Point of View: “Our Betters” and a Billion-Dollar Sale


Point of View: “Our Betters” and a Billion-Dollar Sale

Regular readers of this column know that a couple of things get my dander up. One is where “our betters” feel it is OK to increase taxes and do not consider the effect that increase has on the less fortunate among us.


The screaming headline here in California this week said that the state was enacting a $.50-per-gallon tax on gasoline. This is on top of what is already the highest fuel tax in the United States. California gasoline currently costs on average $1 per gallon more than anywhere else in the country.


Of course, that high cost of fuel does not affect the millionaires and billionaires who support the rise in gasoline prices. What is an extra buck or so per gallon to Silicon Valley nouveau riche and those who sit in our legislature? Their goal, of course, is to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation.


But in my tradition of “looking out the window,” I see that the higher cost directly hits the pocketbooks of many people who work daily in my neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, people who have no alternative except their private cars and trucks to get to work and earn their living.


Four new homes are under construction in my neighborhood. At least five or more workers report to each one every day. They drive pickups because they transport their tools, tools necessary for them to do their jobs. There is no other way for them to get to work.


The same is true for plumbers, repair crews, gardeners, delivery persons (Grubhub, Instacart, DoorDash, etc.) and the many others we often do not see but who affect our lives each day. If each fills their tank with 15 gallons every week, that $.50 increase means about $400 a year in additional cost. That is maybe three weeks of food, or school clothes or shoes for a child.


I would posit that those who support these tax increases give not a moment’s thought to how they affect those who need the money the most. And, yes, they do consider themselves “our betters.”


The solution, I am told, is to move. Well sometimes that is just not possible.


Back in May, Metropolis closed the deal with SP Plus, paying more than $1 billion for the parking operator. Quotes that are flying about from the venture capital firms infer that artificial-intelligence-based Metropolis will transform the parking business by placing their automated system in more than 4,000 locations run by SP Plus. With the new system, drivers can enter and leave facilities without interaction with man or machine. Fair enough.


There are a couple of things one should consider. To use the Metropolis system, first one must sign up (input credit card, license plate number, etc.). Then you must park in a facility that has the system installed. Are we as an industry arrogant enough to believe that our customers will do those two things? Don’t get me wrong: I park a couple of times a year (to visit my doctor) in a Metropolis-driven garage and frankly find it easy and fast. I signed up online (with my smart phone) as I waited for my appointment.


I noted on these pages that other parking operators are out there. ABM, Laz Parking, and ACE Parking are three of the largest, plus hundreds of small and mid-size companies providing operating services to garages nationwide. I spoke to a senior VP in charge of nearly 3,500 locations around the country, and he told me he sees this acquisition as an opportunity for his company.


First, it will mean many quality managers will be looking for positions. Second, there will be locations among those 4,000 former SP Plus garages that will not wish to change how they collect money, and he sees those as ripe for the picking. There is also the pressure that existing operators will feel to up their game and move to a more customer-centric operation.


Whereas some operations will move to a less personal operation (with fewer staff, etc.) with the Metropolis system, others may find that removing personalized customer service is not their cup of tea.


Banking is an interesting parallel. Frankly, I have not been in my bank in years, relying on online banking and ATMs. However, Chase is changing its approach by opening many new walk-in branches around the country. There must be a reason for that.


It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn, Editor Emeritus
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