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Autonomous Vehicles and Unintended Consequences

Our betters have been telling us that living in cities is a better way to live and that we need to be ready for the move to 700 square foot apartments and a lifestyle filled with urban parks, walking to work and school, and the hustle and bustle and stress of city life.

However some have mused that self driving cars (which would change the face of the parking industry and the way people get from place to place) might just change that urban utopia.

It seems that people would move to the city because living in the burbs and working in the city is difficult and therefore folks would move to those high rise apartments and love it. But what about the contrarian point of view.

What if autonomous vehicles made the trip back and forth so easy (no rushing to the train or bus, no schedule to keep, no hike from the station to the job) that people would find living in the burbs actually preferable to living in the city. The reduced traffic on the freeway would mean the trip to work would be a half hour rather than and hour and a half. You could sleep, catch up on email, or plan your day rather than fight traffic and crowds. Not a bad way to start (or end) the day.

Oklahoma City is the largest (in square miles) city in the US. Its outgoing mayor has been thinking about this issue as his city is the poster child of suburban sprawl.  He wonders if it gets easier to get to work and live in the burbs, why wouldn’t people do just that. After all, particularly if you have a family, having a few square feet where the kids can safely play and neighborhoods filled with trees and lawns might not be so bad afterall, particularly when your commute to work just got easier. PLUS autonomous vehicles would make carpools really easy.

In places like Oak City and my home here in LA where the size of the place has made public transportation difficult, self driving cars solve a lot of problems. However, in doing so, they may also mean that people can remain in the burbs and still work comfortably in the city.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has not been repealed.


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Death by Parking, the Published Book…

We have taken three of the episodes of my parking mystery story, “Death by Parking” and turned them into book form. It turns out that if you know what you are doing, this is not such a difficult process.  I don’t know what I’m doing, but Carla Green at Clarity Design Works does.

After her kind prodding and editing and fixing, she assisted in getting the book published on Amazon, and VOILA, we have Death by Parking Book One including the first episode, “The Laundry,” a middle episode “The Phantom” and the last episode (So far) “The Rendezvous.”

I am amazed at how time flies — I wrote the first words of “Death” in 2004:

A ringing in the distance stirred me from a deep sleep. It took a moment before I could determine whether it was the phone or the door. It was the phone. It was still ringing after I checked the time, 7 AM and I padded to the kitchen to silence it. ‘Manning’ I muttered. I don’t do very well before my first cup of coffee…

If you want more, its available on Amazon, in both print and kindle versions. You can find it here. Based on the number of sales to date, “Death” is number 388,821 on Amazon’s list. No where to go but up.

It was a serial in Parking Today, but I find it makes a tad more sense if you read it in book form. The need for reminders as to who is who and where we were a month ago is gone. I corrected a couple of egregious errors ( little things like the murderer couldn’t have possibly done it) and smoothed out some rough spots.

As Astrid was kind enough to write in her review in June’s Parking Today:

Its a journey that just like the protagonist’s and author’s beloved scotch from the Isle of Islay,  will taste tough, rough, peaty with just a touch of the sea, and most of all, will taste like a good time.”


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The Future of Parking

This seminar at PIE 2017 had standing room only.  People were queuing in the hallway trying to get in.  I didn’t go. But I was struck with the interest.

Why were literally hundreds of attendees at a trade exhibition so concerned about what the future had to offer. I noticed that most were under 50. Why?

I’m told that we go through three phases in our working lives. First, we are indestructible. We start out and if a job doesn’t work out, there’s always time.  Then we are focused. We have families and bills to pay, so we settle in and work. Then we are in the home stretch. We see the finish line. So we coast.

I’m sure you know someone in each of these phases.  Why were those under 50 so concerned about the future of parking? They weren’t coasting, they are still working and concerned. Maybe they should be.

I spoke with someone this week who told me that he felt that parking operators were becoming obsolete, that with automation, use of credit cards, LPR, AVI, parking reservations, and the like, the need for traditional parking management in garages was becoming less and less.  The concept of allowing parkers to communicate with a central office, and have all aspects of the garage monitored off site meant fewer and fewer staff on site.

But as I looked around the exhibit hall, I began to wonder if operators were the only ones that could be experiencing a change. Were the dozen or so PARCS manufacturers, the half dozen ticket printers, the gate manufacturers…where they set to become the buggy whip makers of our generation.

What will the parking facility of a decade from now look like? Will there be refrigerator sized pay on foot machines, ticket spitters, card readers, gates, and the rest? Or with parking reservations, prepayment, credit cards, license plate recognition, and the like, will there be a need to collect cash, issue a ticket, and have gates to control access?

