Brandy responds to JVH

A few blog posts below, I talk about the city of Tacoma and their trials and tribulations in installing a new pay and display system. You can read about it here? I asked Brandy for a response – here it is:

I’ve never been a big fan of expired meter warnings. We have 115 spaces on the busiest stretch of our main street. During the day, there are about 15,000 people working, living, eating, shopping and going to school along that stretch of road. Translate that at a 30% drive rate to 4,500 cars, all of which would prefer to park in one of these 115 spaces. If I give each one of these cars a first warning and only 1% of those cars get warnings each day, that takes up 45 spaces all day, every day. That’s almost 40% of the spaces in the highest demand area. Don’t forget also that many business owners are going to tell their customers NOT to pay the meter or worry about the time limit since they know they won’t get a ticket. That’s an occupancy problem as well.

In terms of the business owner’s complaints, I suspect Tacoma is going through a learning curve. We went through the same things here when we installed P&Ds. We discovered that some people don’t buy enough time and then immediately go back and get another receipt. After this happened enough times, we changed our policy so now the PCOs are required to add the time together before giving a ticket.

If someone goes in to get change and comes right back out, the PCO should still be there or at least be in sight – they are authorized to take the ticket back, and are expected to. When I personally get these complaints, the customer is usually “fibbing” about how long they were inside, since they were in there so long that the PCO wasn’t anywhere around when they came out and they had to come see me.

We gave up on the curbside dashboard enforcement even before the P&Ds were installed. It’s printed on the receipt in big bold letters and included on the instructions and most people comply, but enforcing that was a losing battle from the get. Plus, during the winter when there are snowbanks on the curbside, we enforce from the street side, so how is a customer supposed to guess which side to put their receipt? As Keith said, after a number of years, it would be much less painful. Our receipts have the expiration in large enough lettering that most of the time they can be read from the curb even if it’s on the wrong side of the dashboard.

So the bottom line is that I agree with Keith that Tacoma had a lot of challenges in starting a paid parking operation from scratch and as is evident from your post, they are in the process of fixing what doesn’t work. That indicates that they are proactive, open to change, and willing to backtrack if needed. Isn’t that what JVH thinks us government workers should be doing more of?


And my response to Brandy:


Brandy — I understand, but shouldn’t cities learn from the growing pains of others. Isn’t that what this blog and the like are all about? Above, you have presented a primer in how to begin a program and what mistakes a city like Tacoma could potentially make. It took you some time to adjust your rules to fit the situation (add two tickets, where to put your p and d receipt, etc)

What JVH thinks is that cities should learn from others. There is no reason why each city has to start from scratch and make all the mistakes another makes and in doing so, piss off the population. What would it take for them to contact a city that had installed new meters (mayhaps ask the vendor) and get some pointers. It sounds to me like they (and you) slapped in those meters and then learned from what happened.

I agree that the PCO should be in sight when a short time ticket is written, and you have a good policy that the PCO can void such citations — but what about the vast majority of cities where the PCO cannot void tickets? I know John Q. Public can misrepresent the amount of time spent getting coins, (and probably their coffee and dry cleaning). I know you do a great job of handling it on a case by case basis.

The problem with warnings in Tacoma is that I don’t think they were tracked. They were just handed out. In your case, it would seem that in three or four months, a typical break in period, most cars would have received warnings and that would be that. Doesn’t seem like such an imposition. As for the merchants telling people to skip paying the first time, seems to me you have a “teachable moment” here. Don’t the merchants need some kind of input as to how and why you need to pay for parking? And what happens when you don’t?

Just sayin…JVH

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4 Responses to Brandy responds to JVH

  1. Brandy Stanley says:

    I actually did an exhaustive amount of research with other cities prior to putting in the meters – 20 cities in fact, because I wanted to get it right. Unfortunately, every city is a little different and while many issues transfer from city to city, many also do not. I also don’t agree that virtually any city slaps meters in and learns from there. I have fielded phone calls prior to installation from every single city in NH and MA that has installed multispace meters in the last 5 years. I’ve also taken many phone calls from those who are considering it as well as calls from cities all over the country. Believe it or not, we DO try to learn from each other.
    Our graphics worked here, but Portsmouth copied ours and they had big issues and had to change them around. Nobody else that I know of (except for Chicago) seemed to have a problem with grace periods, but we sure did! We were the first city in the state to install multispace meters and we had big problems with consumer education. Concord NH installed theirs 4 years later – they had virtually no consumer education problems and haven’t had problems with a grace period at all. Why? Who knows, but the point is that unfortunately this technology is NOT a one-policy fits all and each city will have to go through their own learning curve.
    I should have been more specific with my blanket statement that businesses would tell customers they could park without paying. This does not apply to all businesses. There are a lot of them that “get it” and have responded to our outreach. Many of them call us for enforcement on their own employees – one even fired an employee for parking in front of the business. But there are many business owners themselves that are VERY frequent violators of meters and are totally OK with themselves and their employees parking in front of their store as well as their neighbors’ stores. We continue to try to create “teachable moments,” but they see tickets and parking as a cost of business and simply don’t care.

  2. JVH says:

    OK — I agree that you did your due diligence, but frankly we aren’t talking about you, or your city. All I can tell is that Tacoma seems to have missed something somewhere. The issues you brought up seem to be on the top of the lists. However I have seen city after city, many very large ones, install more complex meters and then think, gee, maybe we should have some information for the people who are going to be using them. We had a video here on this blog of the county of Los Angeles and the person that is in charge of meters in a certain area not knowing how to operate the meter himself.
    If I blame anyone, its probably the vendor. Salespeople have a tendency to oversell and try to get the deal. I know, I was one for years. They often don’t realize what is going to happen after the installation. But I digress…
    You and yours do a yeoman’s job with your parking system and your city. I am out of line when I attempt a one size fits all comment. However, I spend every day pouring over hundreds of news articles about cities like Tacoma and San Francisco and Walnut Creek and Albuquerque and Seattle and (yes Keith) Portland, and LA and Beverly Hills — and those were just today. Each of them had issues and problems with their on street parking, many having to do with complaints, merchants, new equipment, rates, and they seemed to be solving their problems politically rather than logically. Have an issue, jerk out the meters, have the same issue, install meters. Who knows. And these stories, at least 40 or 50 a day talk about all these issues. Sometimes you have to read between the lines because the reporter doesn’t “get it” but the issues are there.
    I believe that the best way to solve problems is to expose them to the light. Certainly one solution doesn’t fit all, but a piece of one, and a bit of another, and before long, things are running smoothly.
    I will say one other thing. My guess is that if you were to retire tomorrow and someone else took your job, the parking operation in Manchester would change. Its the people, not the regulations, that make a difference. You shine, you make good and consistent decisions. I wonder how you teach that.

  3. Brandy Stanley says:

    I do agree with most of what you’ve said – I think that the politicians will be quick to step in if they don’t have leadership from their parking profesionals. Heading problems off at the pass or responding immediately and effectively to problems on the part of the parking management team would probably make a lot of these poor political decisions go away. You’re right – how do we get there? Because it is about the management team in place. I know first hand that being outspoken and a dedicated problem solver is sometimes not good for your long term employment in a political environment. Unfortunate, but also true. It’s a catch 22, certainly.

  4. JVH says:

    Someone has to be the exPFC Wintergreen — JVH

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