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Technology, Smechology – I Still Have A Cigar Box

The April Issue of Parking Today is our Technology Issue. I have asked a number of tech providers, consultants, and others to write about the topic and have received some interesting input.

But what about the actual end users, the operators, cities, hospitals, airports, and shopping centers that actually park cars. Sure they are buying the stuff. But are they even capable of using it?

What difference does it make if you can launch a Tesla into orbit if you can’t keep track of your monthly parkers. The tech exists, do you use it? When was the last time you walked into the garage and ran a list of active permits? Do you know how? It doesn’t count if you ask your manager to do it.

OK, you have the capability of selling and reserving spaces from your vacation spot in the Seychelles. But are you sure you are getting all the money for each transaction? How do you know? Sure you trust them, but really…

Your new techy system is so flexible that you can adjust your rates hourly from your hot tub. Super. But can anyone with an internet connection do it too? How do you know they haven’t? Remember what the Gipper said: “Trust by Verify.”

If you head is spinning and you are ready to hire your mother to sit in an exit booth and revert to the cigar box, check out April’s issue of PT. It full of tech, and will answer some of the questions above. At least it will make you dangerous enough so when tech salespeople knock on your door, you will ask some really hard questions.

If you are a tech provider and want to be included, contact Marcy at marcy@parkingtoday.com.


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Oh Please — “Yes, Uber is Really Killing the Parking Business”

We posted an article with the above headline at Park News just to show you how the main stream media picks things out of context and then doesn’t know enough to ask a question or two.

The article quoted the CEO of Ace Parking last year saying that numbers were down in hotel and valet operations. Well DUH. This is exactly the area we know is down due to ride sharing operations. Did they ask him about the rest of the parking business – of course not. That doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.

It makes sense that Uber and Lyft will affect valet operations, particularly at clubs and restaurants, and since business travelers now take Uber rather than rent cars, they don’t pay for parking at hotels, and of course off airport parking numbers are down for the same reasons.

But what about commercial parking operations, business complexes, high rise operations, municipal parking garages and on street parking? Anyone out there want to comment on that part of the parking business, which by the way, is the majority of our business.


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Joyce Newman

When you get a phone call at a time you normally don’t receive phone calls, from someone you don’t really know that well, and she says, please sit down, you know that the news isn’t good. I received that call last night.

A dear friend and colleague, Joyce Newman, had passed away suddenly. She had the flu. She had gone to the doctor on Monday. She was found by a neighbor who had come by to help her feed her cats. She was only 59.

Joyce was one of those people who made the world a little bit better, but you didn’t really know it. Her vocation was helping us at Parking Today, but her avocation was helping lost and abused animals, particularly cats. And she worked tirelessly and quietly on this project.

A few years ago she had an idea to set up a non profit to achieve her goal and she did it. One day she came to me and asked if she could work four days instead of five, so she could devote more time for her animals. Over the years she has saved countless feline lives, finding them good homes. And that includes at least four who have lived with us over the years.

Her love of animals didn’t stop with cats. I remember one incident where she spent a ton of money at the vets to save a sick mouse. We couldn’t believe it. She found it routine. She took a lot of friendly abuse for that one. She didn’t care.

When we moved last fall, Joyce simply loved her new office. She said she could see the world outside. She needed that. If there was a rainstorm, or a lot of thunder and lightning, she had a huge smile on her face. She and her boyfriend liked to travel to Kansas and hunt tornados. To each their own.

I joked that Joyce did everything at PT no one else did. She was in charge of internet updates, which she did daily. She handled all our social functions including all the fun at PIE, the Temecula group, and our travel arrangements. She kept her eye on things like the calendar in the magazine, the dealer and installer list, updated the information from local, regional, and international parking groups, a thankless task. I could go on but I’m sure I would leave many things out. I know that over the next few weeks, we will discover many things Joyce did. “Why is there no water in the cabinet? Was there a deposit today? Who picks up the mail?”

Joyce was frightened when she started her nonprofit. She was afraid she might fail. But she did it anyway. She jumped into the arena. She got a little bloody, but she persevered. And succeeded. My guess is that had she lived, she would have asked her hours be reduced again this year. She liked working at PT, but she loved her animals.