Will the changes come quickly?  I asked my friend how long it had been since he started receiving ‘chip’ cards to replace his mag stripe cards. Less than two years.  And now, how many places can you go (except filling stations) where mag stripe cards are even accepted. Change is coming at light speed.

If the parking reservation companies have their way, I will make a reservation to park my car and pay in advance. My license plate will be scanned on entry and exit. There will be no need for any expensive hardware in the lanes. Fantasy? I’m not so sure.

Are those people crowding into the “Future of Parking” seminar worried about their future, curious, or simply hedging their bets. Its probably a combination of all three.

Now is not the time to run for the bunkers, but it might be time to rethink our business models. Perhaps operators could look more to marketing, providing concierge services, and space management, maybe equipment providers need to rethink their business models and sell information and services, rather than hardware.

My crystal ball is still hazy, but it clears a bit as each day goes by. And what is see is change.


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Dead People Hogging Parking Spots

A recent audit shows that there are at least 35,000 dead people in California with valid handicapped placards. The Sacramento Bee, sacbee.com, reports that when Department of Motor Vehicle handicapped placard records are compared to a federal database of deceased individuals, thousands of matches show up. Not only that, other data shows that thousands of handicapped placard holders are aged 100 or older.

Based on the dates of birth provided by applicants, they determined that nearly 26,000 of the people holding permanent and temporary placards were 100 years or older as of June 30, 2016. Yet they said California’s estimated centenarian population as of 2014 was only about one-third of that number.

Other interesting numbers include the fact that in Del Norte County, the ratio of disabled placards and plates to registered cars and trucks is close to 5 to 1. Lots of handicapped people in Del Norte county.

Auditors are asking the state legislature to allow the DMV to compare handicapped placard holder rolls to the Social Security Administration’s database. They are also recommending requiring people who apply for handicapped parking privileges to show proof of their legal name and age.

Excuse me while I digest the news that these practices are not already in place. I know that just because something makes perfect sense doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen. There are plenty of reasons why we let dead people keep their handicapped parking privileges – mainly faulty procedures and limited funds. But we can’t deny that the deficits in this system are directly responsible for the numerous occurrences of abuse.

Read the article here.

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Smart Parking – Can We Get a Seat at the Smart City Table

If one sniffs around Google and enter the right words, you will find a plethora of information about “Smart Parking.” Its an off shoot of “Smart Cities” and provides a springboard for Parking Pros in cities to secure a place at the “Smart” table in their community.  The following is from a blog by a software firm “Plasma:”  Ten benefits of “Smart Parking”

  • 1. Optimized parking – Users find the best spot available, saving time, resources and effort. The parking lot fills up efficiently and space can be utilized properly by commercial and corporate entities.
  • 2. Reduced traffic – Traffic flow increases as fewer cars are required to drive around in search of an open parking space.
  • 3. Reduced pollution – Searching for parking burns around one million barrels of oil a day. An optimal parking solution will significantly decrease driving time, thus lowering the amount of daily vehicle emissions and ultimately reducing the global environmental footprint.
  • 4. Enhanced User Experience – A smart parking solution will integrate the entire user experience into a unified action. Driver’s payment, spot identification, location search and time notifications all seamlessly become part of the destination arrival process.
  • 5. New Revenue Streams – Many new revenue streams are possible with smart parking technology. For example, lot owners can enable tiered payment options dependent on parking space location. Also, reward programs can be integrated into existing models to encourage repeat users.
  • 6. Integrated Payments and POS – Returning users can replace daily, manual cash payments with account invoicing and application payments from their phone. This could also enable customer loyalty programs and valuable user feedback.
  • 7. Increased Safety – Parking lot employees and security guards contain real-time lot data that can help prevent parking violations and suspicious activity. License plate recognition cameras can gather pertinent footage. Also, decreased spot-searching traffic on the streets can reduce accidents caused by the distraction of searching for parking.
  • 8. Real-Time Data and Trend Insight – Over time, a smart parking solution can produce data that uncovers correlations and trends of users and lots. These trends can prove to be invaluable to lot owners as to how to make adjustments and improvements to drivers.
  • 9. Decreased Management Costs – More automation and less manual activity saves on labor cost and resource exhaustion.
  • 10. Increased Service and Brand Image – A seamless experience can really skyrocket a corporate or commercial entities brand image to the user. Whether the destination is a retail store, an airport or a corporate business office, visitors will surely be impressed with the cutting edge technology and convenience factors.

A buddy of mine focused on 4, 6, and 9. They spell out the WIIFM (Whats in it for me) as it relates to the consumer (Parker) and the organization that owns the parking facilities, be they municipal, university, airport, or private.

If a smart parking program can make a mundane parking experience one that can be relished, make the payment process seamless AND increase loyalty, plus decrease costs, what’s not to like.

