A Penny for Your Thoughts

Technology is a demanding entity. I have an iPhone G4 that works just fine, but is considered an actual relic in some circles. I went to MacMall to buy a new case for it, and the saleswoman scoffed, rolled her eyes and laughed hysterically until I walked out the door. (Just the first two things are true). They had absolutely nothing for a phone as old as mine – no chargers or accessories, just an attitude. My iPad is showing a similar lack of longevity. After only two years it inexplicably won’t connect to my Wi-fi and the battery is shot, so it needs a trip to the iPad service unit for some rewiring and a massage.

On the other end of the high-tech spectrum are the penny parking meters in Sycamore, Illinois. These meters are old in a way an iPhone can never be. The Daily-Chronicle.com reports that the meters are so out of date the city can’t find parts to repair them. Nobody makes penny meters anymore. That’s no surprise. The real question is why Sycamore is spending time and money keeping up meters that can’t possibly pay for themselves.

“No one has the timers that we need,” said Giovanni Serra, parking enforcement officer who also repairs the meters. “As far as screws and stuff go, we got all that. As far as timers go, we have a big problem.”

He said the city hasn’t had to replace a timer in at least eight years, when they were about $30. The city would even accept entire penny parking meters to harvest working timers, Serra said. During comprehensive planning last year, community members rallied behind keeping the old-school penny parking meters instead of modern digital parking meters – and the penny parking meters stayed.

“What we heard from the community is they appreciate that the penny parking meters add to the quaint, small downtown feel,” City Manager Brian Gregory said.

It’s pure sentimentality that’s keeping penny meters on the streets of Sycamore when half the people in our country think pennies should be eliminated from our list of coin and currency. I can respect that. I don’t know where the town is going to get the parts it needs, but I have a jar full of pennies on my desk that could pay for parking in Sycamore for about 100 years.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Politically Incorrect — Bully for Bullies

Don’t get me wrong, bullying is not the most pleasant part of growing up. I”m just not sure what you are supposed to do about it.

I received an article today about the topic. Here are the recommendations as to what to do:

• No one should make excuses for bullies.
• Parents should monitor their children’s cell phone and Internet use.
• Schools must be at the forefront of the battle.
• But the problem goes beyond the schoolhouse doors.

OK Fine. But did you notice that there not one word about what parents should tell their children as to how to react to Bullies.   It would seem to me that that should be the first line of defense.

I know you might find this impossible to believe, but I was a 90 pound geek in high school. Although I kept to myself, there was a group of malcontents who did harass and bully me. My father wasn’t a violent man but told me that the only way to stop it was to stop it. I had to face up to them.

So in my senior year I had had it.  I picked my time. The lead bully came up to me and started is shtick. I grabbed his arm, twisted it behind him and surprised the hell out of myself when he ended up on the ground with my on his back. He screamed and yelled but I just sat there.  Seems I didn’t know what to do next.  You can’t plan for every eventuality.

I noticed the football coach heading our way. I was sure he was going to give me detention but I just held on. He was walking very slowly. He stopped to chat with some students, and again at a drinking fountain to take a very long drink. He then walked over  and said in a very calm voice “having a problem Van Horn.”  “No” I said. He then walked away. I thought I detected a smile on his face.  Teacher know who the bullies are.

Sitting on your nemesis’ back can be boring so I let him up and he ran away. My fellow classmates were congratulating me and patting me on the back. I thought it was a big win.

The next week was the senior ditch day at Disneyland. If you don’t know what that is, ask your kids.  The word got back to me that my bully and his friends were going to ‘get’ me at the magic kingdom.  What to do?

I decided to go.  What the hell can they do at Disneyland (except maybe give you the measles). As I got on the bus, the bully group saw me and started trash talk. I wasn’t happy. My anti bully routine was a one shot deal.

Then the strangest thing happened.  The quarterback on the football team and his wide receiver sat with me on the bus.  I really didn’t know these guys well.  I was in the band, they were on the field.

When we arrived the QB said :  ” Stick with us. Our girlfriends are meeting us and they have some friends you might like to meet.”  Strangely I had no problems with bullies for the rest of my High School career.

I always wondered what would have happened if I had twisted that arm three years earlier.

I am a proponent of fighting in the sand lot? Do I believe that violence solves all problems. Of course not. But bullies aren’t typical of most violent issues.  They are cowards and work well only in groups. If you push back, often they move on to someone who is less trouble.

