Twitter — Another passing Fad or…?

If someone told me two years ago that I would be following Twitter and Facebook, I would have told them they were crazy. This social media stuff is for kids, and it opens us up to criticism and takes an inordinate amount of time if you want to do it right, and its not for business, but for fun. Beside, I don’t understand how to ‘tweet’ anyway.

Boy was I ever wrong.

I have learned that social media has become a large weave in the fabric of our lives. Companies make earth shaking announcements on Facebook and Twitter, grandmothers communicate with their grandchildren on Facebook, IBM has a quarter of a million followers on Twitter, Ford has 750,000, Intel has 4.3 million, Boeing a quarter of a million, the IPI has 2000, Laz Parking’s Boston operation, nearly 800, Ace Parking 2000, and Parking Today and JVH have a total of nearly 1500 followers after only two and a half months of active tweeting.

Twitter can be frightening. With all those @,#, / and tiny urls its a whole new language to learn.  You are forced to put your message across in less than 140 characters, and in the end, who will read it. You can “favorite”, “retweet”, follow, unfollow, send private messages… YIKES!

And assume you fight through the gobbledygook, so what.  What good does it do a company.

I have learned that for business, Twitter is about branding. Its about reminding customers and competitors just who you are and what you are about. Using this techie communications, you are telling the world that you understand that we are moving into a new era. You are not giving up the old, but you are adding another arrow in your marketing quiver.

Plus, by becoming familiar with the media, you will find out information about customers and competitors that you might not know. The University of Nevada is closing a surface lot to start construction on the new parking structure — they will need equipment, lighting, elevators, plus ongoing commodities and services like tickets and enforcement software. Be good to know.

In the beginning I spent an hour a day or so dealing with Twitter, now its 15 minutes. I check out my twitter feed in morning and night, and have an app that allows me to “tweet” all at one time and then spread them out throughout the day. I have a couple of young, hip, staff members that love it and follow and tweet our info throughout the day, in addition to their regular duties.

We get feedback from our customers. Thanking us for mentioning them and then forwarding our tweet (retweeting) to their followers. That helps us in two ways — our customers feel like we remember them, and our message is sent to their followers.  (This is called going viral — that is if maybe 100 or 1000 followers retweet and the numbers go up exponentially. It usually happens to Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, or a video of cat playing the piano, but you get the idea.)

Consider Twitter. Its world class marketing, its intriguing, and dare I say it, its fun.

I’ll try to explain it in layman’s terms in my next blog. Don’t ask a 14 year old or a hip employee — they make assumptions about knowledge you simply don’t have.

Follow us on Twitter   @jvhpt and @parkingtoday.




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Holiday Parking a Mysterious Phrase

In Manhattan Beach, California, where street parking is illegal on weekends and holidays, residents are sounding off about tickets they received on July 3, according to

The confusion arose from different ideas about which dates are holidays and which days are not. July 3 was a Friday. Many companies closed that day to offer employees a day off in addition to July 4, which was a Saturday.

City Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents the area, said at least a dozen people had contacted his office about the holiday parking tickets. Deutsch said the DOT was looking into his request to have signs changed to show that parking regulations were in effect on “observed” holidays. But he cautioned that it was unlikely the tickets would be dismissed.

It seems the Department of Transportation saw the day as a holiday, but the post office and local sanitation services did not. Many employers called the day a holiday, but not all. People who parked on the street thought it was just a regular holiday, but parking enforcement did not. Who defines what is an “observed” holiday and what is an “actual” holiday?

I think it makes most sense to apply the rule to actual holidays, because observed holidays fluctuate every year and are not obvious to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy when an observed holiday means more time off, but it can be hard to keep track. Most of of us don’t spend our days perusing the DOT website, so we don’t know when its holiday information is different from ours.

Read the article here.

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Does Technology Make Us Stronger?

The knee jerk reaction to that questions is an unequivocal YES! How can it not? Technology makes garages run smoother, ensures more money is collected, helps with enforcement, lowers labor cost, helps parkers find their spaces, gives us data that helps us make educated decisions. What can possibly be wrong with that?

