Fair but Firm Efficient Enforcement

Linkedin has a number of parking discussion groups and the PT group is particularly well attended. A week or so ago a member asked this question:

More and more Councils are now outsourcing their parking services. Should this be the way forward as councils tried to reduce their overhead costs?

Most responses followed this:

Total outsourcing I do not believe is the answer, especially as the media is always criticizing issues that unfortunately normally are created by a contractor (admittedly not all are the same) but paints the whole of our industry in a bad light. But with improved technology there are many different options and or combinations of the operation that can seriously reduce overheads, also keep good control and improve the public image – we need to think a bit more about control and customer service on how to improve our image making the whole experience more welcoming. For local authorities, yes it is a business and hard decisions need to be made, but essentially it is a service and if well run produces good results all around.

I commented as follows:

The public sector by its nature has different goals than the private sector. By definition the private sector is there to make a profit. Left to its own devices in a normal marketplace this will lead to excellent service and efficient operations. The best and most profitable companies simply create the best. However in the public sector the market place is skewed. The contracts usually eliminate competition, and the natural market forces are removed. Cities try to artificially handle those issues (audits, supervision, etc) but mostly fail since they don’t really understanding the working of the parking industry.
The solution is not easy. The public sector is by nature political and parking is an emotive topic. The concept of “Customer” and “service” is foreign to most public agencies, as they rely on “enforcement” and “regulation” to have their way.

And right on schedule:

…you are right in stating that parking in the Public sector is ‘a business’ and has to be run as such, but there has to be a balance when discussing ‘service’. Service does not mean slap them a ticket regardless and do not listen to excuses, it is about fair but firm efficient enforcement and listening to customer needs and to make their (the vast majority of customers) parking experience a good one. We need to keep working on getting them on our side. There will always be the inconsiderate and difficult drivers but that is all part of the course.

My response:

The paragraph above restates the problem…How do we help the public sector to really understand what the term “customers” and “service” really means? Most private sector businesses would never even use the words “firm, efficient enforcement” as ways to change a customer’s behavior. If the goal is to get a customer to, for instance, use an ATM rather than stand in line inside the bank, first they would make the ATM as easy to use as possible. They then they would make it faster than standing inside the bank. They would ensure the ATMS were in out of the cold where appropriate, and reward people for using them. Over a period of time the quaint concept of coming in to the bank and standing in line to talk to a teller would go the way of the dodo and the customer would love the concept.

The goal of the private sector is to acquire loyal customers and keep them loyal. It has something to sell and something the customer wants or needs. It then attempts to do a better job of pricing and delivery than its competition.

Those in the public sector of the parking industry need to begin by looking at our product, our goals, and our true reason for existence. Once we come to terms with that, then perhaps we can begin to determine ways to treat our customers as needed to reach those goals. Our approach today seems to me to be far too close to a police state than to an organization providing a product to a willing public.


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3 Responses to Fair but Firm Efficient Enforcement

  1. Brandy Stanley says:

    JVH: You know I can’t resist a comment on this one. Not every municipality treats enforcement like a police state. Certainly municipalities are all over the board, but in the last 10 years, more and more are starting to “get it.” Our industry is being noticed by VC firms, large investments firms and a lot of technology firms and there is a much greater amount of exposure and recognition across the board, including municipal governments. There’s a lot of education about parking going on and the understanding of how parking ticks is slowly making advances.
    In a nutshell, a lot of us municipal managers know that “firm but efficient enforcement” aimed at getting people to change their behavior rather than make a profit adds to the potential for increased property values. Increased property values equals increased property taxes, which outweigh parking revenues by a VERY large margin. I’ll give up 10% of my enforcement revenue in return for happy customers and vibrant businesses any day. Elected officials get that – if it is explained to them. A lot of private sector firms live in the parking world and don’t have a stake in the bigger picture.

  2. Keith Ehrensing says:

    JVH: Our City has had a compliance orientation for many years, not least because the district court (by state statute) keeps more than half of our citation revenue to run their operations. Simply put, we generate more revenue when our customers, the parking public, pay for parking and don’t get tickets.
    That said, there are those who, for any number of reasons, refuse to play by the rules. Even when given the option to move from an unpaid space, some folks end up getting overtime citations.
    It’s difficult to share your rosy optimism about the private sector providing better, faster and more efficient service. For example, we could have a long discussion about surface lot operators with their predatory towing practices (now outlawed in our city).
    And what of the private company in Chicago increasing rates by double, with more to come? We installed pay stations and increased revenue without raising rates for the first three years of operation. Our collection costs were brought inside, after comparing with private sector bids, reducing our costs by half.
    Like Brandy, I’m just saying that the broad brush doesn’t treat either the public or private sector fairly.

  3. Nickoli says:

    That first comment reads as one written by some-one in the UK, where councils (local government) often outsource enforcement, but prices and restrictions remain controlled by the council. The only things that the private operators can really do are pay the CEOs (Civil Enforcement Officers, who enforce parking) less, and push them to issue more tickets. They do both, and there are numerous complaints about them. I read recently that 90% of challenged tickets in London (where I think all, but certainly most enforcement is outsourced) are cancelled. In my city, it’s about 20%. Private firms seem to be much more likely than councils to see tickets for non-compliance as a revenue stream first and foremost, in my experience.

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