I was heading to Prague — it was recommended from a good source — but I felt the drive from Kiel to the Czech Republic was too long for one day so I split it up and drove Friday afternoon to Berlin. I stayed at a wonderful hotel just off the famous Kurfurstendamm at a wonderful little hotel:’
I didn’t have a lot of time in Berlin, it was just a stopover, so I jumped on a bus and started down the KuDamm — as the Berliners call it. Quite a street — 5th Avenue, Rodeo Drive, and Oxford Street rolled into one. Beautiful shops, beautiful things, and beautiful people:
I loved the design on that building in the rear — with the glass facade.
The Germans do remember the horrors of the war, and an area at the foot of the Ku Damm is reserved as a memorial. Many Jews lived in that area before WWII and many ended up in cities listed here:
Germans hurried by the sign and other monuments in memorial. They were on their way to the subway, or to work, or to play. But they will not forget….
I decided to check out the Kaiser Wilhelm Church — Or the remains of it. I knew the famous relic was on the Ku Damm — but where?
This poster told the story — It’s being renovated. They aren’t going to repair it to its prewar design, but want to leave it as is, as a reminder of what horrors war can bring.
You can just see the tower and cross peeking out of the scaffolding. If you come this summer, it should be open.
I stopped in at a local bar for a beer and struck up a conversation with the bartender. He spoke good English (learned it in school) but wasn’t happy here at the bar, He wanted to become a policeman but alas, he hadn’t done well enough in school. “I was a little rough in school, and look where I ended up.” Nice guy. Good Beer.
I had dinner in a Madrid based restaurant with tapas and other food from Spain. It was great, as far as the tapas were concerned, but I had much better paella at Spain Restaurant in Newark. So there you go.
Up early in the AM and off to Praha.
Designa CEO Thomas Waibel met me at my hotel and we caravaned the two miles to Designa Headquarters. It, too, is impressive. The factory sits on a large campus, is ultra modern, although Thomas talks about his headquarters building as ‘old’ and the adjacent one the company just purchased for expansion as ‘new.’ I got the feeling that it was the difference between being 20 years old and 10 years old.
The “old” building is in the background. I was told that I didn’t need a ticket to get out of the parking lot, as there was a ‘truck’ entrance nearby with no gates. They use these for testing.
Thomas is an interesting man. He lives in Austria and commutes to Kiel, about 800 miles. He noted that he spent a lot of time on the road visiting his direct and partner sales operations around the world. “I spend very little time in the office. If I’m here, I am walking around, talking to people and learning what is going on. I do the same on the road.”
He came to Designa, or too its larger Austrian holding company, as a business consultant and recommended that Designa be reorganized. He stayed on to do the job and the rest is history. As we walked around his plant, he told me that they were shipping about 1000 lanes of parking a year world wide. He has 350 employees here in Kiel and in Designa locations throughout Europe, and in Australia, Africa and North America.
Thomas told me that the important thing in PARCS is the ‘system,’ not the individual components. He stressed that the components have to work, so that the system can collect the data they generate. “Parking is in the clouds,” he said. “Designa provides cloud based support for hundreds of car parks throughout Europe. Owners and operators can retrieve information about their facilities by smart phone, or on their laptops from anywhere there is an internet connection. If we need to fix a problem, we can do it from here.”
Waibel noted that while some components of his systems are purchased from suppliers, critical parts are manufactured in Kiel. “The dispenser mechanism is extremely important and complex. If it fails the entire systems fails. We assemble and test it here so we can control the quality. It makes a difference.”
I met with Thomas and his Marketing Director Nadine Lubbe. We discussed the North American market and how they wished to approach it. “Its not an easy place to enter,” noted Nadine. “You have to be committed, and we are.”
She, as did Sigune at Scheidt and Bachmann, noted the European commitment to Trade Shows but also expressed interest in promoting their unique installations worldwide thought other media.
Thomas’ wonderful assistant, Gabriella Brille, found me a hotel for my next stop, and I was off to Berlin.
