When in Rome
Anyone who starts a company in our industry, or any industry, almost definitely has an impact, so we have the right to be concerned with businesses that don’t take the time to fully understand our challenges. The entire parking industry is being challenged today like never before and the reality is that the challenges are past due, and at least some of them will have a lasting impact. In the parking industry, and I can only assume in many other industries, the challenges, for the most part, are not coming from within, but from the new tech generation.
The entire parking industry is being challenged today like never before.
Our approach, taught to us by the generations before us, was to see an industry that is appealing, get a job to learn how it fits, then if you like it, you stay and begin to add your influence on the industry. We should become concerned when we see new company after new company telling us they are the savior to mobility with their new tech providing information that can be used to make decisions we could never make before their arrival. The new challenges to our industry will have an impact and it is up to the experienced generations to evaluate the winners and losers in this race to move our industry forward.
There’s one sentence that we often see. The “tell-all” sentence is the one that says they can draw a direct connection between parking violations at a specific location and slower bus speeds, increased commute times and poor air quality all related to cars spending time circling to find parking.
How many times in the last 20 years have we heard this statement? That idea is based around the direct connection to increased traffic congestion causing air pollution caused by cars circling. It’s starting to have a negative effect on how people view our parking community.
My company did surveys over the last three or four years in a number of cities across the country and found the 30 percent looking for parking number to be totally false. My Rule #1: “Parking is an on the streets business. If you are not on the streets, you are not in the parking business.”
The new wave of technology coming into our industry gives the curb management segment of our industry a black eye. I think it is a $22 million disaster in San Francisco that comes to mind. As technology moves forward, some of the challenges with SF Park are going to become realistic improvements for the movement or storage of vehicles, yes, we think so. However, these perceived improvements and solutions to the world’s pollution problems are a misdirect away from the real challenges faced by the overwhelming curb management problems of today.
The curb comprises 15 to 20 pecent of the real estate required to move vehicles through a community. The lowest and worst use of that space is for the storage of stationary vehicles that are not necessary for the service of the block where they are located. Income from on-street parking could easily double when change is properly managed. Change is difficult and the curb and on-street parking has been around since and before Roman times. Hollywood seams to miss the most important part of me and my band coming into Rome or Constantinople to visit Caesar or Julian the Apostate.
In Hollywood, we ride through the gates to the city park in front of the castle and the horses seem to disappear. The reality is they were tied to a hitching post in front of the castle. The most important job in on-street parking in Rome was the city on-street parking attendant whose job was the pooper scooper. Removing horse manure was the single largest and most important challenge of on-street parking 2,000 years ago and that job had an almost 2,000-year life span before the automobile.
Current automobile technology produces less pollution than, well, you know. The job has changed a little since then, but the problem of the use of the curb has not changed much. Starting about 40 years ago we needed to begin taking seriously the challenge of re-examining the role and purpose of the curb. We got off to a slow start, but finally we started addressing the curb with the tactic used by SF Park: pollution, vehicles circling, and information flow to tell drivers the location of empty spaces. In the end, it is possible we wasted 20 years in the challenges of curb management. We are believers that disasters like SF Park are important because they draw attention to the bigger challenge. The greatest and most important changes historically have come with a heavy price. Big change is hard and requires people willing to fail. Our job is to make sure we do not recreate the SF Park disaster, and instead learn from it.
To solve the problems created in Rome, we need to see serious research going into the removal of the use of the street for parking. However, we do not see the transportation research money going in that direction. If the research was happening, we would not see 20-year-old cliches coming back to the front of the discussion. Cliches centered around reducing pollution, stopping cars from circling, and the total removal of cars from Los Angeles, Houston, etc., will only stall and redirect the advancement toward the infrastructure challenge we face.
Is the city and the use of the city possibly going to change after coming out of 18 months of what we have experienced? Yes, most definitely. Does the role of the city impact mobility? Yes. But we will not address the challenges of the changing cities with cliches and the dream of removing the private owned automobile from the landscape. Are we witnessing the beginning of the changing role and appearance of the traditional metropolis? Yes, boy are we happy to see this. Yet giving the new city and mobility infrastructure to our future generations means we have research to do.
We realize “first things first” and the demands on the curb are changing and growing every day. These must be addressed, but they do need to be a part of an infrastructure plan that moves us away from Rome. We have a responsibility to make Caesar proud. That is a big responsibility and an overwhelming challenge. The only way to get there is to develop a plan that identifies the future goal for the curb, start developing the research to get there, and identify how we will manage the change required to move toward the ultimate goal.
Clyde Wilson is the CEO of Parking Network. He can be reached at email@example.com.