The Customer Experience Parking Transformation
As recently as 2018, the City of Paso Robles didn’t have on-street time limits or parking meters, the parking municipal codes hadn’t been updated since the 1950 and the last attempt at paid parking in the early 1980s resulted in a team of cowboys riding into the downtown and roping the meters, wrangling and dragging them from the ground.
The city’s Parking Ambassador went door-to-door to downtown businesses to educate the
business community about the upcoming changes.
Vocal community members were adamantly against any on-street policies, including time limits and paid parking. Business owners recognized that prime on-street spaces were being utilized primarily by downtown employees, however, the community desired a creative approach to parking management that didn’t introduce on-street policy change.
Testing the Concept
Based on initial surveys and data collection, it became clear that changing employee parking habits could alleviate on-street parking availability for customers. The business community believed that education and incentives alone could fix the problem, so the City embarked on a voluntary compliance-based employee parking permit program in the hopes of avoiding the need for on-street policies.
The City started its employee parking permit pilot program, collected data, and conducted an aggressive stakeholder engagement campaign to quantitatively test the merits of voluntary compliance. The outreach campaign began with community meetings and door-to-door employee surveys at downtown businesses. The goal of this extensive outreach effort was to educate employees about the importance of providing convenient on-street parking for customers. Rather than parking on-street, employees were encouraged to take advantage of the permit parking program designed to guarantee that participants would have available off-street parking—no more circling the block in search of parking.
The timing of the permit program launch was particularly important due to the approaching December holiday shopping season. Business owners and employees were motivated to improve the customer parking experience.
Beginning in November 2018, the City sold employee parking permits for a nominal fee of just $5 a month in the off-street lots surrounding the downtown business district. Everything about the program was designed with customer service in mind, and City staff were closely engaged with the community throughout the entire process to do whatever it took to improve the effectiveness of the program. The City produced numerous informational flyers, pamphlets, and presentations. The Paso Robles Police Department created its first-ever Parking Ambassador position to directly support the implementation and enforcement of the program along with a vehicle for license plate recognition (LPR), while Public Works prepared the City-owned parking lots for signage and lighting improvements.
Results were compiled and shared with the public in collaboration with the Downtown Main Street Association, Parking Steering Committee, and City Council ad-hoc committee. While the program had high participation at the outset, utilization trends showed that employees continued to park in the unregulated on-street spaces in front of downtown businesses, despite low permit costs and ongoing education and outreach efforts.
Launching the First-of-its-Kind On-Street Paid Parking Program with a Customer-First Innovative Approach to Parking Management.
The data-driven results from the pilot program informed residents, downtown merchants, and community stakeholders that on-street policies were needed to increase parking availability, alleviate management concerns, and free up convenient parking to customers.
Several next steps options were considered by City Council in May 2019, including time limits and paid parking models. Based upon a blended approach, the City Manager proposed a unique on-street solution that would provide the benefits of a time limit with additional flexibility in the form of paid parking.
This unique model, now referred to by the City as a “Customer Value Model,” provides two hours of free parking on-street per day per license plate, followed by a $1 per hour, pay-to-stay rate. This approach to on-street parking was completely new and relied upon a collaborative effort with the City’s parking technology vendors to execute. The entire solution was designed to be license plate-based to allow the City to track free parking time, enforced by LPR, and provide opportunities for unique validation and incentive programs.
Between Council approval in May and August 14, 2019, the City hustled to implement the new parking program. The hardware was installed within 45 days from City Council approval, and once the pay stations were installed, the City kept them in test mode prior to the August launch to offer training sessions—equipment was signed with “Try it, it’s free!” to get users engaged and hands-on during the testing phase. This was a critical part of the customer-first marketing strategy to ease residents, businesses, and visitors into the program.
This expedited implementation not only included the physical installation of pay stations and signage, but also included an extensive stakeholder outreach and marketing campaign. The city’s Parking Ambassador went door-to-door to downtown businesses to educate the business community about the upcoming changes. This ensured that downtown businesses would be able to relay this information to their customers and employees.
By August 14, 2019, within three months of City Council approval, the City launched paid parking. The City installed 34 full-color touchscreen pay stations with a pay-by-license plate configuration, a mobile payment application, a permit program, and merchant validation through Flowbird.
Along with pay stations, the City continues to offer the employee parking permit program for $5 a month. The customizable nature of the touch-screen pay stations and WayToPark mobile payment application allows the City to continue marketing to visitors and customers about upcoming events, and the merchant validation program allows businesses to provide free parking to their customers as an incentive to visit downtown Paso Robles in the future.
The new downtown paid parking district encompasses 36 block faces in prime parking areas surrounding the Paso Robles City Park and the immediately surrounding streets in the downtown core. Operating hours for the program extend from 9AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday.
Members of the downtown community actively participate in the program by posting storefront window decals reminding customers to “Register Your Plate” and highlighting the availability of parking validations in their stores and restaurants. Other municipalities have visited Paso Robles and complimented the positive messaging and community approach toward parking management.
A Parking Program with a Sustainable Model.
The paid parking program has achieved immediate success and lasting program benefits. Through bold leadership and an uncompromising focus on customer service, the City has changed behavior within an unprecedented timeframe.
The team responsible for delivering the parking solution, composed of leadership in the Paso Robles Police Department, City Manager’s Office, Community Development, Public Works Department, and partnerships with external groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Main Street Association, have created a mutually-supported program geared toward customer service.
Because policy changes are community-backed and supported by robust LPR data, the paid parking initiative has resulted in the improved management of on-street parking assets. The program supports economic development in the City’s downtown core through the increased availability of on-street customer parking for local businesses while providing ample and convenient parking for employees.
Less than a year into the program, the City has built the parking program on a sustainable footing, improving the overall quality of the urban space through effective and innovative parking management, and the program has generated new revenue to support a self-sustaining model.
A Community Supported Program.
Since the initial employee permit parking pilot program was approved, stakeholder engagement has been a key component of the success of Paso Robles’ parking program. While there were obvious marketing and engagement pushes prior to the launches of the employee permit parking pilot program and the launch of the paid parking program, the City has continually engaged with stakeholders throughout the entire process.
Many times, those who disagree with or dislike the parking program can’t help but compliment the Parking Ambassador and how well she does her job. She has humanized the parking program as the customer-facing arm of the City’s parking initiative.
Data collection continues and the City is formalizing a Parking Advisory Committee who will consider expanding the Customer Value Model into the evening and weekend hours.
Katherine Edgerley, Associate & David Skophammer, Project Coordinator, Dixon Resources Unlimited can be reached through