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But The Technology is Working…

I came across this story on Parknews. Seems the local shopping mall decided to begin charging for parking and all hell broke loose. I searched Parknews and found that Astrid had posted 23 stories about the project, located in Reston Virginia, a DC surburb.  They are pretty close to torches and pitchforks. Comments in the local press are damning.

So what happened? I have spoken to people close to the project and discovered the following:

The Landlord (Boston Properties) decided in 2015 to begin to search for a way to charge for parking. The 7000 space facility was thought to be under stress from the local metro station and the closure of a surface lot nearby (for the construction of a building). Rightly or wrongly it was determined that a gated facility would not work due to traffic flows so a ‘gateless’ solution was found.

Enter Passport and Park Assist. The concept was that Park Assist would record license numbers of those entering the facility and Passport would, through a downloaded app, collect money from daily parkers (monthlies would be credited through their license plates.)  So far so good.

However as much as six months before the charging was implemented, in January of 2017, the merchants in the mall circulated a petition to stop paid parking. Thereupon turns the tale.

The merchants were convinced that paid parking would hurt their business. There was no possible way that the landlord could implement the program because any minor hiccup would be blown sky high by the merchants, parkers, and local media (23 stories in six months).

From my understanding reading the local press, the start up was less than stellar. Parking attendants were untrained.  Signage was less then optimal. Complaints were taken to the merchants who used them to add fuel to an already roaring fire. (It was noted that merchants actually put their staff near the kiosks to assist parkers.)

Although the mall began charging for parking it did not enforce the rules for the first three months. Although there was some signage noting that if you didn’t pay, you would be booted or fined, no one was. However its unclear whether anyone actually was aware of this policy.

It is my understanding that after a few minor startup issues, the technology is now running flawlessly. However, the public relations disaster is still in place. One restaurant is suing. And of course the media is jumping on every issue, quoting irate parkers (it matters little how few there are), following the lawsuit, and the streets surrounding the Reston Town Center are ringing with the slogan “All Parking Should Be Free.”

Yikes. One wag commented the the Urban Land Institute and BOMA will use this project as a case study on how not to implement paid parking.

Its easy enough to list the 100 or so things the Landlord did wrong. But I’m sure they are considering the problems internally all up and down the DC, NYC, Boston corridor. What can they do now?

First — get some high level staff on site to deal with every problem, major or minor, instantly and with intellect. No more dissatisfied parkers.

Second — get on the right side of the PR battle. Lets get those merchants to understand that bad PR about parking is bad PR for everyone. They need to give people a reason to shop, not a reason not to do so.

Third — get Validations out there and be certain that the program works well.  Forcing people to pay and then validating might not be the best possible approach.

Fourth — Meet daily with the merchants, solve their problems. Hear their side of the story and then tell yours. Fight statistics with statistics.  My understanding is that the number of cars parking in the facility is exceeding projections. If the people are parking, why are the merchants complaining.

Fifth — well, does anyone out there have any ideas. Remember this kind of PR hurts the entire industry.  How can we help?

JVH

 

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