IBM and IPI — WOW!

I know I should delete this post after writing, but I just can’t resist. The topic is such a target rich environment.

As you probably know, IBM did a study that says people are more frustrated by parking in third world countries than in first world countries, Italy excepted if you assume it’s a first world country. Fair enough. Companies like actual statistics when they make decisions to commit a ton of money to a project. I’m sure I could have given IBM the same information, as I pointed out below; logic says that places that have a lot of cars, few parking spaces, and non-enforced parking laws are going to have problems.

If one were to take the most obvious inference from the survey,  the solution to all parking frustration is for cities to sell their on and off street parking to the private sector, double the parking rates, hike up enforcement, ignore media complaints, and get on with their lives. (This is what happened in the city with the least parking frustration, Chicago.) I’m not sure the parking professionals here in the US would agree with that assessment.  Which brings me to my actual topic, the IPI’s “Response” to the IBM Study.

Obviously the survey hit a nerve in Fredericksburg.  They sent out a news release that said, in part:

Some of the frustrations associated with parking will ease with expanded use of cashless parking, innovative technologies and intelligent parking management systems.  Mobile apps, hi tech signs, lights and other devices now make it possible to locate available spaces, making parking operations and traffic flow more efficient. In addition, greater cooperation between parking professionals and transportation and city managers and planners will lead to progress.

The survey, however, noted, that much of the problem in the “red lined” countries was due to too many cars and not enough parking spaces. Infrastructure and public transport, the survey said, was going to go a long way to solve the issues in China, India, Russia and parts of Africa and that huge investment was under way in these areas. Technology is helpful, but you need to have a parking space for the ‘app’ to direct you to.

Venture Capital is throwing itself at parking with, as we have seen with the money invested in the recent past in companies such as Streetline, Parking in Motion, Park Mobile and T2. It seems to me, however, that these companies provide products and services that fit the IPI model above. They are helping to make parking easier in places where its already pretty easy, but I’m doubtful if in-street sensors or pay by cell would help a lot in places where there is no place to park to start out with. The technology and infrastructure need to go hand in hand. My guess is that that is what IBM is inferring.

The IPI release continues:

“There is increasing recognition that parking needs to be part of transportation planning. If we want to solve parking problems, then parking expertise needs to be tapped early in the planning process. This new study confirms what we know: parking matters.  The parking industry is committed to transforming parking into a positive experience. IPI’s 2011 Emerging Trends in Parking Survey found that technology, sustainability, and increased customer service were among the top trends in the parking industry.”

And

“The benefits of getting parking right go beyond convenience; the economic vitality of communities depends on access. What’s more, ‘cruising’ for a spot is reduced when parking is readily available, which greatly reduces carbon emissions and contributes to sustainability, another area where parking is undergoing a transformation.”

This makes a lot of sense. We are all for sustainability, customer service and technology. The survey, however talked about the frustration level of drivers and even “giving up” on trying to find parking and going somewhere else.

I have spoken to a couple of IPI honchos and they are rather put off by the IBM survey. “Why didn’t they talk to some parking pros before setting off and doing a survey,” and “Are you sure Chicago, Toronto and etc really are that high on the list?”  were a couple of comments I received.

I must have missed something.  From my point of view, the IBM survey basically said that in places where the IPI is strongest (North America) parking sort of worked, and in other places, it was a disaster. This to me would seem to be a vindication of “parking professionals” in the US and Canada.

However the IPI seemed to feel that the survey needed a “response.” Perhaps so, but I just question the direction it took. Rather than seeing the report as a way promote what an excellent job the IPI is doing in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto, they went on the defensive.

I was interested that the board member I spoke to immediately said that IBM should have spoken to IPI members and that this was a sleazy way to promote their Partnership with Streetline. When the IPI wants to find out about parking who do they ask, their members or the people who actually park cars in cities around the country?

Their Trends in Parking, referenced in their new release, was the result of a survey of members. Fair enough. But if you want to find out what parking issues are, (and that may not have been the reason for their survey), why not ask the people who park cars.  That’s what IBM did.

The other day I spoke to a person who was frustrated by their attendance at the IPI show in Pittsburgh. “It was all about sustainability, technology, and the like. That’s what people wanted to see. They didn’t seem to be concerned about ‘managing the process,’ that is how to actually ‘use’ the technology to solve problems that parkers have.”

The IPI’s ‘response’ seems to me to mirror this concern. They talk about technology, sustainability, and the like, but just how do those things reduce frustration in the minds of the parker. Does a gizmo on a post or a new app actually help the parker, or add to the frustration? Do high tech enforcement techniques help ease frustration or make them greater? I’m not sure I know.

The parking pros I have spoken to feel that there is a need to defend. I’m not sure that’s the best approach. One of the best ways to defend, is learn about your opposition and then use that information wisely.

IBM PR Folks understand that parking as an activity (unless you are with your girlfriend on Mulholland Drive) is universally a negative. Very few people think positively about it. So therefore they placed a spin on the survey that got results — Parking is Frustrating…(I think I’ll read that because I’ve been frustrated by parking.)

Technology is wonderful, but it seldom is the answer. It’s how the technology is used, the management of the process, that makes a difference.   One poorly trained PEO or front office person or one bitter manager can reduce a million dollars of technology to dross with one throw away comment.

Like it or not, we are in a people business.  Yes, parking does ‘matter,’ but drivers already know that, and that’s the rub. It matters a lot to them, right then, right when they need it, right when they get a citation, right when they are trying to explain their problems, and in my case right when I’m getting a citation for parking in my driveway.

Has anyone in the public sector actually asked parkers what frustrates them?  They do in the private sector all the time. We talk about making surveys but do we really do them? Do we ask the right questions? Do we do anything when we get the answers? Some cities with successful parking program have done so.

My guess is that is where we should put our focus. Sustainability and technology will take care of themselves. .

JVH

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