George and Gracie


George and Gracie

I’m told I’m a story teller. I was asked to craft a story to go with Dale Denda’s presentation last month at PIE. He posits that we may be looking at the numbers, or failing to look at numbers, concerning auto travel from a perspective that could cloud the issue. It’s a fact that 79 percent of all commuter traffic is using a private vehicle. Fair enough. That number, percentage-wise, hasn’t significantly changed in almost a half a century.

But the absolute numbers have changed. Fifty
years ago, that 79 percent was 66 million cars, today it’s 131 million. 

George and Gracie live in a community outside of San Diego. It’s a 30-minute commute on a good day, an hour on a bad day. They have a nice home, third of an acre, two kids, and have developed many friends through their church and their kids’ school. 

Gracie commutes in the family Prius each day to her job as a lawyer in San Diego. George works as a CPA near home and is tasked with driving the kids to various functions dealing with school, church, and other activities. He drives an SUV. 

Between the two of them they make over $200 K a year. They love their lifestyle. Schools are good, neighborhoods are quiet, and it’s safe. 

It should be noted that there is no public transportation that will get Gracie to work in San Diego. Her betters tell her that she should pull up stakes and move downtown into a four-bedroom condo in the heart of the city where she can walk to work, the kids can walk to a high-rise school, and George can find work as a CPA. 

What exactly is her motivation to do so? Housing is cheaper outside of the metro area. It’s safer for her kids. The schools are better. Sure, she might save a half hour to 45-minute drive each way a day, but what is she getting in exchange? 

John and Mary have just gotten married. They both work for companies in downtown San Diego. They have a two-bedroom apartment within walking distance of shops, clubs, restaurants, their gym, and best of all, their work. Together they make $140,000 a year

They have made friends in their building and at the gym. They don’t own a car, but rent one when they want to visit their friends who live near George and Gracie. If they need to get around in the city, Uber and Lyft are there to help. Their betters see them as the perfect family living a perfect life, and saving the world at the same time.

In a few years they begin a family. Mary is now concerned about taking the baby shopping using Lyft (did you ever see all the stuff you have to schlep when you take one child on even a short trip?) They buy their first car. She starts thinking about schools and safety. She and John begin to talk about moving. They have been able to save a few bucks and are eying a house near George and Gracie. 

John and Mary’s betters tell them to stay put. City life is great. It’s full of excitement and the police are really doing a great job with the crime wave. What possible motivation do they have to stay? 

After the kids are out of college, will George and Gracie move into the city? Maybe, maybe not. Will John and Mary return? Maybe, maybe not. 

The reality of life in the U.S. is that the same proportion, generally speaking, of people are living in the ‘burbs’ and driving to work in the city every day as they have for 60 years. And how that’s set to change is not exactly an intuitively answered question. 

The problem is that there are just more George and Gracies and John and Marys today than there were back then. Congestion is going to become worse and worse. The need to quickly park these vehicles is going to become more and more apparent. The need to provide for them will become critical.

Our betters would like to say that either George and Gracie move, or they take the train. But there is no train, and there is no one who is proposing a way to pay the literally trillions for the trains that are needed. 

To help the George and Gracies and John and Marys of the world, we need to think outside the box. We must adapt the parking business. Consider this from Todd Tucker over at Arrive:

Rail was the most popular way to travel for years, but railroad companies experienced a major decline in the 1950s due to the growth of automobiles and air travel. Because they were singularly focused on rail, those companies neglected to see the bigger picture – that they were not just in the railroad business, they were actually in the transportation business. They didn’t innovate. They lost relevance and lost customers. When was the last time you opted to ride a train across the country instead of flying on an airplane?

Similarly, National Cash Register (NCR) was a top 4 powerhouse of a company in the early 1900’s and prevailed in the transactional calculations machine business. In the 1950’s however, despite huge market dominance and what should have been a massive head start on the world, they almost went out of business due to a refusal to acknowledge and embrace the then-emerging computer industry that is now ubiquitous. NCR barely recovered, but countless firms from the last century no longer exist today due to a failure to adopt technological change. From the list of Fortune 500 companies that existed in the 1950’s, only 12% even exist today

To keep from going the way of NCR or the Railroads, we need to change our story. We need to find ways to reduce that congestion by, perhaps, moving car short term storage out of central cities and providing shuttle service into town. We need to think about how we can make the parking experience quicker, better, more modern. We need to get those cars off the streets in seconds, not minutes.

We need to enable drivers to find parking quickly and use technology that they already have in their cars and pockets to get them off the streets and into safe, clean parking areas.

We must plan the infrastructure so that it will handle the millions of cars that are going to be driving in and out of our cities daily.

As Dale pointed out – the numbers are staggering. Parking must be part of the solution. 

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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