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Just a little too high tech

I visited a high-tech parking operation yesterday. It had everything – reservations, license plate recognition, parking guidance, it was a carnival of parking technology. I chatted with the operator, watched patrons be amazed when the gates opened automatically on exit, and overall had a wonderful experience.

Until it was time to leave and I went to the central pay area to settle up. I inserted my ticket in the machine and then when asked, inserted my credit card. I got a message telling me that my ticket was inserted incorrectly. And then it returned my credit card. I assumed it meant “credit card” instead of “ticket” and turned the card around and reinserted. Same thing.  I inserted the credit card every possible way and still was rejected.

Then I noticed way down at the bottom of the machine a slot surrounded by credit card logos. I was inserting my card in the wrong slot. I bent down (the credit card slot was literally at knee height) and put in my card. Lights begin flashing, appropriate messages were displayed, and all was right with the world.

Now I may not be the sharpest knife in the parking drawer but this was not my first rodeo. I had parked many places where I inserted my ticket and then inserted my card in the same slot.

Of course, now that I think about it, that doesn’t work so well with the ‘chip cards’ we all carry in our wallets and purses. Having a different slot for credit cards makes sense. But why not have a little sign or icon pop up on the screen after I put in my ticket saying “insert credit card IN THE SLOT BELOW” and a picture with an arrow showing where the slot is located.

Surely the high-tech machine knew the difference between a ticket and a credit card. I would have even liked a message saying “Insert Credit Card in Slot below the slot you just used, dummy.”

Maybe I’m the only person who has ever made that mistake, but frankly I doubt it.

Oh, it was fun to roll up to the exit gate and have it open without having to put my ticket in the exit device and I did drive around the ground floor until I saw a green arrow indicating an open space and beat some other poor soul to it. Getting the last spot on the ground floor is fun, too.


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That’s AV, Folks

We published a news release today over at Parknews.biz from Keolis Canada about their Autonomous on-street shuttle. Seems there are 89 of these critters running in cities around the world. They have carried over 110,000 people safely. If one reads the first few graphs one might believe that AV’s were here. I had visions of buses being replaced with driverless vehicles cruising up Wilshire Boulevard taking passengers swiftly and safely to their destinations. But read the last graph (emphasis mine):

  With a capacity of 15 passengers and operating at a speed of approximately 25 km/hr, the autonomous electric shuttle facilitates access and travel, saving time for both public transit users and passengers on private sites. NAVYA counts 25 international projects, with Keolis, the company has tested the vehicle in multiple environments: in France, in Lyon since 2016 and in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle airport where the shuttle crosses a high traffic open road, in Australia in the suburbs of the capital Adelaide, in the United-States in Las Vegas, etc. With the autonomous shuttle, Keolis has already safely transported near 110,000 passengers worldwide. Ideal for urban areas and specific locations, such as airports, industrial facilities, amusement parks, hotel complexes and hospitals, it has been designed and developed to improve and to smooth initial and final stages of a trip.

For you metric challenged, that’s 15 miles per hour. If you speak to those involved in the test, like say in Las Vegas, you find that the shuttles must be ‘trained’ to follow a certain route, have central control modules located on the roofs of high rise structures nearby, and, at least in sin city’s case, have an onboard concierge (not driver) to help passengers.

I guess this is an Autonomous Vehicle, but not as we think of it. This goes to my prediction that the first pass at AVs will be shuttles, vans, delivery, long haul trucks, and the like. They will have carefully prescribed routes, limited range and speed and be overseen by humans back at central.

When we hear of and AV, we think of Tesla taking you to work while you snooze in the back seat. Then halfway there you wake up and decide to stop at Starbucks, not the one on Lincoln, the one on McLaughlin. You mumble the change to the car and off you go. Oh, and its raining like hell outside.

Then you decide to stop off and see a colleague at a nearby university. Once again you make the change, and off you go. You friend is notified, parking is laid on and paid, and the office is appraised of your later arrival.

That’s AV folks.


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Random Thoughts

Are the bees back? We hear that the bee population is waxing and waning and the result could be catastrophic. I looked around my back yard and an entire flock (herd, group, covey) no its a swarm of bees were happily pollinating my flowers. I hadn’t seen that many in years. (A quick Google check shows that the ‘bee die off’ is not happening and all is right with the bee world.)

Keeping with the above, did you ever notice that bad things get great press (bee die off, a shot polar bear, global warming) but you never hear about good things (bees not dying, great reduction in hurricanes, polar bear population thriving). Frustrating, isn’t it.

Speaking of something back. For years there were no small birds (sparrows, etc) in our neighborhood. They are back.

I remember when I was a kid (over six decades ago) that in the summertime it was very hot. I lived just north of LA and the temperatures were in the 100s virtually every day between July and October. There were no screaming headlines, no clutching of pearls and falling on a fainting couch. We just played in the sprinklers, kept the windows open at night, ate popsicles and took weekend trips to the mountains or the beach. Today the world is coming to an end.