Her passing will leave us each, in our own way, slightly diminished.

Its a little too soon to know how to remember Joyce in a tangible way. She had no close relatives so her friends in the rescue world, her neighbors, and those of us at PT are sorting. I’ll keep you posted.


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Tony Jordan is in the News in Portland – Zoning Fine a Cost of Doing Business.

Portland, OR is no stranger to parking issues. Its embroiled in one now. According to the Willamette Week a local developer has ignored zoning restrictions and is causing considerable frustration in the Oregon city.

The developer built a garage and is paying a fine of $1400 a month to continue to use the facility. It’s a cost of doing business. Naturally the city is unhappy, but the loophole exists. They can raise the fine to $1000 a day but are waiting for more complaints. So far there have been none.

Watchdogs of city parking policy say the city’s rules are designed to reduce cars clogging downtown streets.

“They call for reductions in single-occupancy vehicles,” says Tony Jordan, founder of Portlanders for Parking Reform, a group trying to reduce car use.

“Adding any parking is allowing for more traffic that will make it harder to meet our goals.

So far the developer has paidaround $28,000 in fines, but has collected over $360,000 in parking fees. It is a bit of a tempest in a teapot since the developer originally had 8 permitted spaces and expanded it to 50.

Attend PIE 2018 and ask Tony just what the heck he thinks he is doing? He’s speaking and defending his ‘parking reform’ platform. Find out what you are up against. Get full info here.


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MaaS, Transportation, Technology and Parking – We are the Same Industry

There’s an article linked over at parknews.biz from the data giant Cisco. It is titled: Technology, Services Can Sustain Parking Companies.

Its told from tech companies’ point of view. Car population will be a quarter of what it is now in 12 years. The parking industry is hanging by a thread. Etc etc etc. Follow the link to it here.

It has some good ideas that you should be doing already. Nothing really out of the ordinary. But it got me to thinking. Since we are part of the transportation business, shouldn’t we be thinking about how we can relate to other transportation types.

More people travel by car than any other transportation activity (train, bus, plane, bicycle, foot, rapid transit) and most of these bump up against a parking facility at one point or another. Ride sharing and autonomous vehicles aside, that’s not going to change much. There is still the first mile last mile problem.

Our betters are trying to pack us into downtown areas, but only to a point. People will still live in one area and work in another, and with the exception of a very few compact downtowns, people will still have to get to the train, bus, airport at the beginning of their trip, and have to get from the station to their final destination at the other. That first/last mile problem isn’t going away.

You will be seeing more of the term MaaS or Mobility as a Service. Transportation officials sometimes forget the word ‘Service’ is a part of this. And as we parking folks know, ‘Service’ is important if you want to make a system work well and be used by the public.

Billion-dollar trains go unused in LA because they don’t go where people need them to go. There are no parking facilities at the stations so people can drive a short distance, leave their cars, and then ride the train for longer distances. Then at the other end, they need to deal with that last mile.  Consider:

  • Maybe off airport lots could be 40 miles from the airport (near a train station).
  • Rideshare, Uber and Lyft and shuttle pick ups could be in your garage near a downtown station.
  • Should multi use facilities including parking be developed near existing metro stations?
  • What is the real desire, get cars off the freeway or out of downtown altogether?

Wouldn’t you like to be involved in those discussions? You ignore it at your peril.


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Smart City? I’m not sure it’s possible…

We have posted an article over at parknews.biz with the headline:

Looking for a Smart City? Grab Your Skis

Fair enough. Caught your attention. Betcha thought it was about a ‘Smart City’ in Vail or Park City. Well you are flat out wrong.

This is an article about how ski resorts use data collected about their customers to adjust everything from lift ticket prices to which ski runs to plow. They use that data to help their skiers get to the resort, find places to stay, purchase high end equipment, know how long the lines are, and virtually (get it…) everything else about their experience on the mountain.

The resorts put together the ability to collect the data and then hired analysts to slice and dice it so they could gain more information about their businesses, make them run more efficiently, and guess what, increase the bottom line. You will find similar operations in successful shopping centers, department stores, doctor’s offices, airlines, and just about any other major business you can name.

