported over the holiday weekend that hackers got into the systems of a large parking vendor this year, and were indeed able to steal customer name and payment card information.

I think it’s time to make some major changes to the way credit card information is processed. I’m not at all the person to make suggestions for preventing credit data theft, because I have only the vaguest understanding of how my home computer works, but it seems serious measures must be taken. If people like me are considering a move back to cash-only transactions, you know a lot of consumers are starting to feel that credit is no longer a safe option.

Now that it’s not just the big box stores being targeted for credit data theft, parking providers are going to have to step it up. Companies that accept credit card payment have to be vigilant about the security of their customers’ information. They can’t assume their system is safe just because it was safe a year ago. And consumers themselves have to be aware of suspicious items on their statements.

I’ve no doubt the geniuses who create these systems will, for a time, outpace the bad guys. Then the bad guys will catch up again, and so on.

Read the article here.

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Technology is King, Until the Emperor puts on his new Clothes…

Technology is King.  We know that with the right technology theft and error will go away and yes, we will have a perfect industry. In fact we are there today. NO WAIT!!!

The headlines over the past weekend seem to fly in the face of my first paragraph. The Largest Parking Company on the planet has had a number of its garages hacked and who knows how many credit cards of their customers stolen. The company says that the theft has been discovered, fixed, and they are working with banks and clearing houses to find out just whose cards were stolen.

I spoke to a couple of engineers about the problem and they know nothing about this actual theft, but they weren’t surprised.  What they told me was that this is not particularly difficult. It sort of works like this:

A bit of software is put into the system that lies in wait for a credit card transaction. When it sees one it grabs the card and the association information and sends it to a web site somewhere on the planet. The transaction continues and the theft of the information goes unnoticed.  The more cleaver the thieves, the longer it goes unnoticed.

The assumption in this case is that the card holder noticed that there was fraudulent charges on his bill and complained to his bank, who traced the card transactions back through the clearing house to a place where the card might have been stolen. In this case, a garage somewhere in the US.

Investigations were begun and the breach was discovered. The ‘malware’ was removed, passwords changed, security upgraded and life goes on.

I’m told this type of hacking is difficult to see and difficult to stop. Tons of card numbers on file weren’t stolen, cards were stolen as they were used. Sort of one at a time.

Software geeks tell me that their security is better than everyone else’s. Everyone tells me that its impossible to ‘hack’ their system. We believe them at our peril. Its like saying no one on the planet is smarter than you are.

The internet gives us wonderful information and tools to help our lives. But it also gives bad guys the ability to look at our systems, test our security, find a weakness, and exploit it.

But in the end, the weaknesses are found, they are fixed, and then new ones are found, they are fixed, and life goes on.

JVH

PS — When I was in the military, I worked in a Classified Installation.  Dogs, Fences, badges, big guys with guns, all the good stuff. The security there understood the problem. There were two phone systems, one internal, one external. They were not connected in any way. All classified conversations took place on the internal phone. The external phones were unplugged when you weren’t talking. Those super spooks understood the problem. Do we?

 

 

 

 

 

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