Fires. Back in the day I lived half a block from hills that were covered with brush, small trees and the like. Every few years they burned off. My dad and I would get out the hoses and wet down our roof. I remember seeing large tornado like winds blowing in the middle of the firestorm. It was scary. But very few people built their houses in those areas. And the ones that did cleared the brush a good 50 yards away from the structure. The fires were there, a part of nature, but they weren’t disastrous. Since they burned off the brush every few years, they just were. Today, we have prevented the fires so often that when they do cut loose, there are 40 years of brush and deadwood. Fires love that.

I drive around LA and see houses cantilevered on the hill sides. They are hanging there like climbers who have dropped their safety lines. Then we have a fire and the hills are denuded. Then the rains come and wash away the dirt under the houses and they end up in the valley and people are sitting on their destroyed roofs wondering what happened.

I don’t like to fly any more. I do it because its part of my job, I just don’t like it. Actually the flying part isn’t too bad (I have enough miles to get a seat with 18 inches of knee space rather than 12) but the rest is hell. It starts with parking, then TSA, then the waiting area (even the club rooms are jammed with people), then the interminable wait for your luggage, it never seems to end. Remember the good old days when everyone dressed up to fly. Kids were entranced. Your fellow travelers were polite. Today, not so much. Maybe if everyone was required to wear a tie or a nice dress or suit.

Why do they play loud music in restaurants? Isn’t the idea of a meal out to be able to talk to the person who came with you? Ok, I’m deaf, but do I really want to pay a couple of hundred dollars for dinner for two and not be able to hear the person next to me.

I just read the notes above. I have morphed into a curmudgeon. Yikes.



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What’s wrong with these people

I have seen two stories come across the ‘net regarding autonomous vehicles. Both breathlessly claim that AV’s will be launched virtually any minute now, but the launch is being stalled by the lack of government regulation. One article is from Australia, the other from the UK.

Can someone explain what I’m missing here? Either technology has moved light years ahead of the US in the UK and Oz, or someone somewhere is beginning to believe their own press.

These regulations are needed, the articles say, to sort out the problem of who will be at fault when an AV is involved in a crash that is its fault. In other words, who do you sue. It is the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle, the person in the vehicle, the manufacturer of the vehicle, the creator of the software and hardware that guides the vehicle (two or more different companies) the government agency that supplies the roads (properly marked and delineated for the AVs), the communications network that allows the AV to ‘talk’ to surrounding vehicles and its cloud, or some or all of the above.

What about the 15 year old kid that hacked into the AV and caused the accident because he was upset with his folks for …..pick one of a hundred reasons.

Not that I believe that our betters in Washington or 50 state capitals can craft legislation that will solve the above problem at one go. It will take many tries before the insurance companies are sure they are protected and they can get their pound of flesh from the right entity before they pay off.

Its easy now. If my car tail ends yours, I’m at fault. Period. My insurance company pays and then cancels my insurance. We all understand that. There is also a percentage of blame. After sorting out the police report, some of the fault could be mine, some the other poor schnook who didn’t’ press ‘send’ soon enough on his last text.

However, who is to blame for a ‘net failure, or a dirty sensor, or the software that wasn’t quite ‘there’ yet.

All that aside, do the folks Down Under or on that ‘Sceptered Isle” really believe that AVs are going to be pervasive enough to care.

OK – I can see commercial use  — long haul trucks, UPS and Fedex, Uber and Lyft in limited areas, Pizza delivery (maybe not so much), within the next few years. But can you really believe that the next time you buy a car you will have to decide “AV or Not.”

I don’t think so. They are still trying to teach them how to make left turns against oncoming traffic and see cars that are painted white or is it black.

Then I looked at the source of the two articles. In both cases, they were from the AV industry.

Nuff Said.


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The Birds Came to Roost

As my neighbor noted when we woke up to find a dozen “Bird” scooters roosting in his parkway, this issue doesn’t rank with world hunger or world peace. However it’s a pain.

I’m as much in favor of free enterprise as the next guy, but the Bird folks need to get their act together. If these had been in front of an apartment complex, or in a commercial area, I could understand. However, in a residential area, not so much.

My neighbor called the number on the “Bird” and complained, and they were “moved” within 4 hours. Actually, they were redistributed around the neighborhood in groups of two or three.

“Bird” is under fire by city governments, citizen groups, and the like across the fruited plain. Riders seem to enjoy them. However trekking down streets at 15 mph while the surrounding traffic is going three times that seems a bit over the top. “Bird” tells us that they require riders to wear a helmet. To date I have seen hundreds of “Birds” in motion, and exactly one rider with a helmet.

