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How do These Stories Affect Me?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and commented that Parking Today was attempting to bring more international stories about parking to its readers. She surprised me by saying “I’m sure the stories are interesting, but how do they affect me?”

I was stunned into silence. Are Americans really so parochial? Is there nothing to learn from other societies or cultures? Is this the only place one parks cars? Could we help others with our experience? Could a tech company want to know about emerging markets in Africa or Asia?

I glanced through the October issue and found the following:

  •             Peter Guest from the UK talked about electric cars and how the British government was dealing with charging stations. It seems there was a lot to be learned from their problems in that area.
  •             There was an article on exterior screens that added security and beauty to parking garages in Adelaide, Australia. The company was bringing their product to the US.
  •             The article on parking in India by Paul Barter points out how the country is going from virtually no parking management to some of the most complex, including dynamic pricing. It shows some of the pitfalls using such policies have. Those pitfalls could also occur here.
  •             PT’s African Correspondent Shem Oirere reported on the University of Cape Town and its struggle with limited funds for new parking structures and its rather primitive approach to the use of permits. I wondered how many consulting firms and tech companies might want to call on the University and others like it to offer help. They need it. And may be willing to pay for it.
  •             The UK’s Helen Dolphin wrote about using 3D pavement marking for crosswalks. Seems they are really ‘neat’ but might create more problems than they fix. Food for thought for street managers in US cities.

In one issue, there are five different stories that could bring fresh looks at parking issues here in the US. Why try things here when they have been tried other places and their success or failure have been so well documented.

Are you a vendor of parking tech. Would it be nice to know that schools in emerging countries have real issues that you could fix? Would it be nice to know that countries like India and Kenya have major parking activity going on right now in which you could become involved?

I talk about being in the arena. Is it just possible the arena is larger than our own block, neighborhood, city, state, or yes, even country? This month Peter brings more insight into all things parking in the UK, Astrid reports on how the Australians approach parking at their bi annual parking convention (maybe some technology we haven’t seen yet here in the US), Shem reports on the fact that the Kenyan Rail Corporation is going out to bid on parking management and controls at 33 stations between Mombasa and  Nairobi. That might be something our PARCS and operators might wish to track.

Yes, the articles are interesting, but they also bring new ideas and possibilities to readers who find that being in the arena is rewarding and just a bit exciting. Yes, these stories can affect you, if you let them.


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The Speed of our Lives, Taking Offense, and Fake News

I read recently that the Feds are considering dropping the requirement that businesses report their status (earnings, etc) quarterly. This request was made by some of the most successful firms in the land. It seems they are spending small (and in some cases large) fortunes simply preparing reports. The end result it seems is to affect stock fluctuations and enriching wall street traders but little else. Corporate managers are distracted by these reports and cannot see the long term.

That set off an entire thought chain about the speed of our lives and whether we really benefit from the bombardment of information, communication, and the like or whether it is detrimental to the quality of our lives.

We have trained ourselves that we MUST respond instantly to emails. We have set expectations that if we don’t have an instant response (even if its just an “l’ll get back to you later” response) we are being ignored and begin to take offense. The fact that the person may be in the bathroom or careening at 70mph down the 405, well you know what I mean, is immaterial. They didn’t respond. There must be something wrong. Maybe they are dissing me. Maybe I should take offense. Hmmmmm.

Of course this is absurd.

I have also been musing about “fake news.” Although I am cynical about it, I will give the devil its due. I will assume that most “fake news” is “mistaken news.” That is in the rush to get the news to those who crave it, reporters and their ilk don’t take the time to check their facts, ensure they aren’t being played by their sources, and forget the rules we used to play by. That is, a story didn’t run until it had been verified by two independent sources. If you didn’t have those, there was no story. In our quest to bring the news to the consumers, in our desire to use all the tools at our disposal (smart phones, internet, Twitter, and the rest) we forget that we need quality as well as speed.

That’s why, by the way, I don’t watch TV news. I know that newspapers can be biased, but at least there is a chance that some editor, somewhere, had a chance at the story before it ran.

As Michael Walsh said in over at PJM:

Indeed, it’s not just business that needs a respite from the increasing pace of infinitesimal events — it’s all of us.  Are we really better off by having our days sorted into seconds and even microseconds? Is it really vital to have instantaneous communication with the outside world? Are not some things better to be said at leisure, rather than repented of in haste? Can anything worthwhile or lasting be created in a Wall Street nano-second? Or can only often-irreversible damage be done?


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They Had Your Back, Show Them You Have Theirs

Today we celebrate Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day, the day the War to End all Wars, WW 1, drew to a close. We remember those who serve today, and those who served, and those who gave everything for our country.