What do they all have in common? They want to make a profit and run more efficiently.

Profit and Efficiency aren’t really watch words of governments at any level. Oh they talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Here is a paragraph from the article:

No one yet knows quite what to make of the “smart city” concept, and whether it’s worth what big companies like Alphabet, Siemens, Ford, IBM, and Amazon would like to charge places to use their tech—in money and in knowledge. But if officials want to get to know the concept a bit better, the wins and the tradeoffs, perhaps they should head to the mountains.

I have been saying for years that the Smart City tsunami is being driven by the tech companies, not by the cities who are hungering for data.

See the difference? The ski resorts like the one interviewed in the article wanted to fix a problem and increase their profits, so they set about to design programs to do so, then reached out to tech companies to automate them.

Cities are standing around smiling about being smart, all the while feeding the coffers of Google, Siemens, et al. Don’t get me wrong, there are some smart city managers who are hiring folks who understand how to analyze the data and are using it to manage their processes, but my guess is that they are few and far between. (You can meet some of them at PIE 2018 in a few weeks.)

Those departments within the city like police, fire, water, and others that actually deliver services, have been collecting and using data for years.

I expect that by the time I get home my electricity and water will be ‘accidentally’ be cut off and no one will know why, except the guy who read this at city hall.



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Parking Boot Scam Raises Questions

It has been reported that parking boot scammers have struck in Austin, Texas. The Austin Transportation Department has been contacted by residents who believe their cars were illegally detained, says kuve.com.

In the scam, officials said a warning was posted on the vehicle directing the owner to pay a fee by calling a private phone number. Officials said they tried to call the number, but no one picked up.

The article doesn’t explain how the scam victims managed to free their vehicles, how much it cost them or who retrieved the ransom. It does offer a phone number for anyone who thinks they are being or gave been scammed. It also provides an image of a legitimate parking violation warning from the city.

The plot thickens, however, because city officials also commented that booting and towing are legal on private property in the state of Texas if proper signage is in place. The people who say they’ve been scammed might have been mistaken about their right to park where they parked as well as the consequences of parking where they parked. It remains to be seen.

I thought I’d heard of every parking scam out there. This one seems unlikely because I don’t think parking boots are cheap. Scammers are more likely to go for low-overhead deception than a racket that requires an investment up front. I also think the part of the scheme where they have to return to the scene of the crime to gather a payout is another disincentive.

I’m curious, but I won’t hold my breath for a follow up article. I say once police have gathered a few more facts, they’ll find the scammers acted legally.

Read the article here.

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Do you recognize anyone here? VC Money and the Result

I asked David Teed with Diogenes Capital and the Temecula Group to comment on the fact that so much venture capital is flowing into the industry now. I noted that a number of companies that had received VC money had been purchased by either equity funds or major firms like BMW and Volkswagen. His response is in italics, with my input.

Venture capital flowing into the parking, transit and wayfinding tech space has been accelerating in recent years. Parking had been slower than other sectors to tech adoption and predictive technologies but is now catching up fast – encouraged by the obvious connections between the data generated (or potentially generated) by parking capacity and availability, smart city initiatives and ultimately the seeming utopia of autonomous vehicles.  

The dynamic you refer to is the natural eco system for start-ups in the US.  

