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The Future – It’s Not Bad to Hedge Your Bets

Shopping center magnet Rick Caruso in Los Angeles is certain that autonomous vehicles are coming, and he thinks sooner rather than later. In this article featured on parknews.biz, he is quoted as saying:

“This isn’t a fleeting moment, some interesting blip that will come and go,” he said. “This will change traffic in L.A. in a very positive way.”

He’s talking about autonomous vehicles greatly reducing the number of parking spaces required for major projects such as the “Grove” in Los Angeles.  He says that today, his project receives literally thousands of visitors coming through their ride share (Read that Uber and Lyft) portal daily. Those relate to thousands fewer cars parking in his huge 10 story garage.

He and his ilk see self driving cars basically replacing parking in the next decade. So he is planning for the future. His garages have level floors, not ramps, so they can be converted to shops, offices, and apartments. Some are built with 13 foot ceilings so the infrastructure (HVAC, Plumbing etc) can be added for build outs when the parking is no longer needed.

“As you go above that (the first few floors), it gets more complicated,” he acknowledged. The towering garages “may become obsolete and have to come down and be replaced.”

Is all this going to happen in the next decade?  George Orwell wrote “1984” in 1950. His prediction was that his dystopian society was coming in 30 years. Here we are nearly 75 years later and well, look around.  The 21st century Los Angeles of Blade Runner Fame looks nothing like reality.

We like to believe that things happen faster than they really do. Caruso may be right. Its not a bad thing to plan for an uncertain future. We ignore it at our peril.  Note that Caruso isn’t not building garages, he’s planning them so they can be converted “IF” predictions come true.

Its not bad to hedge your bets.


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Disruption Comes to Parking — Bring it on!

After participating in two major trade events in the past month I have been reflecting on a theme that wasn’t there in both cases. It was an undercurrent. While most attendees were happy with the knowledge they received, I noted at PIE that the seminar that had people lined up out into the hallway was “The Future of Parking.”

Parking pros where looking at their future. The young guns were wondering but not too concerned. They knew that if the company or organization they worked within changed or failed, they could get another job.  Easy Peasy.

However as the discussion moved to those with a bit more experience, the feelings were more like “OMG, Now What?”  Was there panic in the room? No.  I would describe it more as concern. Just what the heck is going on?

Disruption seems to the the name of the game. When more and more venture capital money comes into the industry, change is not periodic, it is endemic. VC managers are looking for return, and quick. Five and 10 year projections aren’t considered. “Let’s put some lipstick on this pig and sell it to Google” is what we hear more and more.

Companies are buying companies. New CEO’s are showing up almost daily. Every other story is about “Smart Cities” or “Smart Parking” or “Big Data.” The industry is changing at light speed. Its no wonder that our parking industry employees are stressed. Change isn’t coming, its here.

Autonomous Vehicles, connected cars, smart phones, parking guidance, gate less parking, ANPR, smart cities, on line reservations, Lyft, Uber, pick a disruptor. All these have potential to disrupt a portion of our industry. Some, like Uber, already have.

It seems to me that we have a choice.  We can continue to do what we have been doing. Plow that furrow. Produce the same old same old.  Those of a “certain age” can hunker down and keep the eye on the finish line and pray for the best. Or….

Or we can embrace the disruption. Become a disruptor ourselves.  Of course there is a risk. Some disruption isn’t going to work. Some are simply buzz words that will come and go like the breezes of a welcome spring. However many will turn our industry on its ear.

Can we see what will change and what won’t?  Are ticket dispensers and gates “so 1990’s?” Is the “Smart City” trend just a term in search of a definition or is it a wave of the future that is leaving parking behind? Are on street meters and Pay and Display the coming thing or just a bridge to a ‘connected car’ that pays for parking automatically? Have we really thought about it. Or are we just issuing that next purchase order because our predecessor did.

In the next few days you will receive a questionnaire from Parking Today asking some hard questions about our industry and the “Smart City” trend. Your answers will help direct us in our editorial policy, and in the types of seminars we hold next Spring at PIE in Chicago.

I have read a number of reports on Smart Cities talking about what municipalities are doing world wide and shockingly, parking is mentioned only tangentially, if its mentioned at all. Are we being left in the dust? Will be we swept along like sticks in a river with no input as to where we are going. My sense is yes.

If we don’t act quickly, become involved in change and demand a seat at the table, we will have no control over our destiny and the disruptors will have won.

Our only choice is to become part of the disruption.


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Why Chicago?

The Parking Industry Exhibition 2018 will be held March 26-29 and return to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. We select the Chicago area for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s easy to reach from all parts of the country, less than a three hour flight from everywhere.

The Hyatt Regency O’Hare is one of the few properties in the US that has enough room to house the exhibition, seminars, and attendees all in one place, no hiking blocks from the hotel to the exhibit hall.

