Parking Operation asks Users how to Improve its System

In an ingenious approach to a strange problem, National Car Parks, (NCP) based in Milton Keynes, is asking its customers why they get so many tickets for paying at the wrong pay machines. According to the article on onemk.co.uk, there are several parking operations in close proximity in the town, and users are frequently ticketed because they park in one operation, but mistakenly pay for parking at the other operation.

The spokesperson added: “NCP is working hard to address the problems that can occur when you have two separate car parks located in the same area, run by different companies, and we totally understand it may be very confusing to a first time parker at Milton Keynes.

In my mind, there are two issues to address. One is brand awareness. If parkers don’t even notice the there are two different parking operations, neither one is doing a good job of promoting its brand. Logos, advertising, slogans, and even mascots are great tools for differentiating your business from another. Second, signage has to be foolproof. Imagine you are directing a heard of kindergarteners and you’ve got the right level. Not because people are dumb, by any means, but because they are busy and distracted.

NCP says it has lots of sign up and the pavement is painted with directions to pay machines, but if lots of people are paying the wrong machine, the signs are not enough. Asking customers to identify the cause of their confusion is a smart first step.

Read the article here.

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PT Rules — Here’s what’s coming

There’s a new sheriff in town and she cracks a mean whip. We are planning ahead and here’s what you will see over the next quarter in Parking Today:

jvh Jan House Ad

See you in the pages of Parking Today.

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I Don’t Work with Kids or Pets

I just completed a webinar for Women in Parking. I was joined by Kathleen Laney and we discussed the pros and cons of social media and its effect on our industry. Kathleen knocked down a number of myths about social media.

The big one – “it gives customers a place to complain about my company.” She noted that customers are going to complain if there is a problem, no matter what, and its best to get in front of issues before then grow into major problems.

I recounted the concept of a voluntary fail. It works like this: If you find a problem, let’s say a faulty product, you immediately correct it and tell the world you have done so. If you do that before anyone realizes that there is a problem, you often come out a winner. “What a great company, they fixed a problem we didn’t know we had.”

However, if you don’t act quickly, and someone calls you on the issue one second before you publish, you are a goat and there is little you can do except eat crow and hunker down.
Social media helps you get in front of issues. Use it.

Kathleen did such a super job, she reminded me that many actors refuse to work with kids or pets. They always steal the show. Kathleen was the star, even though I had top billing.

JVH

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Passion is First

Reading Kathleen Laney’s blog on lessons learned is inspiring.  I have to commend her on  having passion for what you are doing first on the list. If you have passion about your job, or any task, you will succeed and more importantly, you will be fulfilled.

Consider the entrepreneur who begins a start up. For some, the task ahead is full of wonder and excitement. They are making a new widget. Its  their life’s work, their passion.

However, in many start ups, their first task is to formulate an ‘exit strategy.’  They are already thinking about how to get out of the company they started. Their passion is not in widget making, its in maneuvering their company so that google, amazon, or the latest VC will buy it. So perhaps their passion is money, not the thing that results in money.

I”m always a bit suspect of a CEO talking about his exit strategy. What is their passion?

I was told the other night about a CEO that was brought in to run a parking company, long since defunct. He brought with him a number of staff members, a CFO, CTO, Security director and the like. He eventually left, as did the folks he brought.  His tenure there was difficult.  He was surrounded by people passionate about parking, he and his staff were not. Oh they did their jobs, but they never understood the people who worked for them.

If you go on Linkedin, you can find him and his ilk. They move from job to job, doing what CEOs or CFOs do. They make a good living, but do they really help the companies for which they work. When they look back on their lives, will they be able to say,  “Boy, what a ride!”?

The greatest successes, it seems to me, are from people who are passionate about what they do. You know the list — Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Elon Musk, Lee Iacocca, Winston Churchill, Larry Johnson.

Don’t know Larry?  He runs the doughnut shop a block from my house.  He has put three kids through school, owns the building he is in, and is always smiling. I asked him one day why he was successful. “I like to work, ” he said.

He had a passion for work. Not just doughnuts, but doing the job, doing it right. Meeting customers, coming in early, enjoying the solitude of baking. He was passionate about it. It wasn’t a job, it was his life.

I”m not sure you can just decide one day you are passionate about your job. Its something that comes to you innately. The passion can grow. And certainly, its not something you can turn on or off.

The passion you feel makes you happy. You think about the task and you get a smile. Sometimes when you complete it, you actually choke  up a bit, with pride.

Are you better off in a job where you have passion, or in a job that pays twice as much. You do have to eat, you know. There are trade offs. But in the end, when you are rethinking your life, hopefully you will never have to say “what if?”

One of our staff asked to work only 4 days. She asked for a reduction in pay. She has a start up which is her passion. She is making a bit of money and can live without working full time here. I can only wish her the very best. Hopefully some day she will work no hours for us. She will not have to ask, “what if?”

