Stewards of Parking

Brandy Stanley from the city of Manchester, NH, has agreed to help keep me on an even keel as I periodically write about how we may be able to change the perception of our profession. Here we go.

First what is our goal as stewards of parking?

I’m not sure what it is and I will leave that to Brandy – she can respond as soon as she reads this. I know what I think the goal should be.

A municipality, a university, an airport, a hospital, a business complex all have a limited number of parking spaces at their disposal. In each case, our goal should be to maintain and allocate those spaces, as appropriate, to the workers (students) and visitors. The question is, of course, how we do that. In hospital, business, and airport settings, it’s fairly straight forward. We control access and people decide if they want to pay a fee to park. The fee enables us to maintain our parking resource and in some cases, limit who can park. The fees can be arbitrary and often provide substantial income to the entity (Airports, particularly).

Municipalities have a different type of problem. Historically parking has been inexpensive or free, the idea being that “free” parking. Folks got used to it and as we began to charge, and raise the rates, and place restrictions on where and when they can park, enforcement began to take on importance. How do we be sure people follow the rules?

Our goal is to alter behavior. From Free to Paid. From parking all day to parking an hour. From parking in handicapped spots to not parking….. You get the idea. There appears to be two ways to alter behavior – a carrot or a stick. We have been using a stick – If you break the rule and get caught, we will give you a citation and fine you.

There is a problem – we only write about 10% of the citations that could be written. There just aren’t enough officers or enough hours to cover all the possible violators. So most people are trained to believe that the chances of them being caught are slim, and after all, there is no theft involved, no murder, or mayhem. No one is really hurt if they don’t feed the meter or if they park in a reserved spot. There is no moral code broken, no commandment, when you overstay your parking.

Some parking managers will say that increased enforcement will cause people to change their habits. After all, who wants to be hit with a $80 or $100 ticket. Better follow the rule than take a chance. They will stay that with increased enforcement the incidence of violations do go down. But is that our long term goal? We want them to follow the rules, but really deep down, don’t we want to collect the revenue off the citations.

Every day there are headlines that cities can’t meet their budgets and that more money is needed from citations to do so. This money is going to the general fund. Often so much is taken that the parking department itself is left budget shy. A customer reads the paper and begins to look over his shoulder. Are they coming after me?

We enforce our rules with citations and fines. We attempt to get people to change their behavior. But we send mixed messages. On one hand we say we are being stewards of parking space, but on the other we are collecting money for the general fund. What is it?

What do you think, Brandy – did I overstate my case? When Brandy and I come to an agreement on the problem, we’ll try for some solutions.

JVH

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One Response to Stewards of Parking

  1. Brandy Stanley says:

    Municipalities that openly state revenues from violations need to increase to fill budget gaps are probably a very small percentage of cities, but they get the negative press and a lot of it – I believe this is a perception problem. I’d guess that this almost exclusively comes from elected officials rather than parking managers. No easy solution, and parking managers wisely aren’t going to go on public record in opposition. Anyone have any ideas?
    In terms of the carrot versus the stick, I believe you need both, but you have to be very careful about how you use the stick and focus on making the carrot more enticing.
    Listen to your parking customers – why do they park illegally? The 2 most common anwers are:
    1) It’s inconvenient to pay for parking
    2) There weren’t any spaces open where I wanted to park, so I took a chance and parked illegally
    So, how do we make it more convenient to pay for parking in the absence of controlled access? In-car meters, credit card acceptance, pay by phone and a host of other solutions are becoming more widely accepted and used in the industry – and rightly so. If we make it easier to pay, more people will do the right thing without the threat of the enforcement stick. I think most of us with tenure in the industry have had an almost mind-boggling array of new technology presented to us within the last 5-10 years after a very long period of stagnation. The problem is, it’s difficult to figure out what technology to adopt – what works for consumers? Will a company be here next month or will we be stuck holding the bag if they fold? Does the technology really work?
    Secondly, the lack of readily available parking spaces in the places people need them speaks to efficient allocation of spaces. Enter Shoup and performance-based pricing. Do you have loading zones where you need them? Are your time limits properly set? Have you educated your customers on off-street options? Is off-street parking cheaper than on-street parking? Is your signage clear or do you have problem areas that need to be clarified?
    All the above being said, you still need to enforce since you don’t have access control systems and there are always people that will seek to beat the system. I believe this is called “rent-seeking” in economic terms.
    Enforcement practices can be refined to target these people, like graduated parking fines and upping the penalties – increased boot fines, higher late fees, etc – for people that repeatedly ignore the carrot.
    The appeal process can be used as an educational tool and voiding tickets after educating a customer is a great way to convert the “stick” into a “carrot” and get a happy customer as a result.
    Enforcement officers can be trained to act as parking resources and educators with the authority to take back parking tickets in the field. They can be given a sense of empowerment and importance, and there is a lot of technology available that can give them the tools to make good decisions.
    What happens when you look at meter revenues and violation revenues as one bucket of funds? As you create more carrots, that percentage of the bucket or revenues becomes higher – but the violation portion goes down because there are less violations to catch. It took me about 4 years to realize this. In retrospect, I feel like a moron because it is reflected in our numbers in no uncertain terms and just makes sense. Duh.

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