The answer is nothing is wrong with that. But are we, as an industry, stronger because new technology exists. Do we make better decisions, is our corporate ethic firmly in place.? Do we reach out to our customers and ensure we meet their expectations? Do we treat our customers and employees with respect and honor?

When we turn our business over to technology, we do so at our peril. How may times have you heard (or said) “we don’t need an audit, we have computers running our facility and they don’t cheat.” If you install a certain technology, you can reduce the people that interact with customers. Things will run faster and smoother. Fair enough.

But aren’t we in a people business. We deal with people constantly. We park their cars, we issue citations, we direct them to spaces, we keep our facilities clean and secure.  All that takes people.

I know we are all proud of the fact that we don’t go into banks any more. ATM’s have taken the people out of banking.  Want a loan — deal with someone a thousand miles away. Have a questions “Call our on line banker.” Go into a bank and ask a question, they hand you a phone to talk to someone across the continent.  Is this progress? — I think not.

Many of our customers have questions. Where, when, how, why. And its reassuring if we have a good person on site to conveniently deal with problems. I often have a more positive feeling from an organization when they properly deal with a problem than if no problem exists.

The strength of any industry is in its people. We need good people, people who enjoy what they do. They need training and support. They need to know how to turn negatives into positives, something no technology has mastered.

It we rely totally on technology we will survive, be profitable, and grow. But will we be stronger? Will we be the kind of industry that the young want to emulate?  I know the answer and so do you.


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Its Catching on Like Wildfire

I wonder if we get too much information, about things we can’t control and affect us only peripherally.  I want information about my industry so I can know what’s going on and adjust to upcoming trends and see new ideas. But do I need to know extensive details about volcanoes in Chile or tornadoes in Oklahoma? Am I really concerned about the Kardashians or whether a new movie is released in Bollywood?

A friend in NY sent me a link to an article in the New York Times about the fire season in California.  It was extensive, telling the story of one major fire (the Lake fire) here near LA and how four years of drought had put tremendous pressure on fire fighters and was a harbinger of the end of the world.

I have lived in fire areas, have had fire retardant dropped on my head as I covered evacuations, and when I was little I prayed that the good Lord would protect my house from the fire not 200 yards away. I know about fires in the forests and brush lands of California.

First, fires are necessary to the environment.  They kill off insects and blight that kill the trees.   They thin the herds of the weak and sick. They clear out underbrush and weaker trees so the strong can survive. They have been doing this for thousands of years.

As we move into the brush and forests, build our homes surrounded by sage, chaparral, scrub oak and pepper trees, suddenly we are concerned about the fires.  We stop them as soon as we can. We spend millions on fire suppression. And in doing so, we allow the brush to increase, the insects to take over, and, yes, screw a bit with Mother Nature.

A few years ago, when we had plenty of rain and plenty of water, we were told that the increase of rain would mean a bad fire season, as the underbrush and grasses were thriving, and would be fuel for the summer/fall fire season. When the temperatures started to rise, the thick brush and grass would dry out, and the slightest spark would set off a conflagration that was impossible to stop.

Now our betters from the east are telling us that its due to the drought that fires are bad and if only we had those extra inches of rainfall last winter, all would be well. Huh?

All this information is overwhelming.  It causes us to worry, to stew, to complain, to blame. But frankly, I can’t see much difference this year from any year after four years of drought. And we have had them before, at least every 10 years or so, we have a drought. What’s new?

We get all this information, and first we want to fix it (we can’t) and then we want to blame someone (its not their fault).

I read last spring that climate change would affect the normal weather patterns here in Los Angeles. We normally have what we call “May Gray” and “June Gloom” on LA’s west side. We get up in the morning to overcast skies that clear by noonish. Sometimes they don’t clear at all.  This is caused by the heat in the deserts to the east drawing cooler wet air from the ocean. The article in the paper said that this would change as the deserts were going to cool (Climate change) thus not drawing in the fog from the ocean.

Its is the 15th of July. It is overcast and has been virtually every day since Mid May. Did I really need a story in April about how my life was going to change due to the weather.  Just more drivel to clog the neurons.