Ahhh the Autobahn — Supposedly built by Hitler to move his war machine (this is not true as military equipment was moved by train to save fuel, however the German Government in the 1930s did use the construction of these highways as big PR events), the best and worst thing about them is that there is no speed limit.
I tested this and frankly didn’t feel comfortable cruising at more than about 90. You had to keep your eyes open because before you knew it, there would be someone coming up on you and sitting six inches from your bumper. The ‘hint’ was to move over so they could pass. Which they did at speeds approaching 120-140 MPH or more. If you were in the right lane and an Audi came up on the left, they passed in a blur. It was a good idea to keep your eyes on your mirrors as well out the front.
I discovered that when cars came up fast from the rear, it was, in about 3 cases out of 5, an Audi. No clue as to why, but my wife drives and Audi and frankly she can really move.
However, when the road is blocked, its blocked:
We sat on the rautobahn, unmoving, for an hour, then were taken off at the next exit. Note the sign indicates about 82 miles an hour – we were coming up on an exit. Past the exit, it was allowed to resume whatever speed your car could make.
Buy stock in the GPS system used by Mercedes. When they took us off the highway, the system re-calibrated and unlike everyone else, took me down side roads, alleys, lanes, and put me back on the Autobahn a good 10 miles before the rest of the traffic. Saved quite a bit of time.
Northern Germany is flat and covered by wind turbines:
I felt safer driving at 90mph here than I would have in the US — I think it was the design of the roads. The Autobahns are straight, have wide aprons, and they seem to grip the cars. The ‘paint’ for the lines actually replace the little bumps between the lanes you find in the US. When you cross the white lines, you hear a ‘honk’ rather like a middle pitch truck horn. It serves the same purpose as the bumps (wakes you up if you drift) but at 100 MPH those bumps could really shake you up.
Speaking of Mercedes — It was an A type:
Cute little thing — no pick up at all, but could eventually get up to speed. I sat in it for five minutes before I could figure out how to shift gears — seem you use a lever like a turn signal on the steering shaft and by flipping it up or down, you can go forward or reverse.
I headed out and figured they had given me a lemon. When I stopped at a light, the engine died. When I took my foot off the brake it started up again. This car was the ultimate ‘green’ car. If it wasn’t moving, it wasn’t running. A good thing too.
In Europe the gas is expensive. The nutter who ran the Department of Energy up to a few months ago said his goal was to get prices of gas up to what they pay in Europe. Well let me tell you that it really clears your sinuses when you realize that to fill the tank on this little baby cost $100. Yikes.
Dinner at the hotel was very good — I had a chicken dish with all the trimmings– food on the road was very available , about every 50 miles or so — MacDonalds, Burger King, and the like. I carried some chips and cookies in the car and with some water, really didn’t stop for lunch.
Kiel is a beautiful city just south of the Danish border. It is the home of Designa.
Scheidt and Bachmann is a household name when its comes to PARCS systems. Their factory is in Monchengladbach, Germany, a suburb of Dusseldorf. I arrived at about 8 PM, picked up my car, and was at my hotel by 9. The next morning it was S and B. Their headquarters building:
Their campus is huge, with factory buildings and parking areas for their 1,000 employees. I was given a tour and discovered that Scheidt and Bachmann, unlike many manufacturers of PARCS, actually MAKE everything they sell — that is from the raw materials out. Here is a laser cutter forming steel sheeting for a POF Machine:
I know of only one other company that manufactures to this level. My tour was conducted by their head of bid management and former head of US operations, Otto Boenkenkamp and their marketing and communications manager, Sigune Heinze.
It is difficult to describe the scale of the S and B operation. I truly believe that if they wanted they could produce automobiles in this plant. Their product line does go beyond PARCs and includes ticketing equipment (for rapid transit), fuel pumps for gas stations, and access control from turn styles to huge gates used at level railroad crossings.
