Driving in Circles: If I’m Lost, Imagine Your Guests!

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Driving in Circles: If I’m Lost, Imagine Your Guests!

I’m lost. And late.

It’s a sun filled, spring day in southern California, and I’m on a road trip visiting a few new customers.

The campuses blur together.

A successful parking experience is one that you don’t hear about.

Greek characters adorn rows of student housing. Beautiful buildings house atriums and lecture halls. Expansive concrete walkways connect everything.

The mood is cheery. In the grass, students lounge and sunbathe. No one seems rushed. It’s peaceful.

I miss school. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t much of a student.

I call Eric and explain that I’m lost. After much back and forth, and driving in circles, I finally made it to his office for our meeting.

I didn’t realize it then, but this was a lightbulb moment.

I didn’t miss my exit or take a wrong turn. I couldn’t find my spot even though I was invited by the parking department. And I work in parking!

That’s when I really learned, through personal experience, how challenging it is to manage guest and visitor parking on campuses.

Whether it’s a department guest or a special event, universities host tens of thousands of visitors annually. Lots of those guests drive to campus and need a place to park.

Ensuring a successful guest parking experience is a major challenge. Between traffic demand management (i.e., where to put parkers), guest communication (i.e., parking instructions), and operational requirements, guest parking has a lot of moving parts. 

At IPMI’s 2023 show in Texas, I sat in on a university round table session. One of the pain points brought up by the group was managing department reservations.

In our experience, universities manage guest parking by issuing coupon codes that can be redeemed at pay stations or on mobile apps. Or they create physical permits that are printed and distributed. Or they schedule an ‘enforcement exemption,’ which really means they put a pause on parking management.

These solutions might have their places, but they are incomplete, and leave universities collectively scratching their heads.

We know parking managers get (unfairly) blasted because a guest was issued a ticket. They receive phone calls from confused people who don’t know where to go (like the same call Eric received from me!) And they can’t help that their departments gave poor instructions to their guests.

It’s no wonder that parking managers resort to enforcement exemptions rather than deal with the headache. But ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.

It should be easy for departments to issue permits to their guests. For parking managers to allocate capacity to different lots. For guests to know where and when they can park, how to register or pay, and how to get to their end destination. But it’s not.

Guests shouldn’t have to download another app. They shouldn’t have to create a user account. Or store their credit card information when they’re not expected to pay.

Guests shouldn’t have to think about parking. If they had a memorable parking experience, then we as parking professionals, have failed to do our job.

There’s an interesting parallel with parking and software design. Drivers don’t read signage, just like users don’t read websites. They scan for relevant information and make a decision based on what they expect to happen.

My favorite book on web design is called “Don’t Make Me Think.” It taught me that simplicity is the key. For guest parking, a simple experience is our goal.

It can feel unfair that when we do our job correctly, we don’t receive praise. But that’s the nature of parking.

“Offstreet has provided us with a solution that meets our needs for validated parking on campus that we could not get anywhere else. The software is robust and easy to use and integrates well with our existing products.” Said Katie Campbell, Old Dominion University’s Associate Director for Transportation and Parking Services.

ODU uses Offstreet to manage event, department, and special guest parking. We help them integrate these parkers with license plate-based enforcement, increasing operational efficiency and saving their team time.

“We have received positive feedback from our customers on how easy it is to park with Offstreet. In addition, the team is responsive to our needs and has provided the necessary support to make the product rollout a success.”

Hopefully my parking isn’t noteworthy, and I’m able to make our meeting on time.

Matt Fahlman is Cofounder & CEO of Offstreet. You can reach him at matt@joinoffstreet.com

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Matt Fahlman
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