To end a drought we need an “El Nino” effect.  The waters warm in the western Pacific and it rains in California.  The term comes from the fact that the early Christians in the area noticed that on certain years, it rained more around Christmas than on others. “El Nino”, the Christ Child, brought the life giving water.  Been going on for centuries.

My only fear is that they are predicting a strong “El Nino” effect this year, and thus an end to the drought. “They” have been wrong about virtually everything else, I pray they are right about this.

Just more to worry about.


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Self Driving Cars…The Finnish Approach

The folks in Helsinki are planning to have only self driving cars on the road by 2030. That’s only 15 years away. They are certain it is happening, their only concern is that Google may be running the show. Read about it on

I have spoken to a number of folks who seem to know about this and they think that the self driving car concept may be a tad further out than that.  One of the main concerns is liability, and where state and local governments will place it.  If a self driving car has a wreck who is to blame? Is it the manufacturer, the software engineers, the owner? One could probably make a case for any of these but its still a major issue, and remember most politicians who will make those decisions are lawyers. Its going to take more time to sort that out than ensuring they don’t hit one another.

I have come concerns —

First — Driving is Fun. Many people aren’t going to want to give up their cars because they like driving them. Sure it may not be a rocking good time on the 405 at 5 pm on Friday, but on Saturday morning when the open road beckons, stand back.

Second — I hope they aren’t running these suckers in a cloud. I just turned on my PC and found that the ‘net was down — or was it. At least it took a couple of ‘goes’ to get on the air, so to speak. And although it appears that Google is fast, is it fast enough to get the brake engaged before hitting the semi that just stopped in front of us?

Third — I’m as egalitarian as the next guy, but maybe I don’t want to go to that black tie dinner in the next rust bucket that comes down the line. Will we have VIP cars, standard, and minis based on how much we want to pay.

Fourth — Control. Do I really want to give up control to some nameless company living in a cloud with software geeks deciding how fast I am going to go and just what route I’m going to take. OK maybe their way will be better than mine, but so what.

My great grand children will probably never have driven a car. They will never have experienced ‘new car smell.’ They will never have to think about ‘breaking in’ a car and whether or not to ‘red line’ it before 1000 miles. Of course, they will never have to pay a parking ticket either.

The new generations miss so much. Its sad one of the things will be the freedom driving a car brings. The Finns probably don’t care — after all their have Reindeer to pull their sleighs.


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New Housing, Old Parking Discussion

In Seattle, a new housing project is bringing up a very old parking argument, reports In Eastlake, city council leaders have waived some parking requirements for developments near bus lines. Community members say the waiver has caused a rush to build, despite being based on incorrect policies.

According to the community council, the city is using buses as an excuse; lowering parking requirements for developers that build near bus service. The flaw in that rationale, according to the community council, is assuming there is plenty of space on buses and people are willing to give up their vehicles.

The city says enforcing parking requirements will make the housing unaffordable and that other, similar developments, with little parking, have been successful. In the article’s comments, readers give voice to every side of the discussion.

Those who distrust government and don’t want to be crowded:

Its all about packing more people in a space. Parking just subtracts from living space. More people equals more tax revenue. More tax revenue means more money to control and dole out to help keep the politicians in power.

Those who want an urban experience with fewer cars and more amenities:

More density means more outlets of commerce in a smaller area, which means a more vibrant economy and one which doesn’t rely on the antiquated notion of a car-centric society.

And the funny guy:

If they are not building any parking where are the future parklets going to come from?

The middle ground is often a good place to start, but not an easy destination for politicians who, indeed, have to consider tax revenue and affordable housing needs, and residents who have little say and have to live with whatever the city decides to do.

Read the article here.

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Parking Technology Today

Its in the mail — and boy does it look hot. The Handsome Youakim boys from Passport on the cover, plus stories about EMV, PCI, Connected Cars, Chipcoins, Mobile Apps in Israel, Omni Channel Marketing, ALPR, UBER, and a lot more. Articles by JVH, Peter, Melissa, Astrid, Clyde, Sandra, Mike, Jean-Pierre, Wen, Jacob, Cherie and more. Want to know the last names, check it out on line here  and watch your mail box.