  1. Entrepreneur founds a business based on a good idea. Usually starts with their own money, or funds through friends and family.
  2. Entrepreneur needs capital to fund the startup and early growth phase – attracts seed capital and early VC funds – for which he/she gives up equity in the company. VC companies are not in this for their health. They negotiate a percentage of ownership in exchange for the money. The Entrepreneur now becomes a partner, and not always a majority partner.
  3. Additional growth funding is then provided by later VC funds – more equity ownership is given up (by entrepreneur) The Entrepreneur is now a minority ownership but exercises operational control of the business by virtue of founder status and business leadership (for so long as he/she has the confidence of the investors). Founders are often sidelined in their own companies when the VC investors conclude that the start-up needs a business savvy leader rather than a technologist at the helm. After the third round of funding they inevitably a minority partner, meaning they no longer control the future of the company.
  4. As the business becomes more self-sustaining / profitable it is now attractive to private equity which can be used to fund next growth phase and/or acquisitions – more equity ownership is given up by entrepreneur. By now, the entrepreneur/founder finds that they have very little equity left percentage wise, but as you see below, they own a very small piece of a much larger pie.
  5. Several things have now happened – early investors would like to take their profits and private equity is looking for its own exit (given most PE funds have a 3 to 5 year hold period) VC money wants a quick turn around. They are used to getting in and getting out with a large profit.
  6. Also entrepreneur now owns a much smaller piece of the larger business (often by now a relatively small piece) and is questioning whether he should take his money out of this deal and start his own company (again). If the company was originally worth $1 million and the entrepreneur held 100% and is now worth $50million but the founder has only 10%, the value he would receive on a sale would be $5 million. Certainly more than the original $1million, even though he only held 10%.
  7. The most obvious take-out for each of these investors / entrepreneur, is the industry buyer who can pay more (for synergies) and drive scale of business to the next level – some entrepreneurs stay on for this next level while others take the money.

What has happened by the third step is that the entrepreneur, formerly the CEO, and fully in charge is now an employee answering to a board most likely appointed by the VC or PE fund. They may hang on in order to grow the company as much as possible, so their small percentage will be worth more.

Their ego may not allow them to work under these conditions, so they leave and use the money to start another company. Others may find that the additional funding puts them in a position to do as they will, perhaps run the R and D operation and let the company continue to grow and prosper as they do what they did when the company started, create, invent, and add to the overall welfare of the organization.

Does either of these sound like anyone you know?


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Here’s Some Kool-Aid. Be careful what you drink

Boy are we gullible. People say things and we just believe them. Its going to rain tomorrow, Hillary will be elected, The flight is on time, Aliens Ate New York. You know what I mean.

Geoff Nesnow, writing for Hult International Business School, has crafted a piece entitled 73 Mind Blowing Implication of Self Driving Cars and Trucks. From my point of view, he has made up 73 theories, but we will all believe them since they sound reasonable and all things technical are reasonable.

Actually, we believe them because no one is there to counter the statements. Over the next few weeks I’m going to take a few of the “implications” and try to parse them a bit for you. Let’s see how it goes

People won’t own their own cars. Transport will be delivered as a service from companies who own fleets of self-driving vehicles. There are so many technical, economic, safety advantages to the transportation-as-a-service that this change may come much faster than most people expect. Owning a vehicle as an individual will become a novelty for collectors and maybe competitive racers.

Wow! This is something that could be extended to almost anything. Why own a house, a stove, a TV? You could rent them all. It’s like leasing a car. You pay a monthly fee and at the end of a few years you have nothing. And if you don’t think that all the costs of ownership including fuel, maintenance, parking, insurance, depreciation, and the like isn’t built in, you are crazy. In addition, you are paying for the profit of the TaaS provider. I have owned my car for 12 years. Haven’t made a payment for seven. Runs great. I love it, plus its MINE. Am I prepared to live my life at the whim of others.

Software/technology companies will own more of the world’s economy as companies like Uber, Google and Amazon turn transportation into a pay-as-you-go service. Software will indeed eat this world. Over time, they’ll own so much data about people, patterns, routes and obstacles that new entrants will have huge barriers to enter the market

It seems that he believes that all innovation, individual creativity and desire to succeed will just be snuffed out. Will there be no other industries that will be started? Who is going to clean these things? How is the package from an autonomous vehicle UPS truck going to get from the curb to your apartment on the second floor? Do you mean that kids in school won’t be dreaming of new and better ways to…do everything. Transporters, food replicators, planes that fly 2000 MPH. Hotels in orbit or on the moon, time machines, cold fusion, warp drive, flying cars, cure for the common cold. Someone has to invent them, build them, maintain them, etc. It won’t be Google.