Our military is all volunteer. The men and women who serve today do so because they want to. They pass rigorous tests and not all are taken. They are the very cream of our youth. While serving they gain character and skills that transfer easily into civilian life.

But do we think about them when we are hiring? Here is a pool of talent that is virtually untapped. What can we, as an industry, do for them, after they have done so much for us.

A group of veterans including Doug Cram, Jeremy Duplechin, Todd Tucker, Stephen Smith and Allen Corry, all parking professionals, have founded a non profit organization called Veterans in Parking. Its goal is to find jobs for veterans as they return to civilian status.  PT is supporting this group and so should you.

In addition to saying a quick prayer or thinking a few good thoughts on Veterans day, why not do something tangible. Join Doug and his group and bring high quality candidates into your hiring process. You can reach them through their web site www.vetsinparking.com.

These veterans volunteered to watch your back. They took years out of their lives and risked their future and health to protect you. This is a perfect way to show these fantastic people you have their backs, too.


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Its Election Day

Have you Voted? There is still time. It seems there is a huge interest in this election and if my precinct is any example, it will be a big turnout. Each party says a large turnout is good for them. I have no clue. As bad a job as the pollsters have done in the past, I’m not sure just how to read them now. I say just watch reruns of MASH, WKRP, and Andy Griffith today and wake up tomorrow to sort out the winners and losers.

I voted at the local fire station. There was a long line at 715 in the morning, it took almost 45 minutes to queue up and vote. We use a data card with a little stamp that puts ink in circles on the card.  Its pretty easy and there are no ‘hanging chad.’ You then put the card through a scanner where it is tabulated at that time. When the polls close, the scanner is hooked up to a phone line and the data is downloaded to election central and totaled. Neat, huh.

As you can see from the picture, there were some kids there with their parents. I thought this was terrific. They got to see what democracy was all about first hand.

There is something special about voting, whether your side wins or not. You feel empowered. Try it. You will like it.


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Mobility – Private Vehicles Lead the Pack

“Mobility” is a buzz word. In Australia it refers to assisting those who are mobility challenged (handicapped). Here we think of it as moving people from private vehicles to trains, buses, bicycles, scooters and foot.

However, at least for the next few decades, mobility will be primarily driven by private vehicles, many of them, but not a majority, autonomous.

Goldman Sachs has done an extensive review of the future of autonomous vehicles and after reading the 60 page report it can be summarized as follows:

  • The main drivers of the AV concept are and will be rideshare companies. Their goal is to remove the single major expense, that is the human driver. Second, they have issues finding enough drivers.
  • Rideshare is currently a third of the taxi market, but in a decade, it could be five times the size of the taxi market.
  • OEMs (GM, Ford, etc) are really into this. It is projected that AV fleet management could generate up to $14,000 profit over the life of the vehicle, that’s five times what the OEM makes on the sale of the car. Look to the OEMs to drive and own fleet management.
  • Car ownership will survive, as car purchase and usage are separate. While Uber/lyft popularity will increase, individual ownership will hold strong with status, availability, privacy, security, and familiarity remaining strong influences in private ownership.

There are other take aways from the report, but the last one above should give us that warm and fuzzy feeling we have been looking for.

Goldman Sachs predicts that car sales will continue to rise and by 2030 will hit 100 million (its about 85 million per year currently). Many of those may be AVs, assuming they are on the road and functioning by then. GS makes no prediction in that area.

This is a report written by Goldman Sachs researchers with the idea in mind of making recommendations to their customers as to which stocks to buy, hold, or sell. They are taking, I think, a conservative view of the AV, car, and rideshare markets.

I find it interesting that they couch their report in terms of “mobility” but include single ride vehicles as the primary mover of people in urban areas world wide. They do note that automated trams and buses will come on line, but focus on cars as the way people will be getting around, at least through the next few decades.

Why? I think it has to do with cost. Attempting to transform urban areas into train/tram/non auto transportation areas is simply too costly, at least in the short term. When a subway in Los Angeles costs $1.3 billion PER MILE the likelihood of enough transit systems being expanded into urban areas where they don’t now exist is difficult to imagine.

There are also the ‘first mile-last mile’ issues which come to bear on cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta which have 10s of millions of people spread over huge areas.

The market will drive autonomous vehicles, with the idea of doing away with an expensive driver making the concept extremely viable for Uber/Lyft, long haul trucking, deliveries, buses, and other transportation systems that require human intervention. It seems doubtful that private individuals will be a major purchaser of autonomous vehicles.


