New Orleans Parking Officers Busy Drinking Coffee

It’s reported that some New Orleans parking enforcement officers are in a world of trouble. They are suspected of wasting time sitting around coffee shops and retaliating against a business that pointed out their bad behavior, reports

Those were two of the problems outlined in a report issued Wednesday by the city’s Inspector General, who also said some parking officials made themselves look busy by ticketing cars parked near federal buildings and City Hall. The problem: the cars were unmarked law enforcement vehicles with placards on the dashboard indicating that the drivers were on duty.

The investigation of the issue, conducted by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, was hindered by additional noncompliance from city officers.

Quatrevaux also asserted that Public Works Department officials dragged their feet in supplying documents for his report.

Some of us have jobs where no one will notice if we slack off once in awhile. It’s human nature to approach work with the hope that the least possible amount of effort will be enough – but some of us address this instinct better than others.

What’s sad is that a few lazy enforcement officers are going to give the rest of them a bad name. Only celebrities get more notice for their work than public servants and officials. Everybody’s got to be on their best behavior.

Read the article here.

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Has the Parking Business Changed in the last 5 Decades? Not Much!

For a moment, let’s talk off street. What do we do? We rent a parking space to a driver for a short period of time, and charge based on the time used. When the driver comes in we don’t know how long they will stay, and in most cases charge based on entry time and exit time. In 1960 we stamped a ticket and handed it to the driver, and on exit we stamped it again, looked at the two times, computed a fee, collected the money and opened the gate with a push button if there was a gate.

Today its more automated, but the overall concept isn’t much different, is it.

I just read an article about a shopping center in Australia that has no gates and uses license plate recognition to log the people in, and the driver pays at a kiosk by entering their plate number. Fair enough —  so far not much different that in 1960.

However there is a twist — In this case the shoppers are asked to sign up on line, put in their credit card, and when they do, they drive in and out of the garage without stopping, and without having to pay on site.  Their credit card is charged for the time used.

In addition, the shopping center has a lot of information about its customers, plus it can push text messages and information to them as they arrive. The parking experience becomes a part of the shopping experience.

The difference?  No gates, no spitters, no ticket acceptors. Only cameras and a pay on foot.  Oh, over 14,000 signed up to pay on line in the first month.

The concept is moving from a straight line parking transaction to an e commerce transaction. Now that’s the beginning of change.

There are a couple of questions I have about this, but I will be in Sydney next month and go take a look at the center.

Another change we will be seeing is dynamic pricing.  Just like the airlines and hotels do.

If you make a reservation to park in a certain garage, the rate is fixed and you pay what the garage told you when you reserved.  However if you just drive up, you pay what the variable message sign says the price was at the moment you arrived. It could be really high, or really low, depending on the number of cars in the garage at that time, the number expected in the near future, and other variables like holidays, weather, and local road construction.

This is not earth shattering new, as I know an expert who stands in front of his lot across from Staples Center here in LA and adjusts the prepay price depending on who the Lakers are playing, how long til tip off, and how many cars are in his lot and how many are lined up before the stop light just up the street. The price can change by $5 or $10 of $25 as the situation dictates.

The difference is that he has a lifetime of knowledge and can make on the spot decisions.  Data collection and the proper algorithm will set the price on that airport garage today. Parkers will learn to reserve their spaces early to get a lower rate (perhaps).

So we do away with gates and etc, plus we add dynamic pricing. Not really a huge change in the business for decades ago. It might be easier and quicker, but the business hasn’t changed.

But it will. Pressure from Uber and Lyft will begin to chip away at the business. Rapid transit, ride sharing, high gas prices, and parking taxes will take their toll. Smart, technohip bright young people will see ways to alter the business in ways we haven’t thought.

We have been looking at ways to make the business we know run faster, better, more customer centric. But what about the business we haven’t thought about yet? Ignore the future at your peril.


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Free Parking Raises its Ugly Head

Manny Rasores deToro, Mr. Parking is tweeting madly about local authorities in the UK that are considering ‘Free Parking” to help central city merchants increase their sales. Check Manny out at @mrparking on Twitter.

He refers to this article. The local Business District head says it won’t help, the Chamber of Commerce says it will, the politicians are firmly on the fence.

They currently give a half hour free and merchants want to expand that. The questions is, what will happen when free parking is instituted. My guess is that the first thing that will happen is that the folks working in the stores will park on the streets and take all the spaces that were meant for shoppers. Customers will go somewhere else, and there will be British tumbleweeds in the streets.

They should read their own history. The National Health Service had free parking and so many people from the local high street (shopping area) were parking at the hospitals that ambulances couldn’t get through. When they instituted parking charges, the problem mysteriously disappeared.

