When it comes to parking, “Don’t over-expect”
This brilliant piece of advice – to lower your expectations so as not to be disappointed – should be applied to your operation by parking operators when addressing parking frustrations.
IBM completed a study last year that indicated parking was a frustrating experience for most drivers. (Surprise!) It concluded that the frustration is caused by a lack of parking in most metro areas, and that significant infrastructure development is required to alleviate the problem.
The International Parking Institute (IPI) responded with the argument that the industry is working diligently to address the problem with technology, sustainability and other investments. While this conclusion may be true and is a good-faith effort in many cases, does it really get to the heart of the problem?
In my experience in the parking industry, most people expect to drive from where they are directly to the front door of their destination. This is particularly true in event or special venue parking. They “over-expect.”
When a driver is headed to a relatively unfamiliar destination, the natural inclination is to drive to the front of the venue and then begin a search for a parking space. They often drive past many easily accessible locations in their expectation of finding a closer spot. This leads to traffic flow issues, and to the “parking hassles” noted in the IBM report.
Observe the modern shopping mall: How many times do you see a car circling for a “close” spot, while passing open spaces deemed “too far away?” Is the expectation level for a space near the front of the mall reasonable? Does the driver over-expect?
The malls understand that shoppers want to park close to the door, and address this need with valets. Voila! Front-door parking for everyone.
Parking operators, and municipalities in particular, should make every effort to manage expectations to reduce parking hassles and frustrations. If the public is educated in the realities of parking availability, then their parking experience will meet their expectations. This educational effort must be diligent and consistent.
An example of the expectation level of parkers came in a parking stakeholders meeting in Charlotte, NC, a few years ago.
A group of local merchants and parking operators was asked by a show of hands if the center city area had enough parking spaces to meet demand. The hands in the room that went up were all parking people. (Obviously, the operators knew their inventory levels.)
Asked if there were a need for more parking, all the other hands in the room went up. Clearly, the expectation of the merchants was for an abundant supply of parking spaces, close to the front door of their businesses.
The operators had available space, just not where the merchants, and drivers, expected them to be. As Andy says, “Don’t over-expect.”
Another example of the industry rising to meet demand and expectation is the development of pre-purchased parking passes/reservations systems, complete with driving directions. These systems define the parking available and deliver the space as promised. They set the expectation level and then meet it.
In this way, the customer does not over-expect.
Parking operators need to work with the local media, government, their customers, and the police to manage the expectation level. If arriving drivers are informed that parking is available, but may be a few blocks from the venue, then the expectation level is set.
As discussed above, an uninformed driver will always assume that they can drive directly to the site, park and walk right in. While this rarely, if ever, happens to anyone, it is their expectation.
By presenting a realistic situation and then making it happen, the parking operators set the tone and then can keep the service at a manageable level.
At the end of this “Andy Griffith Show” episode, Andy, who had gone on to describe Gomer’s date as “Nice ... real nice,” sees Gomer and his date having a great time. Gomer, not deterred by his date’s plain appearance, says to Andy: “You were right, she’s nice. Real nice.”
The moral here? Don’t over-expect, and do be nice. Real nice.
David R. Fairbaugh, CEO of Challegeman, a parking consulting firm, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.