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Disruption in Parking — Another Look

Back in Early October, I wrote a piece poo pooing disruption in our industry. At the Temecula Group, some took exception. It may have to do with definitions. Consider this one:

A disrupter creates new markets and value networks and eventually displaces existing market leading firms’ products and services.

Let’s look at the following:

On Street Technology: The most well-known single space meter companies are a shadow of their former selves both in size and also in industry influence. Duncan has been sold, Cale has been sold. Flowbird (Parkeon) has grown through acquisition of Cale and is now marketing itself as an “urban intelligence” business. Passport, Parkmobile and paybyPhone are taking a chunk of on street payments. If we consider Pay by Cell “M-commerce” it would seem the practice of drivers using M-Commerce is growing quickly. Although Australia is a small market it can be an example where the fundamentals found there could percolate up in the US market. In other words, it may be taking more time in the US but it’s happening, and it will accelerate.

Car Sharing: Car sharing has decimated the value proposition of taxi operators in many cities. The value network was predicated on a “license agreement” between taxi operators and local governments. The value network gave the city a decent franchise fee and gave the medallion owners capital appreciation. The community got a universal service obligation, which most of us took for granted, but try to arrange transport from the airport at 3:00am when there are no taxis. All of that has changed because of Uber/Lyft and other car sharing operators.

M-Commerce: What does not appear to be well understood is that the impact of M-commerce on the Parking industry has barely started. Its influence is going to be very much stronger over the next 5 years. Consider the following:

  • The proliferation of smart phone and functional apps.
  • The generally positive disposition to self- service.
  • The value of the information that can be captured from the consumer.
  • Out of pocket expenses for recovery from employers or for tax returns
  • Recent and frequency information for municipalities.
  • The ability to communicate with the actual driver

Once this is better understood, M-Commerce could decimate the on street tech industry and substantially change PARCS systems. Cash collection and all associated auditing and policing costs has been reduced because of M-commerce . Maintenance, vandalism and repairs are reduced. Municipalities have their money in their account next day and cities get enormous information on consumer behavior.  Once this is understood the demise of on street tech will commence a steady but relentless decline.

City Government attitude: Local Governments across the globe have traditionally been an entry point for aspiring politicians and a platform for emerging political parties. There is an emerging negative disposition towards private vehicles in cities. Whether it be a congestion tax or the removal of on street parking spaces for green areas or bike lanes or whatever, city politicians across the western world are opposed to facilitating the use of private vehicles in cities. The ideological disposition is about a “green world” and the green political parties place extraordinary values on promoting alternate transportation options to the detriment of the vehicle. While it may not qualify as a disrupter, Council bylaws will foster competitors to traditional vendors within the parking industry.

Venture capital: Disruption in the parking industry will accelerate as more venture capital moves into the sector. Given the dramatic increase of urbanization across the globe, VC’s see the opportunity to bring capital and enterprise to an emerging problem. We have witnessed a series of early ‘unwise” investments in concessions in Chicago and in SF. However many of the larger players both on and off street are now VC funded.

So, what does this mean? Well in the first instance, VC’s are not interested in bootstrapping businesses. They don’t have the time. No longer will we have industry order that comes from a business making a profit and re-investing its profits to fund growth. VC’s will fund growth whether it be unprofitable or not and will seek to ramp up the growth trajectory to get a cash flow “break even”.  We are going to see a lot more growth (for growth sake models) than we have ever seen before. This leaves the traditional market share holders with a for profit, fee for service model, vulnerable. UBER sold $1.5 billion coupons at 8% yield to be repaid in 8 years. In simple terms, they will invest $1.5 billion in their business and it will cost them $125 million a year to monster their competitors. There is no reason this type of thing can’t happen here.

The above discussion sees vast changes ahead for the Parking Industry. Call it disruption or not, its difficult to argue with the facts. Change isn’t coming, its here, call it what you may.


Thanks to Declan Ryan for his input.

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A Fly in the Shoup, Continued…

And then we have to go in and clean up the mess.

We had a lot of discussions at this year’s Temecula Parking Group about cities and the many issues they have dealing with technology and rules and regulations. Parking Pros are often put in difficult positions by academics who have a tendency to generalize simple solutions to complex problems.

Don Shoup has spent nearly two decades as an evangelist for his three point solution to parking problems in cities:

  • Set rates so there is a 15% vacancy on every block face
  • Do away with parking minimums
  • Return the money from parking fees to the area from which it came

He has written tomes backing up these three simple solutions. That’s not the problem. When he takes his evangelism on the road, he takes it to politicians who have a tendency to love simple solutions to complex problems.

