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.