Park & Ride, “Penny Wise …,’ Just Plain Mean, Bad Robots


Park & Ride, “Penny Wise …,’ Just Plain Mean, Bad Robots

 Here in the UK, Park and Ride (P&R) is becoming increasingly common. The idea is that the city builds a big parking lot on the edge of town and links it into the center with a dedicated bus service. They work well for workers, pulling 50 cars out of the peak-hour traffic and replacing them with one bus. And they are great in historic towns, where tourists can dump the car on the edge and ride in on a bus and not have to worry about parking restrictions and running out of paid time. 
The city of York has a good network, and so does Winchester, the ancient capital of Wessex and England. Attractions include a seventh-century cathedral with the remains of tenth-century monarchs and King Arthur’s Round Table. 
Any who, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed decided that we should visit Winchester one Sunday during last month’s Christmas shopping hysteria, and I decided to use its Park and Ride, judging correctly that the city carparks would be crammed full and the roads gridlocked.
I had forgotten that the Winchester system doesn’t usually work Sundays, principally because there is a big workers carpark on the edge of the city, and Sunday workers and tourists can easily park there and walk a few minutes right into the city.
So, we turned up at the P&R site, and all the signs said, “No service on Sunday,” yet the carpark was pretty full, and there was a crowd at the bus stop. The reason? The city had decided, notwithstanding the signs, that for Christmas, they would run a free Sunday shoppers’ service. 
Why, oh why, didn’t they spend $50 to put up a sign saying this was what was happening and stop my brain, and those of many others, from shorting? 
‘Penny Wise, Pound Foolish’
That’s an old English saying that describes someone who will always go for the cheap fix, without thinking of the bigger picture. I was reminded of this by yet another story of dodgy deals around airport parking. 
Urban Parking offered meet-and-greet parking at Gatwick airport, and advertised that its service had been endorsed by both the airport and the police, and that cars were parked in a secure compound. 
In fact, the evidence suggests that neither the airport nor the police had endorsed the company’s service, and that cars were parked in local streets. Its advertising has been banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, and the regulatory authority is investigating. 
(My friends who operate parking at the main Spanish airports have the same problem. There, the courts ruled that airport access roads were public space and the airport couldn’t exclude the off-airport operators’ coaches.) 
I just don’t get this. You have a car, it’s worth $30,000, and you risk it to save $50 in parking based on an unsubstantiated claim and a mobile phone number. Penny wise, pound foolish — indeed.
Just Plain Mean
The filibuster is a well-known device that’s used to block legislation by politicians who know they can’t win the issue by reasoned argument. 
I won’t bore you with the details, but we in the UK have a parliamentary process, called a Private Member’s Bill, where a politician can introduce legislation on a worthy subject without the government’s support. 
Unfortunately, the time available to push these bills through to law is limited, and opponents can simply “talk out” the bill by waffling on until the clock runs down. 
 One of the most mean-spirited examples of “talking out” was seen a few months back, when a Labour MP tried to introduce a bill to exempt “carers” — that is, people who look after the disabled, often an unpaid relative — from paying parking charges at public hospitals. 
Alistair Burt, the government’s “social care minister,” clearly didn’t care about the people who actually help deliver the social care for which he is responsible. He led a group of government MPs to “talk out” the bill. Surely, the reason given for doing that — “that a one-size-fits-all central policy is not appropriate” — is a reason to refine the bill, not to kill it.
Bad Robots, Lazy Reporting
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about robotic carparks that seems to have been quite well-received. My thesis was that robots have a place, but most of the time can’t compete on a level playing field with self-parking. I further argued that many manufacturers were their own worst enemy, making fatuous claims about their product’s performance. 
OK, you can retrieve your car in a couple of minutes, but, axiomatically, if a dozen drivers all turn up about the same time, someone is going to wait about half an hour.
It was brought to mind when I saw an article, published Nov. 27, in The New York Times (“Road to Robotic Parking Is Littered With Faulty Projects”). 
The article reported on robotic garages in Miami Beach, where vehicles couldn’t be recovered for hours. Indeed, some vehicles got dropped several floors. And the police had to be called in when a $16-million project in an upscale housing development failed, and tenants who had paid for on-site parking faced a $28-a-day off-site parking fee.
Now here’s the lazy journalism: The article reported that such projects are common in Europe; they are not. It also stated that a parking facility in Hoboken, NJ, was “the country’s first robotic garage.” Excuse me! What about the 25-story Kent Automatic Garage on Ninth Avenue and 61st Street in New York City, which opened, I believe, in 1928? It held 1,000 cars. 
The Times article goes on to list other examples of dropped cars, a fatality, and users waiting up to an hour at busy times. It seems to me that some of what’s going on is just bad design. If your robot drops cars, it’s not fit for purpose. 
But I am taken aback by comments in the article to the effect that it’s the way people use the robotic garage that’s the problem: “Too many people leave for work at the same time.” Really? That’s the service required; it’s not for the users to adjust their expectations to the system’s limited capability. If the system is to be fit for purpose, it must meet or even exceed users’ expectations.
Robots have their place, but it seems that too often, the parking industry has been guilty of selling inadequately developed and/or inappropriate products. 
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian. Contact him at
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