Parking Professionals and their Customers, Part One

PT Editor JVH and Parking Manager Brandy Stanley have begun a discussion of the parking profession and its relationship to its customers…Here are the first two bits combined…

JVH: A municipality, a university, an airport, a hospital, a business complex all have a limited number of parking spaces at their disposal. In each case, our goal should be to maintain and allocate those spaces, as appropriate, to the workers (students) and visitors. The question is, of course, how we do that. In hospital, business, and airport settings, it’s fairly straight forward. We control access and people decide if they want to pay a fee to park. The fee enables us to maintain our parking resource and in some cases, limit who can park. The fees can be arbitrary and often provide substantial income to the entity (Airports, particularly).

Municipalities have a different type of problem. Historically parking has been inexpensive or free, the idea being that “free” parking. Folks got used to it and as we began to charge, and raise the rates, and place restrictions on where and when they can park, enforcement began to take on importance. How do we be sure people follow the rules?

Our goal is to alter behavior. From Free to Paid. From parking all day to parking an hour. From parking in handicapped spots to not parking….. You get the idea. There appears to be two ways to alter behavior – a carrot or a stick. We have been using a stick – If you break the rule and get caught, we will give you a citation and fine you.

Brandy: Municipalities that openly state revenues from violations need to increase to fill budget gaps are probably a very small percentage of cities, but they get the negative press and a lot of it – I believe this is a perception problem. I’d guess that this almost exclusively comes from elected officials rather than parking managers. No easy solution, and parking managers wisely aren’t going to go on public record in opposition. Anyone have any ideas?

JVH: Unfortunately, Perception is reality. This issue must include all levels of city government, not just parking and transportation. Police, Public Works, Finance, and the city council/mayor must be involved in the base level concerning about parking. Easy, of course not. However to begin a shift in thinking about parking, all levels of an organization must be included.

Brandy: In terms of the carrot versus the stick, I believe you need both, but you have to be very careful about how you use the stick and focus on making the carrot more enticing.

Listen to your parking customers – why do they park illegally? The 2 most common answers are:

1) It’s inconvenient to pay for parking
2) There weren’t any spaces open where I wanted to park, so I took a chance and parked illegally

So, how do we make it more convenient to pay for parking in the absence of controlled access? In-car meters, credit card acceptance, pay by phone and a host of other solutions are becoming more widely accepted and used in the industry – and rightly so. If we make it easier to pay, more people will do the right thing without the threat of the enforcement stick. I think most of us with tenure in the industry have had an almost mind-boggling array of new technology presented to us within the last 5-10 years after a very long period of stagnation. The problem is, it’s difficult to figure out what technology to adopt – what works for consumers? Will a company be here next month or will we be stuck holding the bag if they fold? Does the technology really work?

JVH: Great. If we being to think of parkers as customers, then we want to strive to make it easy for them to pay. Your average supermarket offers an array of payment options from cash to debit, credit, stamps, you name it. If its tender, they will accept it. But to be successful we must bring all levels of an organization in to support our changes. Many changes have failed because parking didn’t have the support of finance, city council, mayor and the like. Cities have fantastic PR departments. We need to use them. Meetings need to be held with church groups, civic organizations, and merchants groups, describing and selling the program BEFORE its placed into effect. No surprises. Everyone on the same page.


Brandy: Secondly, the lack of readily available parking spaces in the places people need them speaks to efficient allocation of spaces. Enter Shoup and performance-based pricing. Do you have loading zones where you need them? Are your time limits properly set? Have you educated your customers on off-street options? Is off-street parking cheaper than on-street parking? Is your signage clear or do you have problem areas that need to be clarified?

JVH: I have actually done studies in my neighborhood and found that literally hundreds of unused spaces are available, particularly on nights and weekends. They are convenient but are often chained off and not available for visitors and employees of restaurants, clubs, and stores that stay open late and on weekends. If a local bank or medical building, for instance, could see an advantage to allowing people to park on their lots when they were closed, a plethora of convenient spaces would be available. Drive down an alley. You will be shocked SHOCKED at the number of spaces you will see. Empty. Yearning for someone to use them. These are perfect for employee parking – getting them off the street and freeing up convenient spaces for customers. Parking is a business that is managed on the street, not from an office.

Brandy: All the above being said, you still need to enforce since you don’t have access control systems and there are always people that will seek to beat the system.