For those who couldn’t afford parking at the hospitals, a system of validations was begun. Problem solved.

If the merchants feel strongly about the issue, why not give their customers a coin or two to cover the parking fees. It would appear to be “free” to the parker, and all would be right with the world. I can just hear the merchants scream that if a parker went to store A and received reimbursement for their parking, and then went to store B, B would be getting a free ride.

Paying for parking seems to be a much bigger deal in small UK country towns, than in major cities.  You assume you are going to be ripped off in London or Birmingham,  but never in Lower Piddlington.

I don’t worry too much about this, Manny. The merchants will learn. Remember when they tested parking meters in Oklahoma City nearly three quarters of a century ago. They tried them on one side of a street and almost before the first parking ticket was written, the merchants on the other side demanded that they be installed there, too.  They understood quickly that charging for parking means that parking will be available.

Tally Ho



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Automated Customer Service

Over at the “Parking Matters Blog” Frank Giles does an admirable job of giving ideas on how to make customer service in a fully automated garage friendly, warm, and cuddly. If I was forced to have a Automated Customer Service operation, I would want Frank to design it.

I wrote earlier of Uber and Lyft and their potential impact on parking. I said that we need to think outside the box to fight off the end of parking as we know it. One idea is to make the parking experience the best possible. I know that automating garages is de rigueur these days basically to save money and increase efficiency. Fair Enough.

But I’m not sure, about automated customer service.  When you automate a garage, you remove cashiers, a manager, assistant manager, and all sorts of other staff. Is there any way to keep just one person on site to interact with your customers?

Hire personality. Have someone there who can make the customer feel welcome, solve problems, give information, and be the face of your company. Surely you could figure out a way that this person could increase revenue enough to pay their salary – If your garage has a $20 max, you would need only about 10 additional cars a day to cover the cost.

There is no way that machines, phones, central control rooms, even video, can replace an actual person who is trained (Disney style) to be there to help. Wells Fargo Bank knows this, so they are requiring their branch managers to stand in the lobby and assist their customers. Not some clerk, but the managers. Think how much they learn about their operation by getting out from behind a desk and talking to people.

Frank will make his Automated Customer Service the best it can be, but he won’t be able to make it better than a real live person standing in front of you, ready to help.


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Uber and Lyft — Great idea or end of parking as we know it

There are over 180,000 Uber drivers in the US. Plus a huge number of Lyft, Sidecar, and the rest. These companies aren’t just taking business from taxis, but they are also reducing the number of trips driven by average citizens who now find it easy and ‘hip’ to take Uber. Each one of those is a car that didn’t park in a parking lot at the end of its trip. (Uber sold $10 BILLION worth of trips last year.)

Business travelers who normally rent a car at the airport may find it easier to take Uber than pick up a car or take a taxi. More and more airports are allowing Uber and their ilk to pick up on the airport. Certainly it may be easier and cheaper to take Uber — the cost is less than a taxi, there is no gas to cover, and no parking fees to pay every time you go to a meeting.

There is a great article in the New York Times about ‘ubering” in Los Angeles. (Read it, you won’t see me put “Great” and “New York Times” often in the same sentence.) Many are forsaking cars and using Uber. Read about it here.

Yikes — what is happening. Is the parking industry going the way of the dodo and buggy whip.

It seems we are attacked from every side. Environmentalists want to do away with cars, period. Every government agency is trying to discover a way to reduce trips into the central city, without of course supplying an alternative. Cities are raising on and off street parking pricing, and increasing taxes on private parking facilities –  not a good way to entice folks to drive downtown. Now its Uber and Lyft. What next  – teleportation — “Scotty beam me to Third and Fairfax.”

I think we need to be concerned but not panicked. One of the benefits of Uber is that drivers can now drink without fear of a DUI or worse. How can the parking industry help that?  Ever consider supplying a driver for the return trip? I want to take my car and drive my friends, also have a few pops.  How much would I pay for that privilege. Partner with Uber — drive one way, uber back? I think its time we started thinking outside the box, or parking space.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to drive if someone can pick me up at my house five minutes after I called (texted) and drop me off at my destination for less than the cost of gas and parking. And vice versa.

How can we make parking so attractive that people will drive just to be able to park? They say no one goes somewhere for the parking.. Why not?  Ever thought about it from that point of view?

Of course not, we would rather grouse and complain about the inevitable. Companies that are nimble, think outside the box, see possibilities, use every bit of bandwidth and media available, will survive and thrive.  The others will not, at their peril.

Hire someone under 30, make them your VP of Innovation, and then listen to them. It won’t be long til the rest of us are too old to drive anyway.