Without government intervention (or some sort of organized movement), there will be a tremendous transfer of wealth to a very small number of people who own the software, battery/power manufacturing, vehicle servicing and charging/power generation/maintenance infrastructure. There will be massive consolidation of companies serving these markets as scale and efficiency will become even more valuable. Cars (perhaps they’ll be renamed with some sort-of-clever acronym) will become like the routers that run the Internet — most consumers won’t know or care who made them or who owns them.

Really. So we will all become sheeple. No individuality. We don’t care whether we are sitting on plastic or Fine Corinthian Leather. Does he think that there isn’t a supply chain for building a Chevy? Hundreds of small companies (maybe 1000s) make different parts that GM buys. Why would that change.  Elon Musk is learning quickly how difficult it is to build half a million pre ordered cars. It takes more than a village.

Vehicle designs will change radically — vehicles won’t need to withstand crashes in the same way, all vehicles will be electric (self-driving + software + service providers = all electric). They may look different, come in very different shapes and sizes, maybe attach to each other in some situations. Electric vehicles with no driver controls will require 1/10th or fewer the number of parts (perhaps even 1/100th) and thus will be quicker to produce and require much less labor. There may even be designs with almost no moving parts (other than wheels and motors, obviously).

Don’t be too sure. I’m not certain I want to ride in a vehicle travelling 60 miles an hour that would crack like an egg if it was in an accident. And do you really think that the folks that designed Amazon software and charged you $100 instead of $10 for that widget you bought have such a perfect record that there will be no accidents.

OK  That’s four – There are 69 more to go. I may not have cogent thoughts on every one, but more to come. I know that some of my responses extend beyond transportation, but as you will see, he posits that transportation is such a large part of our lives, this change will affect everything.




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Autonomous cars and Unintended Consequences

No one has been able to repeal the law of unintended consequences. No matter how hard we try, if something can go wrong, it will. Remember, Murphy was an optimist.

There’s an article from Quartz Media posted today on parknews.biz that talks about philosophers building ‘ethical algorithms’ to address moral problems with self driving cars. Just think about it, the same mind set that keeps machines running in a factory, or allows you to get money from an ATM is going to decide whether or not you live or die in an accident. I can hardly wait.

Consider the “Trolly Problem.”

The field has been particularly focused over the past few years on one particular philosophical problem posed by self-driving cars: They are a real-life enactment of a moral conundrum known as the Trolley Problem. In this classic scenario, a trolley is going down the tracks towards five people. You can pull a lever to redirect the trolley, but there is one person stuck on the only alternative track. The scenario exposes the moral tension between actively doing versus allowing harm: Is it morally acceptable to kill one to save five, or should you allow five to die rather than actively hurt one?

Though the Trolley Problem sounds farfetched, autonomous vehicles will be unable to avoid comparable scenarios. If a car is in a situation where any action will put either the car passenger or someone else in danger—if there’s a truck crash ahead and the only options are to swerve into a motorbike or off a cliff—then how should the car be programmed to respond?

I’m sure Mr.Spock would have a “Good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one” answer but Kirk may disagree. In the second scenario above, is the car going to save your life, or the life of the motorcycle driver? Somehow I think I want to make that decision, no matter which way I would swerve.

There aren’t just ‘life or death’ issues. Consider these posited by a prof at Cal Poly:

Patrick Lin, philosophy professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, is one of the few philosophers who’s examining the ethics of self-driving cars outside the Trolley Problem. There are concerns about advertising (could cars be programed to drive past certain shops shops?), liability (who is responsible if the car is programmed to put someone at risk?), social issues (drinking could increase once drunk driving isn’t a concern), and privacy (“an autonomous car is basically big brother on wheels,” Lin said.) There may even be negative consequences of otherwise positive results: If autonomous cars increase road safety and fewer people die on the road, will this lead to fewer organ transplants?

Autonomous cars will likely have massive unforeseen effects. “It’s like predicting the effects of electricity,” Lin said. “Electricity isn’t just the replacement for candles. Electricity caused so many things to come to life—institutions, cottage industries, online life. Ben Franklin could not have predicted that, no one could have predicted that. I think robotics and AI are in a similar category.”

I’m sure of only one thing: Unintended Consequences will happen. And I’m sure we won’t like it.



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