Holiday Parking Perks

Besides the gifts and the parties, there’s something else about that holiday season that makes it so enjoyable: the sense that just about anything can happen. I remember when I was a child the magic of the season being all the little moments when adults changed the rules in my favor. We got to stay up late, eat lots of sweets, open one gift Christmas Eve so we wouldn’t die of anticipation; our teachers were a little funnier and eased up on the homework; Santa showed up on our street on the back of a fire engine. It was a parade of happy, unexpected moments.

Age brings experience and a good helping of cynicism, but there are perks out there for adults, and some of them are parking perks. My city offers free meter parking downtown every December, and I read an article about another city that takes donations of canned goods in lieu of parking fines.

People who owe the City of Birmingham money for parking tickets can have their fines forgiven during the holidays by making donations of canned goods at Birmingham Municipal Court.

The donations will be accepted now through Jan. 30, 2015, as part of the court’s new program, “Operation Feed My Friends, Forgive My Fines,” according to a city news release today.

One case of food equals $50 in parking fines. I don’t know about you, but if I lived in Birmingham and I owed money for parking tickets, I’d be jumping for joy while I searched my cupboards for canned goods to donate. Somebody’s got to eat that can of Cream of Celery I bought on accident.

Read the article here.

Social Share Toolbar
Leave a comment

Parking Lot Attendant Gets Envelope Full of…

…Money

I’m sure most parking attendants and enforcement officers out there have dozens of stories about being yelled at, sworn at and threatened, but a parking lot attendant in Oklahoma has quite a different story to tell this week.

Mr. Mike Hay is a disabled veteran who works part time at a Norman parking lot. This week a friendly customer stopped to chat, wish him a Merry Christmas and hand him and envelope.

Hay said he had to attend to other vehicles who were parking, but when he got around to looking inside the envelope, he found $1,000 in twenty dollar bills.

I can’t go on and on about Christmas cheer or Holiday cheer or whatever you want to call it, but it gives me positive feelings to think of the kindness shown to this man by a complete stranger. We don’t all have an extra $1,000 laying around, but we might have $5, or $10 to give to someone who needs it more. Money’s not the only thing we can give generously: smiles, ‘thank yous’, ‘you’re welcomes’ and ‘after yous’ all make people feel good and don’t cost us a thing.

Read the article here.

Social Share Toolbar
Leave a comment

Credit Card Data Not Exactly Secure

The consumerist.com reports that a 7-month breach of the garage parking payment systems run by a major parking provider in several states has put customers’ credit card information into the hands of thieves.

We’ve all depended on the security of our credit card information for so long, it’s hard to get in the habit of worrying about it now. As technology changes and criminals become more adept at stealing credit card information, it’s starting to seem like using your credit card is a risky business.

Network security news site SecurityWeek reported over the holiday weekend that hackers got into the systems of a large parking vendor this year, and were indeed able to steal customer name and payment card information.

I think it’s time to make some major changes to the way credit card information is processed. I’m not at all the person to make suggestions for preventing credit data theft, because I have only the vaguest understanding of how my home computer works, but it seems serious measures must be taken. If people like me are considering a move back to cash-only transactions, you know a lot of consumers are starting to feel that credit is no longer a safe option.

Now that it’s not just the big box stores being targeted for credit data theft, parking providers are going to have to step it up. Companies that accept credit card payment have to be vigilant about the security of their customers’ information. They can’t assume their system is safe just because it was safe a year ago. And consumers themselves have to be aware of suspicious items on their statements.

I’ve no doubt the geniuses who create these systems will, for a time, outpace the bad guys. Then the bad guys will catch up again, and so on.

Read the article here.

Social Share Toolbar
Leave a comment

Technology is King, Until the Emperor puts on his new Clothes…

Technology is King.  We know that with the right technology theft and error will go away and yes, we will have a perfect industry. In fact we are there today. NO WAIT!!!

The headlines over the past weekend seem to fly in the face of my first paragraph. The Largest Parking Company on the planet has had a number of its garages hacked and who knows how many credit cards of their customers stolen. The company says that the theft has been discovered, fixed, and they are working with banks and clearing houses to find out just whose cards were stolen.

I spoke to a couple of engineers about the problem and they know nothing about this actual theft, but they weren’t surprised.  What they told me was that this is not particularly difficult. It sort of works like this:

A bit of software is put into the system that lies in wait for a credit card transaction. When it sees one it grabs the card and the association information and sends it to a web site somewhere on the planet. The transaction continues and the theft of the information goes unnoticed.  The more cleaver the thieves, the longer it goes unnoticed.

