Celebrating Learning with the Warren Reynolds Scholarship at PIE 2024


Celebrating Learning with the Warren Reynolds Scholarship at PIE 2024

I was asked to speak at the 2024 Parking Industry Expo “PIE” conference in beautiful Schaumberg, Illinois, and was able to attend by receiving the Warren Reynolds Scholarship. Without this scholarship, I would have never been able to attend this informative conference, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. PIE Expo featured many different seminars from all aspects and parts of the parking industry. From boot camp seminars, new innovative technologies, parking perspectives, and data collection to “Accelerate! The Parking Innovation Pitch Competition”. This conference had many vendors and parking personnel to talk with, laugh with, and commiserate with.


Parking Today and PIE’s CEO John van Horn spoke about how he started this franchise by ultimately inheriting and losing his father’s printing company. After selling his father’s company before bankruptcy and then working for both Parcs and Secom, he saw an opportunity to create Parking Today and, eventually, PIE. John wanted to create a single place where everyone could obtain information about all things related to parking. Even though many had told him his parking magazine would not last three months, 28 years later, Parking Today is still going strong. 


Now, with health in mind, John is passing his torch of PIE and Parking Today to Kevin Uhlenhaker. Kevin has two decades of parking experience and a background in the technological industry. He understands the needs and wants of this industry. Kevin’s plans are to improve and expand PIE and Parking Today above and beyond what has already been accomplished. Not only will he continue to publish Parking Today every month, but he will change and update its format, including long-term information. That way, the magazine is never outdated. Any current and short-term information will be exclusively included and featured on their website.


One of the best quotes I heard during this conference was made by the new CEO, Kevin, who stated, “Parking is a utility; it works best if your customers don’t think about it. The best parking experience is something no one thinks about. It just works.” Thinking about this concept makes sense; if it is truly easy and simple, then your customers will have no problems paying for parking, there would be no backlash, no questions on how to pay, and no more “your kiosk doesn’t work” excuses when it is user error, nine times out of ten. Streamlining your parking process should be everyone’s number one priority.


Another example he gave was that no one complains at Disneyland about their parking lot. Their system is so efficient that the customers really have nothing to complain about. We should all aim for a simple yet effective system that everyone of all ages can use. The only complaints I ever heard at Disneyland (and I was a former pass holder for years and went often) concerned the parking line and a price hike. No one mentioned the process itself, likely because Disney has parking employees who process your transactions for you. However, they do get their customers through this process efficiently, and it takes less than a minute per vehicle. I agree with Kevin’s sentiment: make parking as simple as possible. 


The seminars at PIE addressed a wide range of topics, including current parking technology, LPRs and their future, ground sensors and wayfinding systems, systems that can bridge multiple parking programs together, customer service in the digital future, disruptive technology, data collection, client retention, customer surveys, EV charging woes, certification, compliance and conversion and everyone’s favorite subject: the procurement process. 


For the procurement panel, it was discussed that we, as parking municipalities, need to start planning long-term, as parking is here to stay. We need to have a preventative maintenance budget and plan long-term for changes in technology. If a department has trouble getting something approved by procurement, data helps back up your needs. This data can come not only from your own program but from others as well. We need to connect with one another and share proposals, ideas, and plans. Chances are, some other program has tried it, and it either worked (and will help prove its usefulness to your procurement department) or it failed. In this case, knowing that it failed will save your department time and money. 


Of the three different frontline panels during this conference, all were very informative and refreshing in that cities across the nation are having the same issues: employee retention, kiosk issues (user error or dated parts), multi-departmental woes, loading zones and big rigs (need I say more), to program transfers and the problems they can cause. Some parking municipalities stated their lessons learned to warn other programs from making the same mistake. For example, one coastal department highlighted its consistent connection problems related to kiosks located below sea level. The most common refrain heard was the absolute need to invest in data collection to start or maintain your parking program. Data collection will help with stakeholder engagement and infrastructure upkeep. Centralized management, implemental changes, and gaining industry expertise are keys to a successful program. One of the funniest quotes from a program came from one of their downtown business owners, stating, “If they can’t afford to pay a buck for parking, I don’t want them in my store.” Can we have all downtown business owners think this way? 


We all understand that the parking industry is more than just writing citations; we connect with people first and foremost. But how do we change culture? How do we change the public perspective on paid parking and parking management? This is an ongoing argument and an unknown answer that we all need to ask ourselves and resolve. The public continues to see our industry as a negative, but often, we are a light to someone’s darkest day. 


There is always a perception versus reality within the other branches of your city/business, and we also need to help encourage their frame of mind to change. We are not only here to address bad parking behavior, but we also would rather educate customers so they do not make the same mistake twice. Everyone can misread a sign or forget to pay; everyone has done this at least once in their life. 


From parking perspectives to new innovative technology leading the way in the parking industry, PIE helps bridge all aspects of parking into one convenient package. With panels about frontline perspectives, backend processes, advancements in software or kiosks to parking sensors, and new wayfinding ideas, this conference has a little bit of everything for every program size and shape. 


Whether you manage a parking program with 500 spaces or a program with thousands of spaces, or whether you have a garage or street parking only, we all experience the same day-to-day troubles and successes in our jobs. PIE Expo enables you to connect further with everyone in this industry, and everyone needs to connect with one another to really succeed in this industry. 


I would like to thank the board members of SWPTA again for awarding me this scholarship so that I could attend this event. Not only did I gain a lot more knowledge and insight into the parking industry and networked with other programs and businesses, but I have shared everything I have learned during this conference with my team as well. It has truly helped our small program grow. 


Heather Frantz, is the Lead Parking Aide for the ParkFlag program at the City of Flagstaff, Ariz. She can be reached at heather.frantz@flagstaffaz.gov.

Article contributed by:
Heather Frantz, City of Flagstaff
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