I gave Otto and Sigune my presentation but I really wanted their input. They told me that they felt that the internet was the coming thing and the way to get their message to their potential buyers. We discussed trade shows and of course, in Europe, such events are extremely important to them. The Intertraffic show in Amsterdam is attended by over 20,000 people from all over the world. They see this and others (like Parkex, Parken in Germany, Parkopolis in Paris and the EPA) as ways to reach their existing customers as well as find new ones.
I explained that such events are not as well attended in the US with only about 800 or so organizations that have parking needs (airports, cities, universities, etc) attending the IPI, and about 500 PIE. When that compares with about 30,000 potential customers in the US, the numbers are staggering. We agreed that you need to use all types of media to reach your market, with trade events being only one.
Otto felt that the customer interface (POF, Entry dispenser, etc) was important, but that the software the backed it up was key to the system that was purchased. He stressed that the information that was collected and the way it was displayed to the owner and operator was a major difference between manufacturers.
We walked past rows and rows of equipment with attached sheets denoting their destinations in countries like Australia, Israel, Angola, Germany, the UK, and the US. I was told that each system is set up in its entirety before shipment and tested with all pieces connected as they will be in the field. Most impressive, Scheidt and Bachmann.
Now back on the road to Kiel.
Nobody who receives a parking ticket believes they deserve it. Certainly, enforcement officers make mistakes, but I’m sure that’s the exception and not the rule. These days there are entire books and websites dedicated to telling people how to get out of paying their parking fines.
It seems the United States is not the only country whose legal bureaucracy creates loopholes that can be used to invalidate a parking ticket. In the United Kingdom the situation is complicated by private operators’ ability to ticket parkers. So it’s not just the police, but a thousand other entities setting rules and offering up penalties. Read more here.
It’s unfortunate that people feel they need to hire an attorney to contest a parking ticket. Sadly, the system is so complex, it doesn’t seem like the enforcers know what’s going on any more than the ticketed. There are mistakes and confusion on both sides of the situation. The internet, if used wisely by governments and parking authorities, could be a valuable tool for streamlining ticket enforcement. Maybe someday.
The British Parking Association hold its “PARKEX” show annually. Every other year (this is one of those) it combines with TRAFFEX and the event is held at the UK’s National Exhibition Center in Birmingham. Its a huge complex located near the geographic center of the country. Think Las Vegas Convention Center and double the size.
Traffex/Parkex takes one hall and is about twice the size of the IPI show. There are about 250 Traffic exhibitors — those companies dealing with all things road, traffic, and transportation, and 125 Parking Companies. Not too shabby for a country a sixth the size of the US.
The show is big — huge booths — two stories tall — Here is Skidata’s distributor in the UK:
There were all the usual suspects and usual technology — I did think that XEROX had a POF machine I hadn’t seen before. It has a ‘Star Wars” look but the circles and lines really mean something and work well to guide the user through the steps in paying for parking:
The leader in technology was ANPR or if you speak American LPR –that’s Automated Number Plate Recognition vs License Plate Recognition. We have had a number of discussions on the efficacy of LPR in this space and the conclusion seems to be that although its a great idea, that it is extremely difficult to get a high percentage of what the folks here would call ‘proper’ reads. Seems that the number bounces around between what is reality (perhaps 70-90%) and what we are told (95%). Hey, don’t kill the messenger.
But there is a difference between being able to read the plate and being able actually recognize what the number is. These guys:
claim to read 98 percent of the plates they see and recognize or translate those numbers into data that a computer can use in 96 percent of the time. That is a standard set by the UK Government.
When I mentioned I was from the US, they just smiled politely and told me that all bets are off in the US. Here in the UK all the license plates look the same — same size, same colors, same fonts, and same order of letter and numbers. In the US, every state and in some places every country have different fonts, colors, sizes and shapes. This makes for a much harder problem.
Most told me that in the US if they could get 90%, it would be good.
