It’s about Freedom

We hear almost daily that millennials are abandoning their cars and moving to the central city. They walk, take Uber, or take rapid transit.  If they need a car they rent one. Really…

I’m not so sure.  What does car ownership mean, in the end. Does it mean status, or does it mean freedom. I vote for door number two.

In this article, posted on, we are told that in spite of a dearth of parking space, residents of large Chinese cities are buying cars like hot cakes and then fighting over the places to park them. The author, a Chinese citizen, says that the reason is status. People want others to see them in sitting in their cars, even though they can get where they are going cheaper and faster on the metro.

I beg to differ.

I think that automobiles offer the Chinese something they have little of. Freedom. When they are in their car, they are their own boss. For that few minutes they set their own destiny. They can go where they wish, when they wish, and as fast as they wish (traffic allowing).

We know this freedom, and take it for granted. I am not certain the Chinese do.

If you drill down through the demographics, you will find that even though it ‘appears’ that central cities are the destination of the young, automobile purchases are strong.  The numbers in the US have been hovering around 7.5-8 million per year (Except for during the recession) for the past decade and are expected to double by 2020.  (Aging car fleet).

There are a heck of a lot of people who want to drive. We want to feel that we can go and do when and where we want. We aren’t restricted by timetables and rail lines.

I think the Chinese are getting a taste of that, too.  And their auto sales, no matter how difficult it is to park there, show it. Don’t see your garage just yet.



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New Technology Requires Hand Holding

In Missoula, Montana, old manual meters have been replaced with an automated, credit-card capable Luke system. City leaders have recognized that there might be a few users who struggle with the new concept, reports Interim Parking Commission Director Goeff Badenoch, reminds residents that the meters still take coins, but that they don’t take bills. Credit cards work, but no pennies. He’s also offered the personal help of any parking commission staff member and an instructional video.

“It is a new system and it is technology-based and people may be a little intimidated by it, but it’s possible to go on You Tube and there’s a tutorial if users just go to the Missoula Parking Commission, you’ll find the information there.”

I’m not sure the people who have trouble with an automated parking meter are the type to check out YouTube for instructions, but I like the approach. Click here to read the article. Users need all the support they can get. I’ve met several parking meters that intimidated me, and I don’t mind saying so. It’s not the concept that eludes me, but the procedure. Faced with a box covered with buttons, switches, knobs, inserts and tiny text, it’s easy to get lost on your first attempt.

City leaders in Cold Spring, New York could learn a little from the leadership in Missoula. Cold Spring has just signed a contract to install its very first parking meter – actually, a pay station, reports

The solar-powered station, which is expected to be operational by spring and will be owned by the village after the lease is paid, will accept cash and credit cards. Rates have not yet been determined. Trustee Cathryn Fadde said that visitors who extend their stay will be able to make additional payments with a smart phone.

From no meters at all to one that takes cards and offers smartphone options is a real leap for users. Written instructions near the meter, an attendant during the first few days and maybe even a video on YouTube are all methods for helping people get used to new technology.

Click here for the entire article.

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Two Decades and Going Strong

As we begin 2016 I am honored and gratified to have been at the helm of Parking Today since its inception in 1996. The two decades have been challenging, but also rewarding, not necessarily financially, but in the depth of the friendships that we have developed with our customers and readers of the years.
We started our first year printing every other month, then grew to 10 times a year, then every month and never looked back. This would have been impossible without the support of the industry, both consumers and vendors.
When you sit in an office and create content, often out of whole cloth, you forget what an impact you can have. I began to realize that people actually read our stuff when one advertisers told me that he knew when PT was on the streets. His phone began to ring. Another event was when a major error crept into our pages, and I was called about it 10 minutes after our on line edition went up, before the print edition was on the press. I was able to make the correction and all was well.
Creating a magazine every month is the best job there is. We can have one that is suitable for lining a bird cage one month, and win a Pulitzer the next. We can start over every month. If we blow it, we can fix it.
Throughout the next year I will be reminiscing here about some of the good, bad, and ugly events that have combined to make us who we are. I look forward to another two decades sharing the news and information that our industry has to offer.


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Check Out The Speakers at PIE WOW!

I’ve spent the last few days pulling together articles for PT February. It doubles as the program for PIE and I am becoming very familiar with the speakers and sessions. The names are icons in our industry — Tom Wunk, Dennis Cunning, Brandy Stanley, Julie Dixon, Mark Braibranti, Thomas Hartley, Mike Harley, Matt Darst, Barbara Chance and those are just the ones that wrote articles in PT Feb.

In addition we have Dale Denda, Mike King, Bob Harkins, Bob Kane, Mark Lawrence, and Graham Arndt, flying in from Australia. Plus many more.

It promises to be an exciting and excellent learning experience for all, attendees and vendors.

Be there as Barbara untangles “Spaghetti Technology,” or Mike tells you how to apply dynamic pricing like hotels and airlines use to parking. Matt calls upon his philosophic side with a presentation entitled C’est N’est Pas un Pipe. I’m told its in English, but with Matt, who knows.