The venue and its surroundings are familiar. Many high-end restaurants are nearby, and attendees and exhibitors alike love the “red bar” at the Hyatt for networking and business meetings. After all, that’s why you come to PIE, isn’t it? This is about your profession, not about your vacation.

Nevertheless, if you wish to play a bit, a short train ride away are the museums, concert halls, parks, and jazz clubs of America’s Second City.

If you want to know what PIE looks like, follow this link. See you next Spring.


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It’s Here — Parkageddon OMG

I just read an article posted by Astrid over in parknews.biz from the “Economist” that breathlessly proclaimed that we were in a ‘Parkageddon.’ Cities were clogged by cars parking everywhere, destroying civic life as we know it.

Seems the writer somehow tripped onto the idea that parking was too cheap, and that some places it is free. This he says, causes too much use of vehicles and if only we could charge market rates, people would get out of their cars and take public transportation. Don Shoup call your office.

The lengthy piece continues bringing up self driving vehicles and how they will solve the parking issues by describing a family who used autonomous cars “Starting in the morning, one car could take a child to school, a city worker to his office, a student to her lecture” but I might add mom to her job. So that family would use four cars each morning. But then they would have to park somewhere during the day until they were needed to return that family to the bosom of its home.

As the Economist clutched its pearls and headed for the fainting couch, I am reminded that The Donald (Shoup that is) has been preaching about this issue for what, a decade. (Actually a dozen years.) It’s like this issue suddenly arose where no issue existed before.

I wonder sometimes about reporters and editors. Do they live in silos and never venture out into the world? Do they drive, park, and actually participate in what one might call ‘real life?’ One would think they might notice that cars are everywhere and it costs money to park them, but not really that much. Well this is the group that brings us “fake news” and stories about being kidnapped by aliens. Why am I surprised they missed parkageddon?


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A Discussion on Smart Cities

I was favored to spend some time at PARKEX in the UK last week with the senior staff at IPS, and in a different meeting, with with a group  from Conduent. While these are different companies, IPS supplying hardware and back office management for on street enforcement, and Conduent providing a suite of services for cities, focusing primarily on collections, the concept of Smart Cities was not foreign to them

IPS spoke at length about how many cities are already ‘smart’ but their issues seem to be correlating the information they already have. Water meters, electric meters, parking meters, street lights, traffic signals, sensors, even locators for police and emergency vehicles all exist in one form or another in cities across the world. In the parking arena, many companies provide dashboards where parking data and be gathered and reviewed. “Our industry has been ‘smart’ for some time, but the term hasn’t been applied.”

The Conduent group commented that while its true that the information exists, many cities aren’t ‘smart’ enough to be able to extract the data they need.  In fact, that is often the biggest problem, a city has the data, but doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to use it. “Often” they posited,  “cities put the cart before the horse and go on a headlong project to ‘slice and dice’ the data, but have no real goal as to what they are going to do with it.”

I noted that a keynote speaker we had a few years ago at PIE made the outlandish statement that often such projects are “politically driven” and exist to provide a basis on which mayors and council folk can build their reputations. But as soon as that project’s support changes, it loses backing, and simply fades away.

He was talking about so called ‘green’ projects in the Northwest. The administration embarked on a city wide project to turn their schools green. So far so good.  They built a new school that met all the green requirements. The Mayor was on the front row cutting the ribbon. Then the administration changed and the new mayor had a different agenda. The school project was allowed to simply die from lack of interest.

To create a smart city, one has to embark on a long term, extremely complicated and expensive project. Technology must be selected, and data must be analyzed.  I read in Parking Today this month that hiring for those positions is becoming more and more difficult. What if I collected the data and there was no one there to use it.

So a city begins a ten year project to become ‘smart.’ Remembering that this is not like an airport, which everyone can see the changes and participate in the results of the project.  “Smart Cities” require shepherding and vision. They require infrastructure and technology. And often the results cannot be readily seen by the citizenry.  It’s easy for the politicians who were elected promoting this vision to be distracted by minor worries like potholes, schools, fire departments, hospitals, police and the like. Distractions that cost money and require attention.

Wise people these “Smart City” folk.

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Compton Loses $3.7 Million to Embezzlement

At the risk of paying too much attention to the Southern California area, I’m blogging about a new parking-related financial disaster coming from the city of Compton. The Los Angeles Times reports that a Compton city employee embezzled almost $4 million, including parking ticket money, from the city by changing totals on deposit records.

Former deputy city treasurer, Salvador Galvan, allegedly stole between $200 to $8,000 a day. He started working for the city in 1994, but the thefts began in 2010 when economic factors, according to Galvan, forced him to take drastic measures to help his family.