They also say that one must be over 18 to ride. Haw.

Unfortunately, this is a business that is crying for regulation. I hate government intrusion, but something must be done before tragedy strikes. My neighbor is concerned about tripping over them when he goes out to get his paper. Fair Enough. I’m equally concerned about injury of riders and walkers alike.  Perhaps if you got your “app” from a central location where you could be “checked out” before riding. I watched a girl being coached by her boyfriend on how to ride a “Bird.” She ended up on her derriere, ankle twisted, leg scraped with the “Bird” having jumped a curb. He was giving her a “back on the horse” speech as she limped off down the street.



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Separation – Church and State, Church and Parking

Don Shoup writes in his new book that separation of church and parking can be a fight. To wit:

            Efficiency is not the only goal for curb parking management. There are other concerns, including religion. San Francisco provides an important lesson. In January 2013 the city began to operate its parking meters on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Previously, it was hard to find an open curb space on Sunday in almost every commercial area in the city. Some drivers would park in metered spaces on Saturday afternoon and not move their car until Monday morning. After the meters began operating on Sunday, it became much easier to find curb parking on Sunday.

Nevertheless, responding to complaints that church members had to “pay to pray,” in April 2014 the city resumed free parking on Sunday. If San Francisco had shared some of its Sunday meter revenue to improve public services in the metered neighborhoods, the prospect of losing public services could have generated political support to keep the Sunday metering. Merchants and residents who benefited from the public services might have insisted on the separation of church and parking. The laws of supply and demand do not miraculously stop operating on Sunday.

Some pastors fear that charging for parking on Sunday will reduce church attendance, which it may. In his book, Going Clear, about the links between Scientology and Hollywood, Lawrence Wright related how L. Ron Hubbard recruited movie stars to publicize the church. One strategy was to establish the Celebrity Center in Hollywood, where notable actors and musicians had their own private entry. A few celebrities did join, but one got away:

  • Rock Hudson visited the Celebrity Center but stormed out when his auditor had the nerve to tell him he couldn’t leave until he finished his session, although the matinee idol had run out of time at his meter. The exemplary figure that Hubbard sought eluded capture.

One of the three legs that hold up Shoup’s rules for on street parking is that the money generated from parking should be plowed back into the neighborhoods from which it came. If the churches and merchants saw it was to their financial advantage to charge for parking on Sunday in San Francisco, perhaps the opposition would have been muted.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine that objected strongly to a program which allowed workers at a nearby hospital to pay to park in front of her house. She was adamant. It was ruining the neighborhood, traffic was out of control, and of course there were the outsiders walking up ‘her’ sidewalk.

I asked her what she would think if money generated from the parkers on her street resulted in a lowering of her property tax bill. Her reaction was instant. “I would love it.”

If people can see just what the revenue generated by on street parking could do, would they not perhaps favor programs that generated that revenue?

Just Sayin….





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Being “Smart” – It’s more than Technology

Astrid posted on Parknews.biz an article about the City of Columbus. Access it here. Seems the capital of the Buckeye State is using funds received from the Feds to smarten up its Connected Vehicle Environment. It’s placing sensors on roads that are most accident prone, connecting 1800 private, freight, and emergency vehicles, and installing 118 roadside units at key intersections. All that data will flow back to central and hopefully, amongst other things, reduce travel times up to 30% by 2020.

The article quotes heavily from a Mckensey Global report on the direction smart cities are taking. It notes that not only rich, dense cities like Singapore and Dubai are becoming smart, but smaller cities like Columbus are also jumping on the smart bandwagon. It does, however, express some concerns:

As data scientists and anyone who’s worked in analytics knows, though, ‘smart’ technology can only be as smart as the people and organizations using it. “Using technology to transform urban environments in a more meaningful way will require new thinking about governance. Technology is only as effective as the entity that puts it to work,” wrote the authors of McKinsey’s report. “City government has a dual role to play. It has to execute some intelligent solutions on its own, and it has to orchestrate and enable the evolution of a broader ecosystem [of public and private partners].”

Political bodies have a tendency to favor the “flavor of the moment.” In this case, if it has ‘smart’ attached, it will get funded. However to really affect our urban environment, these programs must be long term and have commitment. Will cities like Columbus be able to stay the course, particularly when Federal funding runs out? Will a new mayor and new administration in five years have a different “flavor” to attract its focus.

It has happened before. Can you say SFPark? You know, that Federally funded smart parking program touted world wide by Bagdad by the Bay and now just a memory in academic’s minds. San Francisco spent upwards of $30 million of Federal Grant Money and when the money ran out, it became a legend in the parking world view.

Will Columbus and cities like it go down the same path?


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The System is Perfect…Except

Last week I stayed at a major hotel in Las Vegas. The rules are that hotel guests pay for parking but get in and out privileges. If you are not a guest, you pay for every exit. Fair enough.