Follow me on twitter @jvhpt



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How Does Twitter Work – For the uninitiated

Note: If you think Twitter is for kids and fools, read my post on Twitter and business here. I used to think that, but now I’m a believer.

Your twitter account is a list (twitter feed)  of “Tweets” that appear one after another from companies or individuals that you are “following”. When a company you are following ‘tweets’ it appears on your list. If you ‘tweet’ it appears on the lists of all the companies or individuals that follow you.   Pretty much instantaneously.

When you sign up for a Twitter account you have to select a ‘handle.”  It is preceded with an “at” (@) sign. Mine is “@jvhpt, Parking Today’s is @parkingtoday.  When you select a handle it should be uncomplicated and a direct reference to your company. @pieshow is better than @pieexpo2016.  Don’t date it.

When you open the twitter site and sign in, there is a place for a picture and background — pretty straight forward.  Use Settings to put what you want there. For a company your logo would be good. For an individual, you picture.

There is a little box with a quill pen in it. Click on that and a box opens where you can put up to 140 characters. That is your “tweet”. There is a tiny number starting at 140 near the box and it goes down as you type. When it reaches “0” you are done. You can insert URL links, but its a good idea to use a source like “tiny url” to shrink the length of the link. You only have 140 characters.

Handles and Hashtags

These help you search for topics in Twitter. If you put a hashtag (#) in front of a word or series of words without spaces, that word will become searchable using the “magnifying glass” search option. Click on the glass, a box comes up, and you key in the word you want to find. Voila — Twitters brings up all the tweets with that word. Try it. Its great.  You can also click on a hashtag phrase right in the tweet when you see it. I just noticed #specialolympics and clicked on it. Brought up hundreds of references.  This is a great tool

If you use a handle “@” in front of a phrase that is actually a twitter account (@jvhpt)  then when you click on it you will be taken to that account and see all its tweets. You can then elect to follow it (Click on the “Follow” box, it will turn to “Following”). Also, the account you mentioned in your tweet will be notified by email that you mentioned them. This is great for both of you.  They learn about your account (and may follow you) and you get additional recognition. If you want to “Unfollow” simply click on the “Following” and it will change to “Follow” and they are gone from your feed.

Of the two, hashtags are the most important. They begin a ‘conversation’ and let readers find you and interact with you. It is rather like twitter’s version of Google.  You key in a word or phrase and Voila — there is a list of people and links about that word.  You can respond, look, and learn.

Using hashtags and handles is important but don’t overdo it.  You can reach the point where the Tweet is unreadable.

Retweets, Favorites, and Responses

When you click on a tweet, you can see it and three little emoticons at the bottom.

The first, a little arrow, is a response.  You can comment on the tweet and when someone else clicks on it, they will see your response.

The middle one is retweet. This is important. If you like a tweet, you can “retweet.” That means that it will appear not only on your personal tweet feed, but also will be tweeted out to everyone following you. This is what is referred to as going ‘viral’.  Now if this happens only once, or twice, its not viral. But if 10 or 100 people retweet, suddenly that tweet is seen by tens of thousands of people. Its usually a cute cartoon or picture, or something extremely newsworthy (Donald Trump withdrawing from the GOP presidential race.)

The star on the right is for favorites.  You can favorite a tweet and the person creating the tweet is notified that you like it and it goes on their “favorites” list.  This is important. It helps the tweeter to know that caught the reader’s eye and how they can improve their ‘tweets’. Also this helps spread the word about the tweet and you — since the “Tweeter” is notified of the ‘favorite’. Nothing like recognition to get a person to ‘follow’ you.

And that, of course, is the goal. The more followers, the more impact, the more chance of going ‘viral’, and the more growth. @jvhpt and @parkingtoday have more than 1,600 followers (after only about 2 months of active tweeting) and are growing daily. Don’t expect a parking twitter account to explode like the Kardashians, but expect slow and steady growth. If we get a couple a day additional followers, we are happy.

How do you get growth. There are a lot of tricks but suffice it to say that “content is king.” If you tweet really interesting information, link to great stories, and make it interesting, well…  you could say:

JVH is blogging about twitter this week. Go see it at www.parkingtoday,com/blog.

Or you could say:

Mystified by Twitter. JVH strips away the confusion, twitter for dummies –

Which one caught your eye?

There is more to Twitter – for instance – there are tweets that appear on your feed that you don’t follow and they aren’t retweets.  They are paid ads.  Put up with it, Twitter needs the money. And there are lists, and other interesting things. But that’s for another time, as soon as I understand it.

Twitter can be fun, and doesn’t have to consume you. Give it a try and start by

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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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