Too Hard to Park?

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a columnist has taken a pretty critical stab at the city’s new solar-powered parking meters. One of his main gripes is that the meters require drivers to back in to their parking spots. Mr. Conley says, in summary, that this is a ridiculous requirement that also dangerous and extremely challenging.

And you probably thought the first series of back-in angled parking spots west of downtown was a practical joke. Nope. It’s spreading. Imagine some new-driver kid having to back through traffic toward a parking place.

Mr. Conley’s other gripe is that the solar-powered meters are not likely to work reliably. Citing past experience with solar-powered equipment, he says the meters will be difficult to use and will be plagued with disabling glitches.

Columnists get paid to share their opinions, and they often do that by being entertaining or informative. This column reminded me of those silly infomercials that show a person struggling to use a blanket or make bacon and then offer the perfect solution: a blanket with sleeves or a microwaveable bacon rack. Blankets and bacon are easy. And so is parking in all its forms. You just have to practice.

I hope Mr. Conley is underestimating Tulsa’s new meters – and its drivers.

Read the rest of the column here.

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They Have My Credit Card, Why do I have to go back to ‘feed the meter?’

A friend visited San Luis Obispo this past weekend. He decided to have lunch on a wide boulevard where there were a number of restaurants. He used a meter that took credit cards and put an hour and a half on the meter. Service was slow and therein turns the tale.

As my friend felt the pressure of the meter pushing down on him, he left his lunch and walked a block to the meter and added more time. He was furious with the service at the restaurant and also at the city because he had to go back and pay more.

“They have my credit card number, why can’t they just add more time on if need be. Why should I have to stop what I’m doing and go put more in the meter?”  Why indeed.

I asked my friend how the meter was to know he was still there. “Sensors” he said. Or “Why not just keep adding on time til I return and tell the meter that I’m leaving.” I noted that if he forget to ‘tell the meter’ he could get a pretty large bill on his credit card.  He just stuck out his tongue and left.

We upgrade the technology. But we keep the same rules we had with meters that took pennies, dimes and quarters. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

As I have noted before, disruptors are sneaking through our industry, poking here and pulling there. Pay by cell will replace meters. Why not get a jump on them.

What if there were no citations. Or rather the citation was built into the fee structure.  For instance. $1 for the first half hour, $1.50 for the second, $3 for the second hour, and if you wanted turnover, $25 for the third, and $50 for the 4th.

Since you have the credit card on file, just charge the appropriate fee. I’m guessing this is against the rules, but does it have to be?

In essence you are penalizing someone for parking longer than two hours, but if they are willing to pay, why not?  And your enforcement staff only checks to see if the meter is running, and can focus on non meter related fines like red zones, fire hydrants, too close to the corner — all which are more important concerns than overstaying a meter.

Yes, you would need a sensor to know when the car was moved. But those exist. Dynamic pricing could kick in while the cars were on site. There are bugs to work out, but it would work.

And my friend would not be upset with the city of San Luis Obisbo.  I”m sure SLO parking would prefer he direct all his anger at slow service at the restaurant.




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Parking Meters Disappear

The leaders of Muscatine, Iowa are looking for their missing parking meters. According to, nearly a dozen meters were stolen from the city’s downtown area and police have taken to Facebook to announce the loss and ask for help finding the meters or the culprits.

“While we understand that people may have mixed feelings about parking meters, the cost of replacing these items is very high,” the post said. “At the end of the day, this activity is costing the city thousands of dollars to replace and repair the damage.

Stealing a parking meter seems like a real waste of time to me. I could only come up with a few ideas for Muscatine police. Professional criminals aren’t likely. There can’t be that much money in there, so it’s doubtful the pay off would be worth the risk of the effort.

Teenagers could be to blame, but if it’s just punks staying out late making trouble, 12 is a lot of meters to take – one or two would be enough to call it a good prank.

Do-It-Yourselfers are a possibility. All this re-claimed and re-purposed decorating going on could include a need for decorative parking meters. Check the nearest cheesy boutiques.

Last but not least, a nearby town in need of its own meters. This is the one I’m going with.