The assumption in this case is that the card holder noticed that there was fraudulent charges on his bill and complained to his bank, who traced the card transactions back through the clearing house to a place where the card might have been stolen. In this case, a garage somewhere in the US.

Investigations were begun and the breach was discovered. The ‘malware’ was removed, passwords changed, security upgraded and life goes on.

I’m told this type of hacking is difficult to see and difficult to stop. Tons of card numbers on file weren’t stolen, cards were stolen as they were used. Sort of one at a time.

Software geeks tell me that their security is better than everyone else’s. Everyone tells me that its impossible to ‘hack’ their system. We believe them at our peril. Its like saying no one on the planet is smarter than you are.

The internet gives us wonderful information and tools to help our lives. But it also gives bad guys the ability to look at our systems, test our security, find a weakness, and exploit it.

But in the end, the weaknesses are found, they are fixed, and then new ones are found, they are fixed, and life goes on.

JVH

PS — When I was in the military, I worked in a Classified Installation.  Dogs, Fences, badges, big guys with guns, all the good stuff. The security there understood the problem. There were two phone systems, one internal, one external. They were not connected in any way. All classified conversations took place on the internal phone. The external phones were unplugged when you weren’t talking. Those super spooks understood the problem. Do we?

 

 

 

 

 

Social Share Toolbar
Leave a comment

Winter Parking Wars

It can be hard for the people who live in moderate climates to understand how snow changes the parking scene. I’ve lived in snowy places in the past, and I’m happy as can be now living in a place that doesn’t get that cold.

The whole idea of saving parking in front of your house is unfamiliar, though, because I my experience in the Rockies was short-lived. There was never so much snow that I couldn’t find parking, and winter lasted only a forgivable four months.

I read about people saving their spots with garden furniture and I think ‘how desperate must they be?’

There’s a humorous synopsis of the “save your spot” culture in Philadelphia at phillymag.com that helps someone like me understand the phenomenon better. It might be a good read for the parking authorities dealing with way winter weather turns parking into war. The author defines “savies,” “movesies,” and local perspectives on other winter parking practices.

Say what you will about this city and its inequalities, but at least one thing has been made clear: We are all circling this godforsaken block together.

Very true. Read the article here.

Social Share Toolbar
2 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving???

How can we possibly have a happy Thanksgiving.

The world is aflame — Ebola is still killing in Africa, the murders in the Middle east don’t stop, China is on the move, Russia is invading, Europe is an economic basket case, then there’s Ferguson plus scandals at the IRS, Secret Service, GSA, NASA, pick an alphabet agency. Our immigration policy is in shambles, no one is happy with it. 3M has closed its parking division, and to top it all off, the streets in my neighborhood still haven’t been repaved.

We are bombarded daily with ‘if it bleeds it leads’ headlines. One disaster after another. Hurricane here, earthquake there, poverty and hunger everywhere. Everything is dysfunctional, whether its the President, Congress, the Judiciary, your local school system or even the pipes that bring water to us in LA (They keep breaking and flooding neighborhoods). There’s global warming, or is it global cooling or is it climate change, or is it simply the weather. Even the climatistas can’t make up their mind. What’s a poor stupid voter to do?

Yet, in spite of all that, life expectancy gets longer every year, even those who live on the most modest incomes and in the most modest homes live better than the so called ‘landed gentry’ of a century and a half ago, and the price of gasoline is under $3 a gallon.

We live in a country of abundance — Just walk down the aisles of any grocery store, shopping center, or Costco. You can find anything at almost any price you want. This is not true in most of the world. Airlines take you wherever you want to go and at arguably the lowest price evah.

I don’t even have to mention technology. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and is in constant contact with friends world wide (I’m not so sure this is a benefit, but that’s for another column.) Automobiles last longer than ever before and cost less per mile to drive and maintain.

The great plains and California’s central valley produce food in such abundance we not only feed our citizens, but much of the rest of the world.

Even with all their problems our universities are second to none and are flooded with students from across the planet who beg, borrow, or steal to come here to learn.

My suggestion is that you consider the last few graphs, turn off the TV news, use your newspapers to line your bird cages before you read them, and give thanks for all the goodness, wonder, bounty and freedom we enjoy. And why not — there’s nothing much you can do about the rest anyway.