So what does all this mean? It means that depending 100% on ANPR to control your parking facility may be a bit of a stretch. If you are using it for enforcement (is this car a scofflaw, has this car paid, is this person speeding) then it is a workable solution. However to use it for access control, or to charge a vehicle based on time of entry, it can be problematic. If you are getting only 90 out of 100 that means that on average, in a parking facility that has 3000 transactions a day, up to 300 might be missed.
Here in the UK, that number drops to 120, but its still a lot.
I loved this picture that one of the vendors was using to illustrate how ANPR can be used to catch crooks on the freeway:
Just another day on the 405 Freeway in LA.
Helen Dolphin of the British Disabled Motoring group just dropped by the booth. She is the embodiment of courage having lost both legs and forearms to disease in her 20s, she carries an attitude that surrounds everyone she meets. Her smile and her approach to life is awe inspiring. I’ve known her a couple of years now and find we are in agreement on most issues concerning disabled parking. Its not about cost, its about access. She notes that she doesn’t feel she should pay the same as a non disabled person since she takes longer to get about her business, but she feels it fair that she does pay. More time for the same amount. That’s her credo.
Mandy Stephens is my UK assistant for shows in Birmingham. She has a business doing just that, helping companies who exhibit at the NEC. Covering 40 evedntws a year, she has a stable of women who work for her and she assigns them to exhibitors that contract with her. Here she is with moi:
She says that she hires women who are able to learn about the company they represent and are PA material, that is personal assistant. She says that girls who work the shows like the one with her here…
are a dying breed. They are there to add color and a certain ‘look’ to the booth, but in the end, do you remember the name of the company they represent. Her group dresses professionally (always in trousers) and can talk intelligently about the product or service of the company who hired them. They will be older, but good looking. If they are all like Mandy, she is certainly correct. On the first day of the show she collected over 100 email addresses of people who wanted the e copy of PT sent to them every month plus passed out magazines, completely organized the booth, and served as an ambassador for PT here at the Parkex show.
Exhibitors at these shows work hard to attract folks to their booth — there were also Bat Girls (persons?)
and the odd super hero
The NEC is located adjacent to Birmingham International Airport and there is a maglev train connecting the two. I have to run — got to catch a flight to Dusseldorf and my next eat (schnitzel?) play (drive on an autobahn) and park (German Manufacturer of PARCS}
I had the normal air line experiences, you know — on the plane and then sit at the gate for an hour while they figure out how to find a tug to push back the plane that isn’t broken. You could hear the frustration in the pilot’s voice when we finally got moving and then found we were in a traffic jam on the ground at JFK. But I made it to London unscathed and found the day typical — rain: This is Oxford Circus on strangely enough, Oxford Street, London’s prime shopping area.
I stayed only one night in London but it was worth it. I was able to meet up with Petronella, Andres and Sean, and have a great dinner. They good friends, and a long story I will tell you if you ask, in person, with a drink in your hand.
The food at the “Giraffe” was great, particularly the chicken nuggets and ‘chips’ for Sean.
I rented a car the next morning and headed up country. Driving on the ‘other’ side of the road wasn’t really a problem, but figuring the distances and spacial relationships was. My first challenge was getting out of the car rental place. As I turned onto the street I found a ‘lorry’ – read that truck, three taxis and a couple of cars jammed in a street that we in LA would call an alley, but it was two way and no one was moving. Finally someone started the process. I crawled up the street and a woman coming the other way in a Range Rover figured she owned the road. I did too. Our mirrors touched, but mirrors in the UK all are on hinges. Now I know why, no damage.
I made it to the motorway and was feeling a bit peckish. I found a “Welcome Break” and pulled off.
Waitrose is an upscale market, rather like Whole Foods or Gelsons in LA. I’ll let you figure out where I picked up a snack for the road.
The country lanes are narrow, and you have to have courage to keep your car on the road when meeting another vehicle — I was literally run off the road — and got the car a tad muddy. No harm no foul — I found a drive through car wash and after ‘misaligning’ the car, stopping the brushes permanently, but with the assistance of the manager and two ‘engineers’, I came away with a nice clean car.