These are the same politicians who have stood in the door when those tasked with solving parking issues have brought suggestion after suggestion to solve a problem. There are always difficulties when you begin to attack a problem with political favorable solutions.

Let’s take one example.

The City of Los Angeles began a “Great Streets” program. Its political popular goal was to provide ‘safe’ bike lanes and additional crossings on long blocks. What happened was that the program ended up taking one driving lane from each direction and reducing the on street parking by a few spaces on each block. It also added cross walks in the middle of blocks thus creating traffic slowing in the area.

The Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in and suddenly traffic which was flowing well on the “Great Street” now was at a standstill during rush hours. Wiley drivers found alternate routes through nearby neighborhoods causing congestion on residential streets. The reduced parking meant local merchants had fewer customers. And the bicycle lanes went unused (somebody forgot to survey the area to determine just how many bikers actually used and needed the fancy bike lanes.)

It was politically popular, but no one asked the hard questions.

When the Shoup roadshow moves into town, the elected officials glom onto the professor’s solutions and then filter suggestions made by those in charge of parking through a Shoupista lens. OK – set variable rates so you charge enough to keep spaces open.

Can you ever charge enough? In popular areas, price is seldom an object. As one person leaves a space, another is right there ready to take it. Even if you can set the rates high enough, how do you communicate that rate to a driver to get them to park quickly off street? I see a space, I park, I get out and approach the meter, I find it costs $7.50 an hour. Now what? Do I move to find a cheaper space, or just suck it up and pay?

Higher rates may not be popular with the local merchants, but if you plow the revenue back into the local neighborhoods, then they may buy in. However those politicians may not want to give up that revenue that was so conveniently flowing into the general fund. Can you get by with only two legs of Shoup’s three legged stool?

The idea of no parking minimums means that there isn’t enough parking in an area so people would simply take rapid transit, or a bus, or uber. No wait, the train and bus service is inadequate and more of both need to be laid on. Who is going to pay for that?

In the meantime Uber/Lyft is wreaking havoc with traffic and curb space. Folks who don’t want to pay for parking at such high rates, are taking cars that don’t park at all and are causing congestion at a rate unheard of.

Suddenly the mayor, who bought into a simple solution to the city’s parking problems, is looking at the upcoming election and yelling at the parking department to fix the problems.

In a state of panic, the parking pros call consultants and utter one strangled word: “HELP!”

What I heard time and again around the table in Temecula was that one size doesn’t fit all. All parking is local and whereas an academic approach may work in a general case, it seldom works in a specific one.

A parking department may put variable pricing in place but neglect to put the enforcement required to make it work in place. They may purchase technology to help solve that problem but didn’t realize that the high-tech equipment actually caused another. They may install multi space meters which work great, but didn’t realize that on some small blocks, single space meters work better. They may be depending on pay by cell apps but find out that only about 5% of their parkers actually use them.

“We are called in and have to clean up the unintended consequences of a simplistic solution,” I heard time and again.

The idea was to get traffic looking for parking off the street. Shoup tells us that 30% of all traffic is looking for parking. Let’s get those 30% off the street and voila, congestion, pollution, and parking solved. That number is important. What if it’s 10%, or 50%. If it’s 10, getting them off the streets won’t help much. If it’s 50% getting 30% won’t help much either. One could hold the position that ALL traffic in the central city is either looking for parking or leaving. When I asked him about the origin or that number, he wondered what all the concern was about. “After all,” he said, “It’s only a number in a book.”

That pretty much says it all doesn’t it.


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NPA – Welcoming and Engaged

I have been asked what made this NPA event so special.  My answer is twofold, welcoming and engagement.

First of all, every level of the association is welcoming. From President Christine Banning to outgoing chair Alan Lazowski, to incoming chair Nicolle Judge, to Stacy Hudson, Director of Marketing, to Tom Carter, head of this year’s event, to all the rest of the board and professional staff they made the attendees and exhibitors feel welcome.

They all went out of their way to take time to talk to as many of the attendees as possible and welcome them to the conference and to their organization. We all appreciated that effort.

But more important, there is a feeling of engagement here in Las Vegas. Speakers, exhibitors, attendees, members and non members all seem to have a feeling of engagement. They are here not only to learn but to spread their personal wisdom. That feeling permeates the sessions, the networking events, and the exhibit hall.

It’s a feeling that includes the professional side of the industry, the ability to see it as it is, with all the experts, technology, and management skills on display, as well as the challenges that are being addressed day in and day out.

I am most impressed with the extremely large number of young new members I am meeting here. I’m not sure how the NPA is succeeding so well in its outreach program but the huge increase in attendance along with the number of new members must mean something.