Dennis takes off his gloves as he delves into the murky world of Management Agreements. Come find out why operators break out in cold sweats when he is around. Tom reprises Technology Camp. And he good at it. He should be, I hired him once, in another life.

Julie Dixon and her crew put on a number of seminars focused on the ins and outs of on street parking and enforcement. She has the chops to do it, she was hip deep in SF Park, ran enforcement for West Hollywood, and now is practically everywhere cities need parking help. Don’t miss this one.

Brandy has been pressed into service leading one of their CPP seminars. With her background in operations plus having run two major cities, currently Las Vegas, she is the perfect pick.

Big Data raises its head in two seminars as Blake Laufer from T2 discusses its use in on street and enforcement applications, and how it factors into transportation will be discussed by a group led by Phil Silver of Cubic Data System.

Ex Disney employee Thomas Harley brings his customer service experience working for Mickey combined with his his current gig running parking and transportation at Florida International University to his seminar on customer service and parking.

Of course, no PIE would be complete without Dale Denda holding forth on the economy, construction, and the financial health of our industry.

And that only scratches the surface.  Add seminars on onstreet technology, speed networking, a fantastic birthday bash to celebrate Parking Today’s 20th anniversary, and parking talk forever.

PIE 2016 is the happening place for our industry for this year. See you in Las Vegas, Feb  28 thru March 2. Or click here: Parking Industry Exhibition.

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Predictions, the Parking Decades to Come

I had a wide ranging conversation with Matt Darst, VP at Xerox, the other day. We were discussing where the industry was headed and I asked for his predictions. It will be the basis for an upcoming article in PT. Matt’s a bright guy and a thinker. He was commenting that the industry is being disrupted, but that we shouldn’t panic. He disagrees with those that see down-towns becoming walking zones and the burbs turning into old folks homes.

Matt agrees with Barbara Chance who posited at PIE last year that rapid transit and buses simply weren’t capable of handling the influx into most cities, and that private vehicles were here to stay, at least in the next two or so decades. The young are moving into the city, but as they marry and begin to have families, they will be drawn back to the suburbs and a better life for their children.

Self driving cars is a topic that strikes fear in the hearts of parking pros. Matt can’t see anything happening for fifteen to twenty years. The problem isn’t the technology, its all that must happen to allow their marvels loose on society. “Did you read Isaac Isamov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics'” he said. (I looked it up: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.) “We have to have the regulatory infrastructure in place to handle these cars. And that will take a lot of time.”

In addition, consider the insurance implications — who is at fault when a driverless car is involved in an accident…the owner, the passenger, the dealer, the manufacturer, the company that wrote the software? Plus there is an ethical consideration. Drivers must sometimes make split second decisions. Turn right, hit the simi filled with gasoline, turn left hit the mother in the crosswalk. Who makes the decision as to which way to turn, when the software is written years before the incident. There is more to discuss than simply whether the car can drive itself.

Owners of parking facilities will have to make decisions as to what to do with them as the number of vehicles heading into the city begins to wane. Uber and Lyft will affect our business. Matt sees garages becoming multi use, with shops, clubs, restaurants and apartments replacing some of the parking spaces.  “We are in the enviable position of being able to make these decisions slowly. We won’t have to suddenly tear down an empty  garage and replace it with a high rise.”

On street is another topic. I asked him if he felt all the technology we are seeing on street (multi space meters, P and D, credit card meters, sensors) were here to stay. We agreed that much of this was a bridge technology, and that connected cars along with GPS technology will one day, and probably soon, replace on street collection devices. Existing 1957 classic Chevys will be equipped with small devices that will identify the car and driver and interact with satellites to determine the location of the vehicle and the proper charges (or citation) to issue.

Ticketless, gateless parking? Why not. If that device is in all cars, then why not simply sense (can you say NFC or Bluetooth) the vehicle as it enters a lot. If its a monthly, so be it. If its a daily its logged in and out as it enters and exits and the charges are covered by Apple Pay or its equivalent. If you are not allowed in a lot, an alarm is triggered and a staff member drops by to cite or tow the vehicle.  This technology already exists, but needs a bit of tweaking to become pervasive.

Matt thinks dynamic pricing for off street garages should be here now. There is no reason why parking can’t be sold like airline seats or hotel rooms. Price it based on demand. On street is a challenge until we can better communicate with drivers. Using dynamic pricing to affect behavior  works only when drivers know BEFORE they park. Once they are parked and out of the car, the price seldom affects their actions.

This time of year we are asked to predict what will happen in the next 12 months. I prefer to take a longer view and say that Matt’s predictions are spot on, maybe when my 10 year old grand daughter graduates college and takes responsibility for her vehicle.

Happy New Year — Live long and Prosper — and look at the problems you see with all the above as opportunities.



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Another Reason to Buy a Tesla

My friend down the street (who owns the Tesla and the Porsche) took her daughter to a local shopping mall on Christmas Eve to pick up a last minute gift. She took the Porsche.

Naturally the parking lot was jammed. Not a space to be had.  Then she spotted three empty spaces, near the entrance. They were charging stations for Electric Vehicles. She had taken the wrong car.