My next stop was Chris and Camilla’s — another story for another time. They live in a small village about 100 miles north of London in a house that was built in 1800. Yep 200 years old:
Camilla served the traditional “Sunday Lunch.” It rather reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner — Ham, Chicken, Vegetables, Salad, Soup, two kinds of dessert. But my experience is that this is typical in the UK — Sunday Lunch is a big, and very satisfying meal.
We caught up on gossip, everything that had happened since they were in LA this summer. Their son , Max, is an American — he was born to his UK parents in Long Beach while Chris was working in Orange county. They have a US passport with his picture on it, when he was a couple of months old. He’s not too happy with the picture, as would be a typical 12 year old, but loves his dual citizenship
Daughter Alicia is 15 going on 21 and a heart breaker. She is a violinist, competition swimmer, and works out every day, rain or shine. That say a lot in the UK where its, cold, wet, and even snowing most of the time. Max and Alicia:
I got to bed early because Monday I was to head out to the National Exhibition Centre and the Parkex Show. Time to get to the “Park” part of the adventure.
Another blogger has exactly expressed my opinion of “smart” parking meters – you know, the ones that erase meter credit once a car has moved out of the spot, robbing the next guy of 7 minutes of free parking. The headline reads: Smart Parking Meters will End Free Rides and Fun.
This is a fair and sound parking policy, but it’s not friendly. People absolutely love finding free minutes on parking meters. And if we are talking about “friendly” policy, a few minutes for free is as friendly as it gets. But I know we are mostly talking about money.
How about a compromise? Say somebody drives away and leaves 20 minutes on their meter. Cut that 20 minutes to 5 – make more money for the city and let the next parker feel like she found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She won’t know there was initially 20 minutes left, and she will thoroughly enjoy her 5 minutes. And the newspaper won’t have to write an article about smart meters ruining everyone’s lives.
Read the rest of the article here.
No, I’m not trying to channel Elizabeth Gilbert and her best selling book, or Julia Roberts who played her in the movie. The title of this post comes from a conversation with a friend fueled with some adult beverage held this past fall (spring there) in Sydney.
She said that I needed to get ‘loose’ and start changing the way I approach life, my job and dare I say it, parking. Her approach was a tad more than I was willing to embrace, but I felt the idea had merit and beginning tomorrow, I will embark on the first of what I hope become a number of treks across the globe in search of food, fun, and yes, parking.
This trip takes me to the UK, Germany, Austria, and Italy. I’ll be flying, driving, and taking the train. There will be visits to friends, colleagues, factories, and places I have never seen before.
OK, its only two weeks, but it is the longest I have been away from hearth and home for, well, ever.
Keep you eye here on the blog as the trip unfolds. There will be a lot about parking (trade shows, factory visits, and I hope some good gossip.) Plus some personal parking adventures as I drive across the UK and the length of Germany. There will be adventures including driving on the (left) wrong side of the road, finding a place to stay when I have no reservations, a glorious train ride from Salzburg to Bologna, and, if I can find it, a walk across the George Bridge.
As for the food part, I think I have tried every McDonalds in London so I will attempt to something a little different there and in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, and a village called Gretton, and they tell me Bologna is the food capital of Italy. Who knows what Germany will bring — can you say Hofbrau House?
Eat, Play, Park
Apps are everywhere and they do everything. I’ve read about apps that order your dinner, make you smarter, and change your oil, well, not quite, but they’re coming soon.
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg just unveiled a pilot program in Belmont, Bronx, that will allow drivers to pay for parking with their cell phones. Read the article here.
Parking apps are not new, but they’re not totally mainstream. There are places where it’s highly probable that half the population does not yet own a smart phone and couldn’t feed the meter anything but quarters.
In metropolitan areas the phone is the way to go. And for the rest of the country, one day all these kids now under 13 will grow up and their parking needs will have to be addressed. They have no idea what life is like without computers, bottomless soda fountains, and texting, and I doubt they’ll become adults who carry cash – or change. So all those meters out there will soon need some kind of remote payment method. Get ready.