The question is, frankly, how do we get that seat at the table.  Do we hitchhike with ‘Smart City” companies like Microsoft, Conduent, SAP, Cisco, and the rest, or do we take a leadership position by selling the benefits of “Smart Parking” as listed above.

It would seem to me that we can solidify our position by taking a lead. Unlike utilities, trash, police and fire which may benefit greatly from Smart City concepts but reflect little to the consumer (water still flows, police still show up, etc)  a “Smart Parking Program” will show consumers true benefits that are not only measurable, but also observable.

Politicians will love that.



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The Future – It’s Not Bad to Hedge Your Bets

Shopping center magnet Rick Caruso in Los Angeles is certain that autonomous vehicles are coming, and he thinks sooner rather than later. In this article featured on parknews.biz, he is quoted as saying:

“This isn’t a fleeting moment, some interesting blip that will come and go,” he said. “This will change traffic in L.A. in a very positive way.”

He’s talking about autonomous vehicles greatly reducing the number of parking spaces required for major projects such as the “Grove” in Los Angeles.  He says that today, his project receives literally thousands of visitors coming through their ride share (Read that Uber and Lyft) portal daily. Those relate to thousands fewer cars parking in his huge 10 story garage.

He and his ilk see self driving cars basically replacing parking in the next decade. So he is planning for the future. His garages have level floors, not ramps, so they can be converted to shops, offices, and apartments. Some are built with 13 foot ceilings so the infrastructure (HVAC, Plumbing etc) can be added for build outs when the parking is no longer needed.

“As you go above that (the first few floors), it gets more complicated,” he acknowledged. The towering garages “may become obsolete and have to come down and be replaced.”

Is all this going to happen in the next decade?  George Orwell wrote “1984” in 1950. His prediction was that his dystopian society was coming in 30 years. Here we are nearly 75 years later and well, look around.  The 21st century Los Angeles of Blade Runner Fame looks nothing like reality.

We like to believe that things happen faster than they really do. Caruso may be right. Its not a bad thing to plan for an uncertain future. We ignore it at our peril.  Note that Caruso isn’t not building garages, he’s planning them so they can be converted “IF” predictions come true.

Its not bad to hedge your bets.


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Disruption Comes to Parking — Bring it on!

After participating in two major trade events in the past month I have been reflecting on a theme that wasn’t there in both cases. It was an undercurrent. While most attendees were happy with the knowledge they received, I noted at PIE that the seminar that had people lined up out into the hallway was “The Future of Parking.”

Parking pros where looking at their future. The young guns were wondering but not too concerned. They knew that if the company or organization they worked within changed or failed, they could get another job.  Easy Peasy.

However as the discussion moved to those with a bit more experience, the feelings were more like “OMG, Now What?”  Was there panic in the room? No.  I would describe it more as concern. Just what the heck is going on?

Disruption seems to the the name of the game. When more and more venture capital money comes into the industry, change is not periodic, it is endemic. VC managers are looking for return, and quick. Five and 10 year projections aren’t considered. “Let’s put some lipstick on this pig and sell it to Google” is what we hear more and more.

Companies are buying companies. New CEO’s are showing up almost daily. Every other story is about “Smart Cities” or “Smart Parking” or “Big Data.” The industry is changing at light speed. Its no wonder that our parking industry employees are stressed. Change isn’t coming, its here.

Autonomous Vehicles, connected cars, smart phones, parking guidance, gate less parking, ANPR, smart cities, on line reservations, Lyft, Uber, pick a disruptor. All these have potential to disrupt a portion of our industry. Some, like Uber, already have.

It seems to me that we have a choice.  We can continue to do what we have been doing. Plow that furrow. Produce the same old same old.  Those of a “certain age” can hunker down and keep the eye on the finish line and pray for the best. Or….

Or we can embrace the disruption. Become a disruptor ourselves.  Of course there is a risk. Some disruption isn’t going to work. Some are simply buzz words that will come and go like the breezes of a welcome spring. However many will turn our industry on its ear.

Can we see what will change and what won’t?  Are ticket dispensers and gates “so 1990’s?” Is the “Smart City” trend just a term in search of a definition or is it a wave of the future that is leaving parking behind? Are on street meters and Pay and Display the coming thing or just a bridge to a ‘connected car’ that pays for parking automatically? Have we really thought about it. Or are we just issuing that next purchase order because our predecessor did.

In the next few days you will receive a questionnaire from Parking Today asking some hard questions about our industry and the “Smart City” trend. Your answers will help direct us in our editorial policy, and in the types of seminars we hold next Spring at PIE in Chicago.

I have read a number of reports on Smart Cities talking about what municipalities are doing world wide and shockingly, parking is mentioned only tangentially, if its mentioned at all. Are we being left in the dust? Will be we swept along like sticks in a river with no input as to where we are going. My sense is yes.