Police asked anyone who might have information about the parking meter thefts to contact Muscating Police Lt. Hull or Officer Koch at 563-263-9922.

Read the article here.

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Disruption — It Seems Like the Term Began This Year

I consider myself fairly well read and ‘on top’ of what is happening in business, but I began to run into the term “disruption” only recently. Perhaps only in the last year.

I think its because the term has begun to focus on our industry. Disruptors have begun to make headway and legacy companies are feeling the result. Virtually any idea having to do with a smart phone is beginning to disrupt our way of doing business. mCommerce is coming on strong with cloud based software disrupting our “normal” way of doing business.

Australia’s Nick Austin, founder of Divvy Parking, a company that puts people who have parking space together with people who need it (can you say AirBNB), wrote a piece that is featured by Astrid on today called “The Five Stages of Grief for a Disrupted business” which reads  like the “Five Stages of Grief” we all find so familiar: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. 

Disruption has been around since Uugg invented the wheel.  They not only bring ‘better’ wheels, but have ideas that will do away with the wheel. Does anyone remember the buggy whip, or for that matter, the phonograph, DVD player, or in a few years, the Newspaper?

Its not making things ‘better, faster, or easier’ but a true disruptor changes the paradigm completely –  in our business, the disruptor gets cars into a lot without a dispenser or gate, he markets without a sign on the outside, he collects money without coin or bill every changing hands, he looks for many ways to meet the needs of his customer, far beyond simply providing a place to store their vehicle.

The parking disruptor will focus on mCommerce, not on reinventing parking but replacing it with many different commercial activities just as shopping centers replaced the main street, or Amazon is replacing the shopping center.

Laugh if you will, but my suggestion is that you hire someone under thirty, make them your VP of innovation, and then do what they say.  Its a risk but consider what you will lose if you don’t.


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“Something I Can’t Imagine Living Without!

Yikes – Mark quotes a survey in a recent PT article here, that 29% of those owning smart phones ‘can’t imagine living without it.” I understand his point, he is telling our industry to get with the program and get your m commerce pants on and be sure you can be found with an app on line. Fair Enough.

I’m concerned and a bit saddened by how that phrase means that technology has taken over our lives.

One of my colleagues in our building bought a shell of a 1974 International Harvester Scout. He then spent more than he would have on a new Ford fixing it up and making is like new. He added a few creature comforts like satellite radio and air conditioning, but basically its the car that he could have bought new 40 years ago. Why?

He told me that he wanted a vehicle he could fix himself. He waved his hand around at all the cars in the parking lot and noted that they were all basically computers with wheels and if a circuit board blew, there was nothing he could do. If a coil or belt or brake went out on his Scout, he could fix it.

My father and I took apart an old 1948 Ford. We ground the valves, replaced the master cylinder, adjusted the timing, cleaned the carburetor, changed the fan belts. In doing that, I learned how cars worked. At least I thought I did. Today if you lift the hood, you may find a gray plastic box covering the ‘works.’  And frankly with all the hoses and ‘stuff’ in there, I have no clue how it works anyway.

I think this is neither good nor bad, it just ‘is.’ As we enter more technical times, items as simple as a toaster or as complicated as a car become beyond our ability to understand. When we need them fixed, we call someone who knows how and that’s that. But I do still miss getting my hands dirty changing the oil or greasing that old Ford.

The people who rely on smart phones to the point of ‘not being able to live without it’ are placing themselves at the mercy of… everyone else.  They have forgotten, or never learned, how to look up something in an encyclopedia, how to do simple math, and now, I find, read cursive writing. Do they know that they can ‘pick up a phone and call?’ Maybe not, landlines are going away.

I confess I have  Kindle. I read a lot and we were reaching the point that books were taking over the house. Now I keep them in a cloud. But I have enough on hand so I can fall back to paper should the power go out.

Lets face it, I like all the ease and comforts technology brings. But, much to my wife’s dismay, I do from time to time like to take something apart to ‘fix’ it.  It is usually cheaper (five trips to Home Depot) and easier to call the repair man.  But once in a while I just want to be able to say that “I can.”