A most Happy and Grateful Thanksgiving to your and yours from the entire Parking Today, PIE, Parknews.biz and Bricepac family.

 

 

 

 

Social Share Toolbar
Leave a comment

The 3M conundrum – Why?

I have been receiving input from across the globe concerning 3M’s decision to close its parking division after only about 18 months in the business. The comments go from :

3M never wanted the parking business in the first place, it ‘came along’ when they bought FS Tech and its toll road and lpr businesses.  It’s like you bought a new suit and the store threw in a tie. You didn’t want the tie, but it was part of the deal. The tie wasn’t your taste but you took it home, hung in the the closet for a few months, then threw it out.

To

There are discrete but effective barriers to entry for new entrants to the parking industry. The barriers come in various forms but one of the key barriers for new entrants is the challenges around overcoming long standing relationships, entrenched work practices and small appetites for risk. “Risk” can also be characterized as “change”. These attributes in tandem with long gestation periods for decision making and even longer tender preparation, processing and evaluation time lines results in lengthy time lapses between investments. The sector is characterized by multiple vendors most of whom are small to medium business enterprises operating in niche market segments and within select geographical boundaries.

Its within this context that 3M confronted its challenges. 3M has a well- earned reputation across the world as an innovator. It’s innovative culture has enabled the company to feed a plethora of new innovation through its global channels to markets as efficiently and as effectively as any company in the world. Its traditional modus operandi is to sell its products through wholesalers and retailers and agitate consumer demand through marketing and advertising directly to the consumer. It derives high margins in part through global volume and in part because it generates demand for new products in market sectors where there is little or no competition. 3M have generally been very well rewarded for its “first to market” initiatives.

I suspect 3M’s decision to exit the sector was driven by the realization that whilst innovation is regarded within the parking industry, there are insufficient rewards and incentives to apply the full force of the “3M innovation machine” to the dis-aggregated parking industry.

I believe reality is somewhere in between. I have no idea how decisions are made in companies the size of 3M but my guess is that considerable study goes into the process. This takes time. Even if they didn’t want the parking division in the beginning, companies like 3M don’t just make quick decisions.  They study, they review, they attempt, and then they close.

If one looks back with 20/20 hindsight, you can see that their marketing wasn’t focused on parking, but on 3M. They featured ‘bar codes’ and the 89,000 people who work at 3M. Yes, we use bar codes in parking, but we use a lot more, too. It looks like 3M didn’t really talk to the industry, or if they did, they didn’t appear to be listening.

When I toured their facility in San Antonio and compared it was what I saw at Amano/McGann, Scheidt and Bachmann, Designa, TIBA, Hub, and Skidata, I should have realized that they weren’t in this for the long haul. They took a large room, sat some parking equipment in various stages of completion, and talked about the “3M way”, six sigma, and how they were converting everything to the 3M manufacturing process. That may be unfair, particularly since they had just moved the plant from Illinois, but still…

Frankly I thought they would raise the prices considerably and be able to maintain a higher pricing level since they were “3M” and would provide world class training and support to the systems they sold.

Their dealers, who had ridden the Federal APD airplane nearly into the ground, were ecstatic. 3M did what they do best.  They showed them their huge facility in Minneapolis, toured them in G5s and then brought in the heavy guns when they toured San Antonio. Whereas all the companies I mentioned above welcomed pictures and provided meetings with CEOs and plant managers, the leaders at the 3M meetings were high level VP’s who had flown in from Minneapolis. My camera was required to be left in the car.

Looking back today, it seems that all the activity was not done in depth. There was excellent PR, beautiful two story booths at trade shows, concerned managers who promised fixes to FAPD traditional problems, but did the fixes really ever come?  You will have to ask a member of the Parc Group about that.

3M did what was necessary but at the same time kept an eye on the bottom line. They didn’t really want the parking division but took it anyway. Then they kept a close eye on it. When it didn’t perform as well as other divisions, they make the only decision a company like 3M can make.

In the short term, this will be difficult for dealers and end users. In the long term, maybe not so much. The companies I listed above provide quality products and have been for decades. They are committed to the market and to their customers. It will be short term pain for long term gain.

JVH

 

Social Share Toolbar
3 Comments

Accountability Counts

The average U.S. citizen has serious doubts about the effectiveness and honesty of government. When we think about it rationally, we know there’s no perfect system or perfect public official. Mistakes are going to be made. From my point of view, it’s the lack of accountability that is the most offensive. If you collect money, you must be accountable for the way that money is used. If you make a mistake, you must be accountable for that mistake. There are days when it seems our government spends much of its time wasting money and then lying about wasting money.