Don’t get me wrong. You have to pick the right time and place. Its helpful if your friends are around and its in the middle of school and not down a dark street at midnight. I’m not crazy.

Bu sometimes, and maybe most times, when you push back you find out who your friends really are. Sure I could have ended up with a bloody nose or a black eye. But the lesson learned would have been worth it.

Sure I was a wimp. And it took four years to work up the courage to take action. But I did. And although he never said a word, I knew my dad was very proud.

I wonder if the four suggestions above would have as much effect as a good arm twist applied at the right moment?

Who knows?

JVH

 

 

 

 

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Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater

We did a cover story last year on Monkey Parking and its clones like Haystack. The article was written by a parking authority head how basically said that entire concept was bad and frankly, using the city’s assets for private gain.

Many major cities including Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica have banned the concept, with the city attorney in San Francisco commenting,  after Monkey Parking stated that the fee was simply for information, not for the space, that the idea was like saying that a prostitute was charging for her advertising and not for the “product” she provided.

ICYMI, the idea behind these and similar apps is that a person parking on street in a city can, when they are about to leave, go on line and notify folks cruising in the area that they are leaving and the spot is now available.  The parker then waits for the cruiser to show up and the space is exchanged.  The parker gets a couple of bucks from the cruiser for his trouble, and the app takes a cut.

The major objections were that folks could go into business, and auction off spaces to the highest bidder, plus could make it a regular habit, moving from space to space, holding spaces for app users.  Fair Enough.

This morning in the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Mims has a column on the controversy, and held forth with some thoughts many of us had missed.

One of the concerns was that the apps were using public property for private gain, singling out individuals for charges that weren’t borne by the community as a whole. Mims noted that cities do this all the time with congestion pricing, They reduce availability of on street parking with higher pricing, and by renting spaces to car sharing companies like Zip Car.

Cities try virtually anything to make parking either more or less available and spend millions on apps, in street sensors, fancy on line meters, and the like to ‘help’ parkers find spaces, usually to no particular avail.  But when the private sector comes along and provides a service that attempts to do the same thing, at no charge to the city, all hell breaks loose.

The two major objections, the auction and individuals making this a full time business could easily be controlled by the software company providing the app. In fact in many cases, Haystack has already done this.

Mims quotes George Mason University researcher Christopher Koopman as follows

We should be allowing people to innovate and enter into transactions and then adjust to the margins as issues actually arise….

In the case of Haystack, Mims notes, regulators took a different approach — imagine the worst-case scenario and move to block it before there’s any evidence it will come to pass.

Rather than working with the app provider to adjust the system to fit the requirements of the local municipality, they simply banned it out of hand.  This approach crushed innovation and limits creativity.

In an attempt to ‘protect’ the city and its revenue, they threw the baby out with the bathwater.

JVH

 

 

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Built it and they will come

I was reading a blog post from the UK this morning. The writer was bemoaning the fact that parking on “high streets”  (main streets) is not readily available but at the same moment holds the position that parking is not why people to go a certain area, its the fancy shops, clubs, theaters, and the like.

He noted that the big shopping centers on the edge of town did in fact have huge parking areas, but that people wouldn’t go there if the center itself wasn’t attractive.

I have long been a proponent of that famous line from a movie “If you build it, they will come.”  I have been told it was simply a line in Field of Dreams and doesn’t fit in the real world.

Balderdash. People park in lots 10 blocks away and pay $20 for the privilege to see Taylor Swift at the Hollywood Bowl and don’t bat an eye. They pay more to park their car than an outfield tickets costs at Dodger Stadium. Plus they walk half a mile to get to their seats. The bigger the attraction, the less important the parking.

So back to our high street problem. I’m told that on many high streets parking is nonexistent. Even if there were trendy clubs, restaurants, shops, and the like, there is no place for someone to park. Let’s review the bidding. Most downtown areas of British (or American, for that matter) cities are relatively small. Perhaps 10 or 20 square blocks. Once you get outside that area, you can find parking, and its usually cheap and easy.

So, since Taylor or the Dodgers seldom play downtown Winchester, Windsor, or Cambridge, how does the city or the merchants get people to walk those four or five blocks. Whatever it is, it has to be really REALLY good.

The stores in the shopping center are required to kick in to a fund to provide entertainment, maintenance, security, and whatnot at the center. They hire full time marketing folks to come up with ideas that are blockbusters. Most of the centers are awash with money that is used to ensure that people WANT to come to the movies, restaurants, shops, or to just watch the people.