Passion not only makes a better product, service, novel, or painting. It also makes a better you. And of course you can be passionate about parking. Why not?

JVH

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Apps Vulnerable to Fraud, too

In the rush to embrace technology, there can be a blind spot for potential problems. Smart phone apps have taken over the world. People love them and use them for everything from planning dinner to finding a date to paying for parking. But smart phone apps have the same security issues as any other remote pay option, and there are bugs in the system that are hard to exterminate. According to softpedia.com, in England, some parking applications for Android do not secure customers’ private information.

But as the researchers looked closer at the encryption methodology, this false sense of security was quickly shattered, since it was also discovered that these apps did not validate the certificate they got from the server, used to establish the encrypted communications channel. This leaves users exposed to MitM (Man-in-the-Middle) attacks via proxy servers. The only condition would be that the attacker was on the same network as the app’s user.

From problems with the storage of passwords to the location of encryption keys, these apps might make parking easier, but that convenience could cost a lot more than anybody expects.

No technology is safe from thieves and hackers. They will find a way to get through all but the toughest security programming. For those who choose to implement mobile applications, the task is to start with bullet-proof systems and never stop updating those systems. Huge companies like Target or Blue Shield can absorb the financial and consumer relations fallout from a data breach, but a small parking company might not have the resources.

Read the article here.

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Parking Enforcers Lose Jobs Over Fake Tickets

When things go badly, it’s easy to start pointing fingers, but Lawrence Conrad, owner of Independent Security Services Atlantic Inc., is a good model for how to act when trouble arrives. According to thechronicleherald.ca, Conrad found out two of his employees were writing fake tickets to get out of work and fired them within hours. He didn’t wait to see how mad his clients would get; and he didn’t hesitate long enough to get a lawyer. He fired them and he alerted the police.

Conrad has a security company to run and wasn’t going to waste time while his reputation went down the tubes.

“I asked them, I said, ‘Why would you even bother writing tickets? What was your purpose here? The only thing you did is steal hours from me.’

“And I said, ‘Were you both truly that lazy?’ And the only comment I got from both of them, separately, was ‘We were stupid.’”

“They were taking what I call coffee breaks, extended lunch breaks.”

While the crime made no sense to Conrad, the consequences were clear. His company provides parking enforcement services and bills clients, namely, the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, for hours worked. Now those billed hours must be reimbursed and he’s prepared to make the culprits come up with the money – through the court system. Conrad’s contract with Halifax is up for review in the next few months and he is eager to prove this kind of trouble is anomalous and won’t be tolerated.

Both men, whom Conrad described as stellar employees who faithfully showed up at 7:45 a.m. every morning, worked for the company for a year and a half. They were vetted through the Justice Department, had background police checks completed and swore an oath as special constables.

The city of Halifax made Conrad aware of the high number of tickets issues to “phantom” vehicles, and once he figured out the scam, he took action. I guess it’s no surprise the owner of a security company would act so decisively, but I’m still impressed.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Parking Apps Drawing Attention to Entire Industry

Most people don’t have any idea how big the parking industry is, but the Chicago Tribune recently threw out a number: $30 billion. I would bet it’s bigger than that, but it has to be a good feeling or members of the industry to hear that kind of validation. Most people park their cars, but never think about parking as an industry like fashion or electronics. I think that’s about to change.

According to chicagotribune.com, the race to fill the needs of parkers through online parking apps is going hot and heavy. It’s getting more and more press and the players are getting more and more recognizable.

Although not all of them have disclosed funding levels, CB Insights reports that investors have poured at least $109 million into top parking apps. Look for winners to emerge in this nascent field quickly. Also, expect fierce competition for partnerships with carmakers, as apps fight one another to win valuable real estate inside the next wave of connected cars.

Digital parking applications that provide services for airports, cities and individuals are named in the article including Luxe, ParkWhiz and SpotHero. There’s even a mentiono f the apps that didn’t make it, mostly those that attempted to sell parking spots they didn’t own. The article predicts that the apps that stand the test of time will be those that offer diverse services: airport parking, as well as city parking and reservations.

Maybe the lass flashy members of the industry deserve more attention, too, but for now, this is a good start toward the world seeing parking for the giant that it is.

Read the article here.

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Residents Win Fight Against ParkAtlanta

Around 6 years ago, then Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin hired a private firm to enforce parking in her city. At the time, Atlanta had given up on its own enforcement program and needed a little of the money it was losing in ticket fees. According to altlantamagazine.com, the new enforcement team did its job well, so well that residents began to protest with vigor.

Residents went so far as to create anti-parking-enforcement clubs, bumper stickers, websites and Facebook pages. They made their displeasure known in every possible forum. Their main objection, besides the fact that they’d been given tickets in the first place, was that, from their points of view, the enforcement agency was trying to make a hefty profit on ticketing residents.