Those “I can’t live without it” folks would probably order a new one, have it delivered by drone, and have a better, cheaper one and the one I fixed, but there are two words they can’t say. “I can”



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Really!?!?!? I can’t remember 4 digits?

According to this article, one of the reasons credit card companies are going to chip and signature rather than chip and pin is that we lowly card holders just can’t remember a four digit number.  Really? We can’t remember the number.

Let’s see — we remember the number for our ATM Card, the number to log in to our smart phone, plus our zip code when we get gas, our debit card code for just about everything, and we can remember the code for our credit card?  Right.

If I remember correctly there is a vault-like app for your phone that can hold all your pin codes and if you forget, you can simply look it up. Plus…

Let’s face it. Many of us use the same code, or a derivative of it for most of our pins. Now, this is not the best security, and I don’t recommend it, but we do it. Don’t use your birth date, address, anniversary, or any number than can be human engineered by a thief.

I don’t know how many times a friend has given me his ATM card to get some money for him and the code is 1) written on the back 2) his birth year 3) his anniversary year or 4) the year he graduated from high school. Well, it was silly of him to trust me in the first place, but let’s face it, I’m probably not the person he should be worried about stealing his bank account.

Of course the bank card companies expect that you will have a ‘different’ code for every card and I guess they are concerned about how you will remember.  I doubt that will be a problem. Remember in the old days when they assigned you a pin code. Now many of them allow you to select your own. Its the only way we can keep sane.

I have six cards which could require pin codes in my wallet. Some I use very seldom, others I use daily. If I were to have six different codes, well — Maybe that fellow from the credit card company quoted above wasn’t that far off.

When I was in Australia my chip cards worked just fine.  I would insert them in the reader and in a few seconds a receipt would shoot out and I would sign it.  The card knew it was a chip and signature card and told the terminal to react accordingly. No sweatski.

Chip and pin will come. Depend on it. It will be just a bit further down the line. And we will somehow remember the number.


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New Uses for Old Technology

In West Lafayette, Indiana, parking enforcers have a new tool at their disposal: cameras. In the areas around Purdue University, tight parking has brought about heavy competition and squatters. People park for weeks and months and do not move their cars because they do not want to lose their spaces, reports Parking enforcement has been using chalk to address the problem, and not having much success.

“We’ve migrated from the old method of physically monitoring time and chalking to where it’s computer-based,” said Rick Walker, code enforcement supervisor for the city’s neighborhood resource team. The technology uses cameras mounted on a police vehicle to capture images of license plates, storing the resulting data in the cloud to track how long a vehicle has been parked in a city spot.

Chalk sounds about as efficient as square wheels right about now – a lot of completely manual solutions do. Using cameras speeds up the process and improves enforcement. They are not a cumbersome or risky solution. It seems like a good idea all around. West Lafayette signed a 3-year contract with NuPark for this system, which also includes a pay-by-phone parking app.

Read the article here.

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Parking in Australia Smart and Secure

Secure Parking is a major operator here in Australia. I sat in on their presentation at the Parking Australia Outlook Conference yesterday and was blown technically away.

The have developed a parking reservation and loyalty program that as far as I can tell outshines anything on the open market. It allows customers to select and reserve parking, select rates, pay on line, and enter their parking garage (carpark in Aussie) without taking a ticket.

Most impressive was that they developed it in house.  OK they hired outside tech guys, but the design, the implementation, and the internal management was all theirs. Its probably why it fits so well into their operation. It was designed by an operator who knew what it wanted to accomplish and then did.

As Secure’s Marketing Manager Andrew Sapir took us through the many levels of the program, I began to get an understanding of just what the company was trying to accomplish. It was more than parking reservations, it was a loyalty program that was bringing customers back, time after time.

They promote the program with every method possible including social media, mail, personal contact, and email blasts. They offer ‘specials’ when there is an event happening around their locations, and reach out to tell about them.

I asked him about dynamic pricing, and he said it was in its infancy, but they did have an internal pricing structure based on selling so many spaces in location at a certain price, and when that was full, raising the price to a next tier. He noted that they would be expanding this pricing model as they acquired more information about their locations, occupancy, and so forth.