In San Diego, a recent audit of parking meter collections has revealed a serious flaw in the system. There is no process in place for tracking the use of meter revenue. That’s $10 million collected last year and spent on what no one actually knows.

According to a new report from City Auditor Eduardo Luna, the city provides no formal accounting of the meter revenue, which is supposed to pay for parking improvements in high-traffic areas.

Maybe the current administration fell into a faulty system put in place by their predecessors – there’s no use pointing fingers.But now that the city is aware of the glitch, it is taking steps to address it. The lack of accountability for the meter funds is a great shame, but taking accountability for the problem is a step in the right direction.

San Diego has plans in place to use its meter revenue wisely and account for how it’s spent. I hope its leaders are vocal about how well their plans progress.

Read the rest of the article here.

Social Share Toolbar
2 Comments

3M Shutters Parking Division – What Was Federal APD is no more.

3M announced today that it has made the decision to close its parking manufacturing operation. The company said that it would ship product to its Value Added Resellers (Dealers) through approximately the first three months of 2015 and would honor all current contracts and warranties.

The company sent me the following:

  •  3M has announced that it will transition out of its global Parking Access and Revenue Control business (formerly known as Federal APD).
  • This decision is a result of 3M’s ongoing strategic portfolio management.
    3M’s Traffic Safety business, which offers a wide range of high-quality solutions to customers worldwide, will focus investments in its more differentiated core product lines and will exit the Parking business, which has not met 3M’s overall business expectations.
  • The company is committed to fulfilling all existing contractual obligations and product warranties for its Parking products and to assisting customers and VARs (Value Added Resellers) in the upcoming transition.
  • This decision does not impact any of 3M’s other product lines.

Aaron Mills with the Parking Division marketing department told me that every effort was being made to work with their customers to affect a smooth transition.  He said that all existing contracts would be honored and that warranties would be supported for two years.

The decision was made because the parking business was not meeting the overall expectation 3M had when it acquired Federal APD in September of 2012. 3M has ongoing portfolio management evaluations and has just completed the evaluation of its parking business.   Mills said that new orders will  be taken into the first quarter and there is not a hard and fast cut off date at this time. He stressed the company would be working closely with the VARs to assist them in the transition.

The PIPs and Sirit units that were purchased with Federal APD are not affected by this decision as they have been wholly integrated into 3M.

Those people employed in the Parking Division who will be without jobs after the first of the year will be offered opportunities to ‘transition’ into other 3M divisions. “This happens all the time,” said Nan Farnsworth, Communications Manager 3M Traffic Safety and Security Division. “In a company this size there are many opportunities.”

As an aside, in 2012 I wrote the following in this blog under the heading “3M buys Federal APD”

Its not quite that simple.  3M has purchased the Federal Signal Technologies Group (FSTech) from Federal Signal Corporation. Federal APD is the parking arm of FSTech. I have pasted the news release from 3M below.  I hope the fact that 3M’s John Houle (vice president and general manager, 3M Traffic Safety Systems Division) neglected to single out Federal APD in his quote isn’t a harbinger of things to come for the parking division.

You can read the entire blog post here.

Its a sad day for Federal APD’s dealers and customers. But a pretty good day for a number of revenue control manufacturers.

JVH

H/T: Dan Kupferman

 

Social Share Toolbar
1 Comment

I’d Buy That App

There are a lot of dodgy smartphone apps for parking out there. Some sell you space that isn’t actually privately owned; others let you hold a space hostage until the ransom shows up. According to syracuse.com, the city of Syracuse, NY, has just begun offering an app called Whoosh! that lets users pay for parking with their smartphone. I’m not crazy about exclamation points in business titles, but I definitely like the way this app works.

The Whoosh! system can be used by any motorist who downloads the free app to their phone and registers their vehicle license plate and a credit card to which the payments will be charged. Each transaction includes a 35 cent convenience fee.

It’s an easy process to download the app and use it to streamline meter transactions. I think the 35-cent fee is high, considering some parkers might only be spending 50 cents to park. I don’t live in a place that freezes in the winter, but I imagine there are plenty of folks in Syracuse who’ll be glad to pay 35 cents to get out of the cold a lot faster.

So many apps leave me puzzled. This one makes sense.

Read the rest of the article here.

Social Share Toolbar
1 Comment