Enforcement practices can be refined to target these people, like graduated parking fines and upping the penalties – increased boot fines, higher late fees, etc – for people that repeatedly ignore the carrot.

JVH: There is a problem – we only write about 10% of the citations that could be written. There just aren’t enough officers or enough hours to cover all the possible violators. So most people are trained to believe that the chances of them being caught are slim, and after all, there is no theft involved, no murder, or mayhem. No one is really hurt if they don’t feed the meter or if they park in a reserved spot. There is no moral code broken, no commandment, when you overstay your parking.

Brandy: The appeal process can be used as an educational tool and voiding tickets after educating a customer is a great way to convert the “stick” into a “carrot” and get a happy customer as a result.

Enforcement officers can be trained to act as parking resources and educators with the authority to take back parking tickets in the field. They can be given a sense of empowerment and importance, and there is a lot of technology available that can give them the tools to make good decisions.

What happens when you look at meter revenues and violation revenues as one bucket of funds? As you create more carrots, that percentage of the bucket or revenues becomes higher – but the violation portion goes down because there are less violations to catch. It took me about 4 years to realize this. In retrospect, I feel like a moron because it is reflected in our numbers in no uncertain terms and just makes sense. Duh.

JVH: Brandy – we got off to a good start. Now maybe we can take it to a more basic level. There are ways to find help our customers, but in our next discussion, can we talk about the attitude of parking can and should be in relationship to our bosses and our customers. You mention above that we need to empower our employees. How do we do that without ‘giving away the farm?’


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One Response to Parking Professionals and their Customers, Part One

  1. When the enforcement function was transferred to parking from the police department, we had a long series of weekly meetings to talk about what our enforcement philosophy should be. In large part, the enforcement officers are the ones that set the policy – I listened to their problems and experiences and we designed our policies together.
    They can’t stand being taken advantage of and nothing frustrates them more than people who repeatedly ignore or seek to get around the ordinances. They felt bad about having to give tickets to people who obviously didn’t understand the rules because they were new town or had a legitimate problem. If there is a problem with signage, they are the ones giving tickets to people who don’t understand, so they see on a first hand basis what needs to be changed.
    So they wanted to target repeat offenders and they are the ones that requested about 75% of the ordinance changes I’ve put through to the city council. Some of them lift restrictions that aren’t necessary (shouldn’t this block be 10 hours instead of 2 hours? It’s empty and there aren’t any businesses there? Can we lower the fine for permit parking only? It’s not a safety hazard so why should it be the same price as a fire lane ticket?) and some add restrictions because repeat offenders are easily circumventing the rules (we’ve got 5 people on this block that swap spaces every 2 hours – can you change the ordinance to 2 hours and off the block?).
    And let’s talk about handicapped parking – that was a huge pet peeve of theirs. State law requires free parking at meters and they know who the offenders are. It’s extremely frustrating to be restricted to giving someone a $10 ticket for not paying a meter when you know they are using a placard that isn’t theirs or is expired or simply fake. So we became the only city in the state to have a fraudulent use violation. That was all their idea.
    Does this have the potential to “give away the farm?” Depends on how you manage it. If you don’t keep in touch with your staff, which allows you to reinforce your vision and gives them a chance to discuss their own experiences with each other (which ultimately ends up with more consistency of enforcement because they all decide as a group how to handle certain situations), then you take a risk. If you don’t track how many “breaks” each officer gives – which is reflected in the number of tickets they give you to void – then you might not notice someone who is either giving too many or not giving enough.
    The public itself acts as a watchdog. If someone in a line of cars gets a ticket and nobody else does, you can bet they’ll call someone about it. If someone has a bad experience with an officer, a lot of them will call. If you get enough calls about a particular officer, then there might be a problem to address. Do the officers have a supervisor’s business cards on them? Are their routes being rotated so inconsistencies will be apparent to both supervisors and the public?
    What I’m trying to get at is essentially parking control officers WANT to be able to catch those people who just refuse to get with the program and they WANT to be able to educate people who simply made a mistake without being forced into giving them tickets. They have a level of knowledge that none of us parking managers have because we aren’t out there beating the streets every day. Really, I don’t think that parking enforcement officers themselves generally don’t want to give away the farm. I also suspect that they have a lot of good ideas and are itching to tell someone about them. It worked for us!

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