So I pulled a ticket, left it in my car, and checked in. Being a parking guy, I started to wonder just how I was to get my in and out privilege. I began a quest to find out. I went to the parking office and spoke to a very helpful gentleman.

I was told that upon check in I was to turn in my ticket and my room key would be then authorized to open the entrance and exit gate and charges would be made to my hotel folio. Do you see the fatal flaw? The desk clerk never mentioned parking.

I went to the front desk and asked to speak to the front desk manager. A very helpful woman appeared and heard my tale of woe. She acknowledged that the clerks are trained to ask about parking but sometimes they forgot. If I would bring my ticket to the desk, they would correct the error. Or I could simply call the desk and give them my room number and they would take care of it. Just what was going to happen to my ticket at that point wasn’t discussed.

I suggested that perhaps a sign at entry telling arriving guests to bring their tickets to the check in desk would be helpful. She agreed and said it would be discussed at the next managers meeting that week. Although nothing is 100%, the sign would have put some of the onus on me and I would have arrived at the registration desk, parking ticket in hand, and all would have been right with the world.

I then forgot about the whole thing until I left. I got to my car and after an extensive search, discovered I had lost my ticket. I hit the button on the POF machine and spoke to another very helpful person. I was asked my room number, and then asked to put in my credit card. I did so and received a receipt that allowed me to exit the garage.

All because I didn’t give the desk clerk my ticket upon check in. This issue could be problematic as without in and out, and had I not been a parking pro, I might have used my ticket for exit, paid the $10 fee, returned a few hours later, pulled another ticket, left again, paid again, and returned, etc. I would have ended up paying $30 when only $10 was due. As soon as I realized that, all hell would have broken lose. After all parking in Vegas is supposed to be free, right?

As an aside, this hotel (the Cosmopolitan) has the best staff anywhere. An example: One morning when I was going up to my room in the elevator I was joined by one of the security staff. I hit my floor and he hit nothing. I assumed he was going to my (top) floor. When we got there he didn’t get off. He simply told me to have a good day.

He was going to a lower floor and didn’t hit the button for that floor because it would have slowed down my trip to my floor. Now that’s service.

By the way, when I drove out of the parking area and pulled down my visor to shade against the 115 degree Nevada sun, the lost ticket fell into my lap.


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But Officer…

Parking Today Media was in Las Vegas this week and attended a Southwest Parking and Transportation Association mixer hosted by Brandy Stanley. It was fun to meet some of the folks who actually make parking work.

After the event we had dinner with Brandy and relived many of the parking wonders she is working in Sin City. After dinner we walked to her car, only to find a citation noting she had overstayed her meter.

Always self deprecating, Brandy posted a picture of the citation on her Facebook page. One of her friends responded by asking if she knew anyone that could ‘fix’ the ticket.

Knowing Brandy, she couldn’t pay it fast enough.


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It’s About the Curb, Part Deux

I just finished reading an article about the value of curb space in cities and how in the future cities will be able to control the curb with ‘cloud’ based systems and exotic sensor based programs. The author acknowledged that although the concept of controlling the curb based on activity, time, delivery schedules, and the like is a super idea, it isn’t going to happen quickly.

The article did make one recommendation that caught my eye. The author felt it was a good idea for municipalities, when purchasing software based systems, to look for suppliers that had plans for expanding their programs in the future to areas that have been overlooked currently, like controlling curb space. Huh?

I’m supposed to make purchasing decisions based not only on what a company has done and proven systems it supplies now, but also on what it might do in the future? A future that may be decades away and a future that has unknown costs.

So I lock myself in to company A because of what it ‘might’ do in the future, and then find out that company B has a product that is half the price and twice as good as “A’s”. Obviously my crystal ball is a bit cloudy on purchasing day.

One of the beauties of the competitive marketplace is that we are exposed to the good, bad, and ugly of products and services and they shake out so that one’s that really work and provide what we need survive.

Ah, yes, the curb. A friend of mine has been experimenting with curb controls in her city based on how airports control their curb space in front of terminals. Her experience so far is ‘mixed.’

Consider the problems.

Uber and Lyft drivers are directed to where their fares are standing when they request a ride, not where the city wants them to pick up their passengers. You not only have to train the drivers, you have to train visitors to the city.

Forming taxi ranks is a great idea, but they can require starters on site. This becomes labor intensive.

Reserving spaces for deliveries (UPS/Fedex) can require almost full time enforcement to ensure the space is kept clear.

All this removes substantial revenue generating space. And cities love that revenue. Is there a way to charge Uber/Lyft, UPS Fedex, and taxi drivers for the time they spend picking up and dropping off?  What kind of riot will that cause.

The ideas are great, but technology hasn’t caught up yet. The question is ‘when will it?”


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