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A Rising Tide…

Does a rising tide REALLY raise all boats? When JFK speechwriter Ted Sorenson was looking for something to help sell the then senators economic policies in Massachusetts, he borrowed the concept from a local chamber of commerce. In fact, on the ocean a rising tide does raise all boats, but sometimes those not tethered properly will wind up on the rocks. After all, companies do fail in booming economies.
One might say “so what.” How do my actions affect the parking industry? I’m just a small cog in a big wheel. I’m not sure that’s true.

“Rising tide raises all boats” is more than a trite saying, it’s an attitude.
A friend of mine in the industry mentioned that his company attended a trade show that was out of our industry – “We got more leads than we get at the IPI, NPA, or PIE combined.” I said ‘Wow – I’m going to look into that and see if we can get others to participate in it.”

“NO!” he shouted. “We want to be the only ones there.”

His attitude was that he wanted to keep this trade show a secret. It might help his company, but he didn’t want to help the others. As it turns out, the trade show is huge. 50,000 people attend it from all over the world, representing thousands of potential customers. There is no way his small company could come close to servicing that segment of the market.

But if the idea was shared, a large number of companies in the parking industry would benefit. They would grow, the potential market size would increase, and everyone would profit, including my friend. The tide would raise all the boats that were in the water.

How do organizations that find you as a member affect the boats and tide? Do they look only inward, at their members and the programs they set up for the membership, or do the reach outward, to the entire industry, providing information, programs, and training that benefit everyone, not just their membership.

The British Parking Association runs two national programs that benefit the entire country. One, the ParkMark program, sets up criteria for a safe parking garage (lighting, security, cleanliness, etc) and then rates garages that want to participate. They also have a training program for traffic wardens (those who issue parking tickets) run by the organization, but taught by local junior colleges. In many local authorities, you can’t become a traffic warden in the UK without taking the course.

So what does all this have to do with tides and boats?

The BPA is prospering. They membership is growing. The industry sees that they make a difference. By reaching out and involving nonmembers, they increased their membership and at the same time are helping the industry as a whole. They work WITH other organizations and the media. They involved everyone in their events and are involved in others. When the local independent parking magazine, Parking Review, held its British Parking Awards, the BPA was one of the major sponsors.

What I want is for everyone in our industry to prosper – I want the organizations to have large memberships, the vendors to make big profits, and everyone to be successful.

To do that we need to work as a team. We need to involve all the People of Parking to inject life and energy into all aspects of the industry.

How? You say… How about the IPI and NPA have a meeting where the two groups talk about how to work together. Not combine the organizations, but how they can participate in common tide raising programs. There is no need to combine the two groups, they have different goals and different membership bases. But in the end, doesn’t each organization really have the same goals, to raise the tide, and all our boats floating in it.


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Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Astrid has a tremendous link over at

Missing Comma Gets Woman Out Of A Parking Ticket. (“Let’s eat, Grandpa” – “Let’s eat Grandpa”!) Strunk & White “The Elements of Style” a must – 07.08

Seems that the ticket was for parking more than 24 hours in a zone that didn’t allow a “motor vehicle camper.” The Ohio woman had a truck. She said that there needed to be a comma between vehicle and camper.  The Judge agreed. Strunk & White aren’t the only the law on commas.

There is a great story about a panda that walked into a bar, had a salad,  pulled out a gun, shot out the mirror, and then walked out.  The headline was:

Panda Eats, Shoots and Leaves

The next day the panda came into the bar, had his salad, and walked out. The headline was

Panda Eats Shoots and Leaves.

Funny things, those commas.  Many people use too many, I usually use too few.

Grammar is always fun.  I love dangling participles. The most famous is the tag line on Star Trek — “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Lest ye forget, “To” and “Before” are participles and Gene Roddenberry got one right and  dangled another in the same sentence.  (He also split an infinitive “To boldly go” but I’m not going to get into that fight. There is no agreement as to whether splitting infinitives is proper, it seems that its OK if it sounds right) And then there is a famous song “Do you know where you are going to.” But would it sound right “Do you know to where you are going?”

Winston Churchill would have no truck with silly participle rules. He was a master at spoken as well as written prose. When making a correction on the margin of a particularly pedantically written document he sarcastically wrote: “This is English up with which I will not put.”