How many high streets or main streets for that matter focus on what it takes to bring people downtown rather than complaining that there isn’t enough parking. People leave downtowns and travel to centers that have been built to look like downtowns with cosy lanes and quaint buildings. Does this make sense to you?

Get some bright marketing folks. Infuse your city with the warmth and culture that people want. And I’ll guarantee you that people with forget the parking excuse and be there. By the way, once the people start coming, reasonable parking policy and parking space will follow.

Build it and they will come.

JVH

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Who’s allowed to issue parking tickets in Shropshire?

My last blog addressed excessive legislation in the United States. This one’s about a huge gap in parking laws in the United Kingdom. According to the shropshirestar.com, a Mr. Michael Green is representing a group of 15,000 people who believe they have been cited wrongly by private parking firms. Mr. Green argues that parking fines issued by civil enforcement entities are illegitimate and illegal.

“The only people with the power to fine you for parking offences are the police or the local authority,” he says.

“These are not official fines. At best they are claims for breach of contract that can only be pursued in a civil court. And almost all of them are simply unlawful.

I’m trying to think of the equivalent in the United States, and it might just be a matter of word choice. In the U.S. a parking ticket or fine comes from an actual police or parking enforcement officer. Any other parking charges are just parking charges. A parking lot or structure might penalize monthly parkers who overstay, but they make those rules known ahead of time. Anyplace where unwanted parkers get towed at their own expense is usually labelled as such. Maybe these private parking enforcers in Shropshire need to stop issuing tickets and start issuing penalties.

Or maybe Shropshire leaders need to clarify who’s really allowed to give out parking tickets. That’s a law that could be of value.

Read the article here.

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Is Air Travel Really that Bad?

Kevin Williamson over at the National Review has penned an article titled “Unholy Alliances.” You can read it here. Its a cleverly written piece about air travel and the disasters that can strike the unsuspecting.

He blames the TSA, unions, uncaring airlines, customs officials and just about everyone connected with the air line industry for what he considers the disaster of air travel. And in many cases, he is right.

I travel two to three times a month by air. I look at it differently.  At my home airport, LAX, more than 66,000,000 people arrive or depart annually. That’s 180,000 a day. The fact that the airport and airlines are able to do that at all seems incredible to me.

Kevin gave examples of delayed flights that could be blamed on incompetence.  I’ll give you an example of extreme competence.

Our Park News Editor, Astrid, flew to Florida over the holidays to visit her parents. There was some problems with her return flight. As soon as the airline (Delta) realized there was a problem, they used text and email to contact her with a new flight for her to take, a new connection in Atlanta (of course). She was automatically rebooked on the new flights and had to do nothing except show up at the new time.  She wasn’t inconvenienced at all and arrived back in LA a few minutes BEFORE her originally scheduled time. She never spoke to a live person.

I thought that was pretty fancy.

Since I travel a lot I use all the tools the airport and airline provides.  That includes TSAPre. Kevin noted that in Las Vegas they close the TSAPre lines occasionally.  I haven’t experienced that but find the concept that frequent flyers can jump the line, go through metal detectors that are tuned up so your wedding ring doesn’t set them off, and  don’t have to take off your shoes or take your pc out of your bag is super. By the way, I never signed up for it. One day the little TSAPre logo just appeared on my boarding pass, and has been there ever since.  I did sign up for the TSA Border Protection pass that allows me to skip the lines at immigration and customs when I reenter the US on international travel. I have to say it was the most painless registration and interaction I have ever had with the federal government.  Nothing but kudos for Customs and Immigration, at least for this service.

I use the Delta Club room because I can work there and its quiet and comfortable. I get it included with my AMEX card so its a no brainer. At LAX I have learned to drop off and pick up people on the upper level. There’s not so much congestion there. I check in from home, print out my boarding pass and also have it on my phone. Back up is king. I never lose a bag because I never check a bag, but if I did, I would check it at the curb and pay the sky cap $5 a bag to make it happen.

I travel with the same airline as often as I can because I learn their foibles and am able to foresee potential problems and work around them. By being a frequent flyer, I get upgrades often to the slightly more spacious seats and sometimes even to business or first class.  I know which cities have convenient airports and which don’t. Detroit, Minneapolis, and Atlanta are huge, modern airports but can sometimes have connecting gates that are in different terminals. Cincy is great. So is Salt Lake City. LAX isn’t too bad but I never have connections there.