She drove home, switched cars, returned and parked.

She was laughing as she told the story. She never thought when she bought the six figure vehicle, that she was getting priority parking along with it.

The question is, should she? Because she was fortunate enough to be able to afford a more expensive car than most of us, does that give her the priority to park conveniently?

The egalitarian side of me says ‘no’. However its the mall’s parking lot and they can do with it what they will. If they want to limit the number of available spaces in their facility so be it.  They my upset a thousand drivers trying to park their Belchfire V12s, but they will keep my neighbor happy. Its the way of the world.

I wonder if there is a government requirement in Los Angeles to mandate a few charging stations in each parking garage. I wouldn’t doubt it.


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What do you do when the homeless call?

There was a knock on our door last night. It was a homeless woman asking for a blanket. At first we said no, but then I ran out and gave her a blanket.  It was Christmas, after all.

The next morning she was curled up in our side yard, fast asleep. I took her a cup of coffee and a few bucks, but after a short conversation, it was obvious she didn’t have all her faculties. What to do now?

We have no training or space for her. I’m not sure taking her in would be of any great help – we would be just kicking the can down the road.  But am I just justifying doing nothing? Probably. So I went to the professionals for advice.

I found a seasoned police officer (he had a lot of stripes on his arm) in the local cop shop parking lot.  I explained my problem. He said I should call police dispatch and they would send officers out.

I said I didn’t want her arrested.  He laughed.  “We don’t do that any more. We have a packet we give them with all sorts of places they can get help. If we determine they are not “all there”, so to speak, we bring them in for an evaluation. If our team decides they can’t care for themselves, we check them in to a psych facility until we can sort them out. If they want, we will take them to a shelter. If not, they simply walk away. We won’t (read that can’t) force them to go anywhere.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  The last time (about 20 years ago) I spoke to the LAPD on this subject they told me they picked up the homeless in our area and took them to Beverly Hills or Santa Monica and let them out. The police in those cities did the same in reverse.

My officer friend told me that much had changed in how the LAPD dealt with the homeless.  They had teams that did little but work with them, and all the resources of the city both public and private were at their disposal. It seems there are more than 40,000 homeless living in shelters, in cars, or on the streets in LA. County.

For whatever reasons (More than half are either mentally incompetent or drug abusers) these people have lost their way. There are shelters, there are programs, there is help. But many either don’t want to or can’t avail themselves of that help. In a free society, we can’t simply force people to do things they don’t want to do. There is no question we need to do more, but what?

Its not perfect, but certainly better than it was. There will always be homeless. Sometimes its temporary. A set back at work, a family dispute. Sometimes its a choice. Sometimes its mental illness or drugs or alcohol. Sometimes a hand out will help, sometimes it won’t. We can but try.

In the mean time, I might suggest that we all make a donation to the local shelter.  I’m sure they need it, and maybe the woman who spent the night in our yard in my yard will get the help she needs.


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Merry Christmas

My tendency when writing about Christmas is to talk about it as seen through the eyes of a child. A time of magic, a time of wonder, a time of blessings, of mangers, of flying reindeer, of a farmer’s animals, … Continue reading

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The Force Awakens

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
When the “Lucasfilm’ logo appears on the screen, followed by the Star Wars logo and John Williams’ title theme, those of us who saw the original three when they came out nearly 40 years ago could not help but have a lump in our throats.
Just as its fore bearers began with a bang, so does this latest piece in the seven part moneymaker for first George Lucas and now Disney.
Director JJ Abrams pays homage to Episodes 4 5 and 6 with a similar theme. The evil First Order has developed a ‘Death Planet’ similar to the “Death Star” but many times as powerful.
There is a Darth Vader like character that hasn’t quite made the grade, a count down to the destruction of the remnants of the Republic, lots of fancy flying, and a new female almost a Jedi(Rey) to save the day.
After she and a fallen away storm trooper (Finn) steal the Millennium Falcon, accidentally return it to Han Solo and Chewbacca, and the group joins up with now General Leah who is estranged from Han. All is forgiven as Han, Chewey, Rey, Finn, and a host of star pilots head off to do their thing.
This is some of the best acting that Harrison Ford as a 70 year old Han Solo has done deftly combining his earlier pirate self with his emotional attachment for Leah (Carrie Fisher) and their son, who has taken the route of his Grandfather. (If you don’t know who that was, don’t see the movie.)
The plot hovers over the search for Luke, now a Jedi Master who has disappeared. As First Order wants him dead to end the Jedi, the Republic races to find and save him. Mark Hamill reprises his role as the missing Luke and has no problem with his dialogue.
The Force Awakens was the perfect sequel to the first three live action movies. British actors Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) are well positioned to take the franchise to even more galaxies in the not so distant future.
I didn’t love it, but I liked it a lot. Its like Thomas Wolfes’ ‘You Can Go Home Again.’ We have become so jaded with technology in the last four decades that there is no way Abrams could match the awe factor of the original. But he comes damn close.

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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, 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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