If we don’t act quickly, become involved in change and demand a seat at the table, we will have no control over our destiny and the disruptors will have won.

Our only choice is to become part of the disruption.


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Why Chicago?

The Parking Industry Exhibition 2018 will be held March 26-29 and return to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. We select the Chicago area for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s easy to reach from all parts of the country, less than a three hour flight from everywhere.

The Hyatt Regency O’Hare is one of the few properties in the US that has enough room to house the exhibition, seminars, and attendees all in one place, no hiking blocks from the hotel to the exhibit hall.

The venue and its surroundings are familiar. Many high-end restaurants are nearby, and attendees and exhibitors alike love the “red bar” at the Hyatt for networking and business meetings. After all, that’s why you come to PIE, isn’t it? This is about your profession, not about your vacation.

Nevertheless, if you wish to play a bit, a short train ride away are the museums, concert halls, parks, and jazz clubs of America’s Second City.

If you want to know what PIE looks like, follow this link. See you next Spring.


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It’s Here — Parkageddon OMG

I just read an article posted by Astrid over in parknews.biz from the “Economist” that breathlessly proclaimed that we were in a ‘Parkageddon.’ Cities were clogged by cars parking everywhere, destroying civic life as we know it.

Seems the writer somehow tripped onto the idea that parking was too cheap, and that some places it is free. This he says, causes too much use of vehicles and if only we could charge market rates, people would get out of their cars and take public transportation. Don Shoup call your office.

The lengthy piece continues bringing up self driving vehicles and how they will solve the parking issues by describing a family who used autonomous cars “Starting in the morning, one car could take a child to school, a city worker to his office, a student to her lecture” but I might add mom to her job. So that family would use four cars each morning. But then they would have to park somewhere during the day until they were needed to return that family to the bosom of its home.

As the Economist clutched its pearls and headed for the fainting couch, I am reminded that The Donald (Shoup that is) has been preaching about this issue for what, a decade. (Actually a dozen years.) It’s like this issue suddenly arose where no issue existed before.

I wonder sometimes about reporters and editors. Do they live in silos and never venture out into the world? Do they drive, park, and actually participate in what one might call ‘real life?’ One would think they might notice that cars are everywhere and it costs money to park them, but not really that much. Well this is the group that brings us “fake news” and stories about being kidnapped by aliens. Why am I surprised they missed parkageddon?


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A Discussion on Smart Cities

I was favored to spend some time at PARKEX in the UK last week with the senior staff at IPS, and in a different meeting, with with a group  from Conduent. While these are different companies, IPS supplying hardware and back office management for on street enforcement, and Conduent providing a suite of services for cities, focusing primarily on collections, the concept of Smart Cities was not foreign to them

IPS spoke at length about how many cities are already ‘smart’ but their issues seem to be correlating the information they already have. Water meters, electric meters, parking meters, street lights, traffic signals, sensors, even locators for police and emergency vehicles all exist in one form or another in cities across the world. In the parking arena, many companies provide dashboards where parking data and be gathered and reviewed. “Our industry has been ‘smart’ for some time, but the term hasn’t been applied.”

The Conduent group commented that while its true that the information exists, many cities aren’t ‘smart’ enough to be able to extract the data they need.  In fact, that is often the biggest problem, a city has the data, but doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to use it. “Often” they posited,  “cities put the cart before the horse and go on a headlong project to ‘slice and dice’ the data, but have no real goal as to what they are going to do with it.”

I noted that a keynote speaker we had a few years ago at PIE made the outlandish statement that often such projects are “politically driven” and exist to provide a basis on which mayors and council folk can build their reputations. But as soon as that project’s support changes, it loses backing, and simply fades away.

He was talking about so called ‘green’ projects in the Northwest. The administration embarked on a city wide project to turn their schools green. So far so good.  They built a new school that met all the green requirements. The Mayor was on the front row cutting the ribbon. Then the administration changed and the new mayor had a different agenda. The school project was allowed to simply die from lack of interest.

To create a smart city, one has to embark on a long term, extremely complicated and expensive project. Technology must be selected, and data must be analyzed.  I read in Parking Today this month that hiring for those positions is becoming more and more difficult. What if I collected the data and there was no one there to use it.

So a city begins a ten year project to become ‘smart.’ Remembering that this is not like an airport, which everyone can see the changes and participate in the results of the project.  “Smart Cities” require shepherding and vision. They require infrastructure and technology. And often the results cannot be readily seen by the citizenry.  It’s easy for the politicians who were elected promoting this vision to be distracted by minor worries like potholes, schools, fire departments, hospitals, police and the like. Distractions that cost money and require attention.

Wise people these “Smart City” folk.

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