That youth challenges the old timers like me and ensures that our industry will continue and succeed with a core of youth shoring up those who proudly built the parking profession.

To the NPA I can only say, All the Best


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We Need a Speech About “How to Fail”

I have been thinking about the keynote speech we all heard at the NPA confab yesterday. Frankly if you have heard a couple of these, you could probably tell me what this one was about. Here’s the Title: Innovate or Perish: How the Parking Industry Can Stop Being A Commodity and Add More Value to the Customer”

An excellent speaker, Dr. Kevin Frieberg, first embarrassed us by telling us how a doctor in India is providing open heart surgery at $2000 a go, and doing it better than we do here in the US. How this doctor is setting up heart clinics across one of the poorest and most populace countries in the world. How he is going to be setting one up in the Grand Caymans, just and hour from Miami, and how…

But he didn’t tell us just ‘how’ the good doctor did his magic. We were told that the success was accomplished because he didn’t allow himself to be held back by anything and was able to create his success because… As Han Solo once said “Now that’s the trick, isn’t it?”

Visualizing a huge success, clinics in India, Apple iPhones, Microsoft word, the proper design for an MRI used by children, and yes the fact that we should have empathy for our customers and be ready to redesign parking structures and turn them into schools and hospitals and mini homes for millennials AND remember all the time that parking is the beginning and the end of all visits to wherever we are going so we should make it the best of all possible experiences is great. Turning that vision into reality is something else.

Dr. Frieberg is right. We do need to have visions and think outside the box. We do need to consider how to use our employee’s ideas and integrate them into our culture and our products. We do need to think about our industry from the point of view of our customers (parkers). And yes, we do need to form unlikely partnerships to begin to bring all this to fruition.

But frankly, I think that’s the easy part. The hard part is actually doing it.

There was not one suggestion in this talk that we haven’t heard a number of times from speakers at the NPA, IPI, PIE, Local Associations and other conventions. Consultants have spoken about converting parking structures. Managers have spoken about parking being the gateway and the exit, and ways to make it memorable. We have heard about frictionless parking and how hotels like the MGM and Caesars and shopping center chains like Westfield have turned their parking into technological wonders. There are 50 presentations this week at the NPA. They are all stressing specifics about what Dr. Frieberg generalized. They are discussing the problems, issues, and reality of parking life

But, as I’m sure the good doctor knows only too well, the hard part is actually doing it..

It’s taking the risk, and let me tell you, it’s a big risk. It’s trying to figure out how to get a mayor or a university president, or a shopping center owner, or a hospital administrator to pony up the bucks to create the environment your vision needs.

Its actually having the courage to get into the arena, most likely fail, but to give your vision a chance.

As I walked around the exhibit hall with Jordan, our newest employee, she commented on how many “first timers” there were. I smiled and noted that in all likelihood most of them wouldn’t be there next year.

However, they are giving it a shot. They are taking the risk. They are putting their vision out there and working to get it from vaporware to reality.

Most of them weren’t in the keynote speech.  They were in their rooms making that last adjustment to that line of code, or in the exhibit hall, putting up a booth they couldn’t afford, or getting up their courage to actually talk to someone about their vision. After all, they are nerds and don’t do that very well.

But they have time to fail. They are 23 and can start over. What about the 50 or 60 year olds in the audience at that keynote speech. If they fail, then what? Just how many times can you bet the farm.

It seems to me we need a speech not about what to do, but about how to do it. Perhaps not how to succeed, but how to fail, and then come back again and again. Maybe we need to be reminded about “Outliers” and how those who succeed spent 10000 hours getting there. We need to be reminded that Babe Ruth also had the most strikeouts.

I’m going to spend some time today in those ‘first timer’ booths. Maybe they could use a little help, or at least someone to listen. It can get pretty lonely in the arena.


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NPA Knocks it out of the Park

The 2018 National Parking Association Conference and Expo is underway and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and I have to say without reservation it is the leading parking trade event of the year, bar none.

Christine Banning and her crew have outdone themselves with an exhibit hall that’s 30 percent larger than ever in the history of the NPA. Attendance is over the top, too, nearly 2000 attendees showing up in Sin City for the four day event.

Convention Chair Tom Carter spoke at length about the support received by his committee and the folks at the City of Las Vegas  He then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Kevin Frieberg who regaled the group to think outside the box and consider their companies from the customer’s point of view. Have empathy, he said,

The exhibit hall opens this afternoon with nearly 150 exhibitors.

There is no question that with the 50 seminars and sessions, speeches, networking events, and exhibits, the NPA has outdone itself. If you have time, get to Las Vegas and participate in the number one parking event of 2018.


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