Sorry Kevin. I think the airline industry does an amazing job considering the number of passengers, flights, and potential for error. Could they be better? Of course. But if you fly a lot, your can work the system and have a much more pleasant experience. If you fly once a year, I just hope you aren’t standing in front of me because I know you are going to cause a problem.

JVH

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Parc Group Presses On

The Parc Group was founded 25 years ago as a group of parking equipment distributors who sold Federal APD equipment. With the demise of 3M’s parking division, (formerly Federal APD), one could only wonder what would happen to a group that was formerly connected by a common vendor.

I heard from Larry Wanat that the group met this past weekend and decided that they had a lot still in common and were going to proceed as an organization that assisted their customers in areas of parking, access control, and systems and software. Their membership includes some of the powerhouses in the industries distributor network so its good that they are pressing on.

Larry also mentioned that a new release was forthcoming that would inform 3M/FAPD equipment owners how they could contact group members to ensure their equipment was properly maintained going forward.

All the best to this fine organization

JVH

 

 

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Parking Around the World

In the United States, we pass laws about every little thing. That’s why fast food restaurants have to print “contents hot” on disposable coffee cups, and plastic bag makers have to tell people their bags are not a toy. If they don’t say so explicitly, they are responsible for whatever mishaps and tragedies occur. It gets a little ridiculous, and we forget that in other countries, people are left to fend for themselves.

So it’s surprising to read the news from other countries and realize they don’t legislate parking practices to the tiniest detail. In Chandigarh, according to The Indian Express, dishonest practices in parking lots are common and expected.

Sub Divisional Engineer (Headquarters) Kashmira Singh admitted that he has received complaints about over-charging at parking lots. “The problem of over-charging exists. We conduct raids and fine contractors whenever we can,” he said.

The article reports that parkers are given parking passes that don’t show rates. The rates are not posted at the lot and they are cut off of the paper passes, so customers have no idea what they will be charged. I don’t doubt there are 50 laws in the U.S. about posting rates and tampering with parking tickets, but it’s not so in other places. It sounds like authorities in Chandigarh are aware of the problem, but can’t eradicate it. I hesitate to suggest passing a law to address the situation, but it could be helpful.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Funny Parking Dibs

I’ve blogged about “dibs” before, and couldn’t resist this follow up post. The Huffingtonpost.com has run an article and photo series of some of the items Chicago residents use to mark their parking spots. During the cold winter months, they dig out parking and then try to save it for their own use. The practice functions on the basic premise that if you work hard for something, it belongs to you, even though you can’t really own public parking spots.

Dibs are therefore an earthly prize for a virtuous existence — with some caveats. For example, after the snow from one blizzard melts, all dibs are void. And the purest dibs are earned only through sweat and cathartic swearing.

Of the entertaining items photographed and shared in the article, I was most tickled by the dining room table, knight in shining armor and the toy car. Desperate times call for creative measures. See the photos here.

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Teachable Cars Coming Soon

Cars that help park themselves have been in production for awhile, but teachable cars are the next new thing. Volkswagen is developing a car that “learns” how to park in your driveway. It takes its initial instruction from the driver, and then carries out the task, making adjustments as it goes. The trained car comes with an awareness of pedestrians and obstacles and will stop if it senses something in the way. According to cnet.com:

The new Trained Parking system is an evolution of this technology. The next-generation system adds a forward-facing camera to the sensor package and can autonomously guide the vehicle into a preselected parking spot without a driver behind the wheel. The system can also autonomously retrieve the vehicle when the driver calls upon it with a smartphone. It’s like a robotic valet for your home.

Where the semi-automatic parking is designed for unfamiliar public spaces, Trained Parking is called “Trained” because the user must first teach the car the path between the passenger drop-off point and its regular parking space, so it’s only useful at home. Volkswagen tells us that training this is as simple as driving the route once – for example, from your front door to your garage space – and allowing the sonar and camera sensors to scan the environment along the way.

I’m trying to figure out how trained parking would work in my driveway, and I honestly can’t see the feature being useful to me at all. If I had a tight garage, I might want to get out of my car in the driveway and then ask the car to park itself, but that’s not the case. I don’t want to get out at my own curb either. It’s an amazing development that will probably be most helpful in very specific scenarios.

Read the entire article here.

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