The losses were small enough, federal prosecutors said, that they didn’t trigger alarm for years, but fellow employees privately wondered how he could afford a new Audi and other upscale expenses on a $60,000 salary.

City watchdogs are in an uproar over how this theft was not discovered sooner. Galvan’s co-workers were suspicious of his lifestyle, but only one looked at the numbers and discovered a $7,000 discrepancy between receipts and deposit records.

“I’m disappointed,” said Compton community activist William Kemp. “This went on for years. What were the checks and balances that he could pull something like this off? Was he alone? Did he have help? And what procedures have been put in place that the next man don’t do this going forward?”

Questions about checks and balances are worth asking, because a loss on this scale points to a setting where absolutely no oversight is in place. I’m wondering if Galvan’s supervisors and city accountants will be forced to accept some responsibility for allowing this crime to be perpetrated.

Galvan faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, which doesn’t seem like much to me.

Read the rest of the article here.

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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?



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Lets Think Outside that Box, Parking Fans

Here’s the deal. According to this article, Santa Monica is going to lose its last manufacturing plant, Pioneer Magnetics,  that has had as many as 600 workers and now has over 100. Why? Due to lack of parking.

Seems the area which at one time was 100% manufacturing (some heavy, dirty manufacturing like making water heaters and the like – Pioneer makes electronics) has gone through so called gentrification and is now a burgeoning center for tony shops, restaurants and art galleries. Its called Bergamot Station, has its own Metro stop, and a lot of parking, most taken by other businesses in the area.

Pioneer Magnetics wants to stay, but its employees have no place to park. Some park blocks away on street and got out every couple of hours to feed meters, but the owner says “that’s no way to run a business.”  He says he doesn’t want to move, but his company won’t be there in a year.

The City of Santa Monica doesn’t want to lose them, but planned parking structures are years away and Pioneer’s problems are today. Some of the local businesses valet park cars, but that doesn’t seem reasonable for the 100 employee factory.

I have not thought a lot about this nor been to the site but how about this idea. Find some parking within about a 10 minute drive — you know it has to exist. Then the city provides a shuttle back and forth so the employees (and others visiting Bergamot) can get to their cars. Perhaps each business can kick in a few bucks to cover the cost.  The city could run it (they are good at doing stuff like that) and all would be right with the world.

It seems certain that Pioneer isn’t the only company in the area with parking stress.

When the new structures are built (if ever) the shuttle could be phased out.

Now that’s just one ‘outside the box’ thought. I’m sure there are others if parking folk were consulted on the problem.



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On the Road Again -The UK’s Parkex/Traffex Exhibition

Parking Today and Parknews.biz will be on the road next week, heading across the pond to the land of warm beer, bangers and mash, and Briexit. We will be holding forth at the Parkex/Traffex event, being held this year at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, UK.

The British Parking Association hold Parkex every year but on alternate years joins with Traffex for a combined event hosting many hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors.

From Last Year:

This event is particularly interesting as it combines parking and traffic and will be hosting a number of companies in the “Smart City” wheelhouse. Parknews.biz editor Astrid Ambroziak will be concentrating on visiting these companies and I will be renewing old friendships in the British Parking world.

For those of you who will be at Parkex/Traffex and want to be sure to see us, contact Astrid at astrid@parkingtoday.com or me at jvh@parkingtoday.com.  We will be sure to find you and have a chat. We are in booth P53. If we are out and about, our Exhibition Manager, Mandy Stephens, will be able to run us to ground and call us back to the booth.

Talley Ho!



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California Offers Another Break on Parking Tickets

First, Los Angeles tells the homeless they can work off their parking fines if they don’t have the money to pay them. Now California leaders are talking about a bill that creates a payment plan for frequent illegal parking offenders.

According to laweekly.com, the bill would allow drivers who have received tickets and been denied vehicle registration for failing to pay the fines for those tickets an option for payment. Kind of like a parking ticket layaway plan.

Besides the installment option, lower income offenders could be given a reduced fine. All offenders will be allowed to register their cars as long as they have initiated a payment plan.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale is introducing the bill because, from his position, a parking ticket should not have the power to ruin someone’s life.

The citations put many drivers “in the unfair position of deciding between illegally driving an unregistered vehicle or not driving at all,” the legislative fact sheet argues. “This vicious cycle limits drivers’ access to daily necessities such as employment and school.”

So state leaders have created laws they intend to uphold, then later increased the severity of fines and punishments to help enforce those laws. Now they are suggesting more laws to ease the harshness of those punishments.

On the flip side, people who can’t afford parking tickets are still getting them because, most likely, they are parking illegally without much thought to the consequences. If a parking ticket is going to interfere with the ability to pay rent, strenuous efforts should be made to park legally.

Read the article here.

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