“…the discord grew voluminous enough that Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s successor, Kasim Reed, had to rewrite the contract to ensure greater accountability and transparency from the ticketing force—a renegotiation that cost the city somewhere in the neighborhood of $800,000.”

The city’s contract with its parking enforcement agency is almost up and Mayor Reed has promised residents he would not renew it. He even gave them a forum to air their grievances at a recent city council meeting.

Atlanta’s fussy residents might have a point that they were ticketed unfairly, charged too much, not allowed to resolve ticketing issues, and generally preyed upon by a heartless, money grubbing parking enforcement agency, but it might be they had just got used to the parking free-for-all in their city and didn’t want to follow rules or face consequences. It’s hard to say as an outsider.

Now Atlanta can go back to enforcing its own parking or hire another contractor. Hopefully, people will be happy with one of those solutions.

Read the article here.

 

 

 

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Boston Pushes App with Free Parking Bonus

The city of Boston has announced that smartphone users who download the ParkBoston app with receive two hours of free metered parking this holiday season. The parking bonus is offered as an incentive to purchase the app.

No doubt, Boston city leaders are hoping to increase their numbers, and saw the busy shopping days of Christmas as a great time to get more users.

“ParkBoston is a customer service enhancement that allows people to pay by smart phone to park in metered spaces on all local City of Boston streets,” said Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina N. Fiandaca.  “We are pleased that we were able to just recently complete the full implementation of the project to provide this innovative amenity to Boston’s residents and visitors during this busy time of year.”

Everywhere I go, I can get something free or discounted for downloading an app. A taco shop where I eat frequently will give me a free taco; my dentist will give me a chance to win an Amazon.com gift certificate. I haven’t downloaded either app. The reason is that the taco is a one-time thing. After I eat my free taco, I’ll just have an app I don’t use and need to delete. And a chance to win a gift card isn’t enough of a reason for me to visit the app store, either.

I think it’s a great idea to give people a reason to download your app, but once they do, the real benefit has to be obvious and practical. The app itself must be easy to use and truly helpful. That’s the only way to keep people from enjoying their prize and deleting the app the next day.

I’d be curious to see what the retention rates are for this type of promotion. Maybe a staggered reward system would keep people attached to their apps longer and give them a chance to see the app’s usefulness. Perhaps Boston could offer two free hours a month for the first three months? Maybe that sounds like a lot of free parking to give away, but for all the time and money they have spent on ParkBoston, it could be a worthwhile investment to get users hooked.

 

Read the press release here.

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When a law is passed, who is affected?

I have been musing for some time about who is affected. I think I have come up with a way to communicate it.

The Problem:  Why does the government, any government, at any level, run by any political party, pass laws, rules and regulations which negatively affect mostly the lower income members of our society. To wit:

  • Gasoline taxes and ‘environmental’ rules add about $1 per gallon on fuel cost in California. (Gasoline in New Orleans last week was $1.79 a gallon, in Los Angeles $2.80.) Who is affected most by this $15 a tank surcharge in California. Not the rich or upper middle class, they just pay it and press on. The lower income earners see $60 to $100 a month coming out of their pay, and they need it.
  • So called ‘sin’ taxes add substantially to the cost of wine, beer, liquor, and tobacco. The 1 percenters could care less. The poor are hit hard. And it may be the case that lower income folks smoke more and drink more that others.
  • Insurance regulations limit competition,  particularly in health insurance, and thus tend to drive up rates. The rich probably don’t even know what their insurance costs. The poor, not so much.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency and its mandates have greatly affected the production of coal, limited construction of refineries, and the like.  Where is most of the coal produced? In West Virginia, one of our poorer states. Where are the refineries, the Gulf Coast, areas of high unemployment.  Bill Gates and Elon Musk don’t care — they pay what it takes to power their enterprises.
  • And what about the XL pipeline. Canada will sell the oil to us, or to China. We don’t build the pipeline, costings 1000s of jobs, Canada shrugs and goes elsewhere with their oil. A lot of poor people who would have had jobs here in the US go wanting.
  • City governments are pressuring police to hold back on enforcement in minority neighborhoods.  If you take Baltimore as an example, the police pulled back, and murder rates in poorer neighborhoods skyrocketed. It didn’t happen in rich neighborhoods.
  • Zoning rules set parking requirements for apartments, thus driving up the construction costs of those buildings and causing higher rents. Renters are paying for parking even though they may not have vehicles. Who are hurt? Lower income families who can’t afford to live in those buildings because of high rents.

I could go on  but you get the idea.

A solution? Perhaps when a new tax, law, or regulation, an “impact study” would have to be done to see just who is affected and by how much. Maybe if lawmakers knew that a particular tax cost low income families so much a year, they might think twice.

Naw, probably not…

JVH

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