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Some observations from the IPI Show

I was fortunate to speak to a number of vendors, observers and attendees at the IPI show last week. What follows is some observations gleaned from those discussions.

Traditional vendors are struggling to survive:

Poorly managed traditional vendors that didn’t reinvest in their product suite have been the biggest losers. Many legacy vendors both on and off street have let their products to drift, allowing newcomers to take a quick hold on the market.
Some companies have led traditional business with newer technology (credit card acceptance, license plate recognition, parking guidance) and a smarter go to market model that appealed to a cash strapped market place.

Emerging technology vendors have shredded their VC’s capital.

In some cases, ego driven managers have wasted and have consumed their cash largesse by systematically reducing prices to protect or increase market share. This initiative combined with very high management costs have forced them out of business. On street companies are prime examples and are finding themselves being sold off at fire sale prices, and it’s likely that others are in the same boat. Whether it was a purposeful directive or a consequence of mismanagement, the driver seems to have been “grow market share or perish”. There appears to be little interest in profit.
The unanswered question

Is M-Commerce a “real business” or is it simply part of a “bundled offer” of services of a traditional vendor? This remains to be seen. M-Commerce, the use of mobile devices to participate in buying and selling, is growing exponentially, with it projected to top $650 billion in 2018. This is not simply “pay by cell” but is a commercial activity where the buyer finds product and the seller provides product and services through mobile devices including smart phones, tablets, and “connected” cars.
Will our industry be able to step up and provide services including reservations, dynamic pricing, parking guidance, and the like? It remains to be seen.

Liquidation and consolidation

Some assets will be liquidated cheaply and market share will be purchased for a small amount of money.
PaybyPhone, for instance, tells me that they are being sold by their current owner due to the inability of companies like them to provide quick cash returns and are looking for an owner who has a more long term view of the parking market.  PaybyPhone have some 400 cities across the world. It will be sold to an organization that will enhance its portfolio type. Duncan could be sold as a whole, but may be broken up into its individual parts and sold to enhance the product lines and market share of larger companies. Its Autocite division, for instance has over 8000 licenses that would be a coup for a competitor.

The power of three has reduced to the power of two.

In meters, both single space and pay and display, consolidation is occurring to the point that where there were three major suppliers, there will now be two. Similarly, in the M commerce and Pay by Cell where there were three market leaders, there will now be two. Consolidation has occurred but not through acquisition, it has occurred because disruptors have caused lazy companies to incur costs they couldn’t recoup from the market. Prices have been driven down, and this will force some companies out of the market.

Venture Capital money has failed to achieve an outcome:

A number of companies have received VC over the past few years. Many have a high burn rate and little to show on the profit side. Extremely high expenses and low margins mean that they will begin to slow, and then either consolidate or fail.
Corruption is Topical

A few vendors and customers have been involved in bribery. It seems that it is not possible to do business in some cities, without some type of “backhanding.” This is primarily on the municipal level, but some customers seem to feel that some “consideration” is necessary to gain access to decision makers.
So what’s good?

There are clear winners. Those companies that have focused on customer relationships, service, and a business model that allows cash strapped customers to pay as they go seem to be succeeding.
New companies are appearing that have novel and dynamic ideas that are taking hold. Some will succeed, some will not. However they are forcing legacy companies to rethink their products and markets and challenging them to adapt to change.
Many startups will bring new ideas and technology to bear on parking, but they must consider good management and a frugal approach. Their business models must reflect reality, true costs, and generate necessary profit.
Many companies are growing though strong non-US markets with growth in Latin America, Asia, and to a lesser extent Europe. Growth is slower in the US where the industry as a whole is not in the greatest shape. Margins have plummeted, costs have risen and new technology is being brought to the market for less than it costs to deliver it. The European market is in slightly better shape.
What does it all mean?

The parking industry will grow, but at a slow rate. Technology will be paramount in the growth but companies that relied on traditional silicon and metal devices in lanes and on streets will have to be certain that they understand that software often costs as much or more than hardware and price accordingly.
This may not best the best news for parking equipment consumers, but if the manufacturers are to survive, they have to be profitable. There are two ways, raise prices or lower costs. The successful ones will do both.

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