Most impressive was the database they have developed. They have over half a million names, addresses, emails and so forth that they can slice and dice to fit each marketing effort. Specials for an event, super pricing for a location that is near an area with clubs and restaurants, it all happens daily at Secure Parking

An impressive company led by impressive people. Check it out at Secure Parking.


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Parking in OZ

Parking Australia, the professional organization for parking pros here in OZ, really has its act together. Beside picking me to speak before their “outlook” conference this week, they put on a hell of an event.  More than 160 people attended the two day affair, with networking, speakers, lunches, awards dinner, all done professionally and well. Kudos to CEO Lorraine Duffy, President Christina Lynn and their staff.

I was impressed by the quality of the speakers, with sometimes technical, sometimes self serving but always interesting talks about what is happening in parking in the land of Kangaroos and Koalas.

It appears that this is a go to place when you want to discuss technology. In the awards ceremony, there were one or two participants in the ‘new garage’ category or the ‘pr and media’ list, but seven in the technology category.

I guess it comes from being far, far away, but it seems to me that people here invent their own solutions, rather than buying one from someone else. Cities, Universities, Shopping centers, and operators all have designed tech solutions from scratch to solve unique problems. And the solutions seem to be well thought out and working.

It seems they identify a problem, put together a team to work out solutions, then hire the technology they need. The turn around time is light speed when considering what most public sponsored projects take. In a year or so a local university completely revamped its permit program and found many empty parking spaces and greatly improved their relationship with students and staff. A city worked out a program to combine a number of disparate programs under one overall service and maintenance program that saves time, money, and gets the job done quickly.

A local shopping center ‘reinvented’ parking and is building brand and loyalty with parking guidance and ticketless parking.  Most impressive was an operator that developed its own reservation system.  Its complex, its easy for the parker, and seemingly extremely successful — I’ll report separately about it.

For a small country, population wise, Australia seems to lead the pack in technology both in innovation and independence. Plus is a great place to visit.

Hat tip to old friends Glen Holdsworth, retired and now looking to get back into the game, Leyon Parker, Retired but still with a toe in the Parking Australia pond, consultant Christina Lynn, who tells me that parking business here is booming, and from Perth, Larry Schneider, recent President of Parking Australia and someone who is in the middle of most things parking down under. Great to see you all again.

Next year, the Parking Australia meeting will be in Perth, which for your geographically challenged readers is on the west coast. Australia is about the same size of the continental US with most of  its 23 million population living within 50 miles of the coast in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Perth.

Its a super place to visit, the folks are friendly, the weather temperate (but don’t forget that the seasons are opposite here, its cold and rainy now, winter) and covered with bold vistas and wonderful beaches.

Grueling plane ride but worth it.


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Tucson meters too high for handicapped

In Tucson, Ariz., a resident has filed a complaint against the city for installing its meters too high. At first glance, it seems hard to imagine any adult too short to reach your average parking meter, but Jim Diller, the man who filed the complaint, regardless of his height, uses a wheelchair to get around. According to, nearly 1,500 new meters might be violating ADA regulations.

Diller said Americans with Disabilities Act standards say the “operable parts” of a parking meter must be no higher than 48 inches from the ground. He said he has seen some keypads on Tucson meters as high as 56 inches.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, while I fully support laws that make parking and other amenities accessible to the handicapped, it doesn’t seem necessary for 1,500 meters to be ADA compliant. City leaders were already aware of the situation and working to correct the problem.

Park Tucson administrator Donovan Durband said the city is working on a response to the complaint and was working to address the problem even before Diller’s complaint was filed.

The city lowered the height of the poles for meters at some designated handicapped parking spaces, he said, because staff members thought only designated spaces needed to meet the ADA standards.

Of course, meters at handicapped spaces need to be compliant, but do all the meters need to be lowered? I fully expect the answer to be “yes,” and won’t argue, but it seems extreme. According to the article, Mr. Diller has filed complaints like this before, and he says the city should not try to avoid this issue, because it will end up paying to settle a lawsuit and fix all the meters.

Read the article here.

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