Point of View: Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell, China, and $8 Billion


Point of View: Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell, China, and $8 Billion

July, 2023

Any damn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.”

– Pete Seeger

Social activist and folk singer hit the nail with his famous hammer with this one. How often do we encounter a ‘pitch’ from a company or individual and after it is over, you have no idea what they said? Often, this is our fault, you know we aren’t smart enough to understand them.

Don’t kid yourself, if you don’t understand, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs. Try this on for size:

“The parking infrastructure of the past was disconnected, single purpose, opaque, and unable to serve the needs of today’s smart cities. We are building parking infrastructure for future of mobility, with technology that connects the entire ecosystem’s supply of parking assets with the demand of users.”

Do you have a clue what this company does? Software, hardware, both? What is it that makes the company unique, except perhaps its inability to describe in a couple of sentences what it does?

I tell this story often, but I sat in on a presentation of a ‘startup’ and it was 45 minutes into the presentation before I realized it provided on-street pay-by-cell services. Their ‘pitch’ was so oriented to Silicon Valley and an attempt to garner venture capital that they neglected to explain what it was they did. After all, Silicon Valley Bank built its success on the true understanding of the underpinnings of the companies in which it invested – oh, wait.

Pete Seeger was a musician, folk singer and activist. He would not compare himself with 160 IQ Albert Einstein. But they had one thing in common, a belief in simplicity. The renowned physicist’s most famous quote: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” I wonder if the company I mentioned above understands just what it is doing.

Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World

It’s a new book by Henry Grabar, a staff writer for Slate. I haven’t read the book, but I have read an extensive interview of Grabar and I think I have a pretty good feel where he is coming from. You can find the interview on parknews.biz. Frankly, it’s a dumbed down version of Don Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking.” I wonder what Joni Mitchell would think.

He talks about how drivers spend an inordinate amount of time looking for parking. However, I think he misses the point – people are spending time looking for free or cheap parking. My experience is that there is parking available, but often it costs. And of course, we all know it’s in the Magna Carta of the Bill of Rights, that parking should be free.

This is absurd. You pay the initial cost of a car, you pay for insurance, fuel, maintenance, and all the other costs of driving, but you somehow feel that the ‘right’ to park the car, that is to take up space that belongs to someone else, should be free.

It would seem to me that if you pay the true cost to park, whether it is at your office, or outside a shopping mall, sports arena, or your doctor’s office, that much of the so-called parking problem would go away.

Rather than having parking as a commodity, why can’t it be like anything we purchase? Let the parking space owner set the price based on the service supplied. I would love to pay a few bucks more and get a clean, safe, well lighted, available place to park. Wouldn’t you?

Grabar tells stories about the horrors of parking. Wouldn’t it be great if the stories about parking were uplifting, and parking became a positive experience?

Think about it.

Let’s face it, China is running the EV market. They produce over half the EVs manufactured, but more importantly, they control the critical supply lines of the materials needed to build the most critical part of an EV, the battery. 

They not only have a stranglehold on lithium, mining it freely in China, but they also own many of the other sources of the critical rare earth. They manufacture nearly 70 percent of the vehicle batteries. It should be noted that battery manufacturing is a messy business, and the Chinese government doesn’t seem to care that they make a mess.

As we run pall-mall into an all-electric world, shouldn’t we stop for a moment and consider just what we are doing for a country that has declared itself our enemy?

Consider one aspect. What if, down the road, the Chinese government decides to double or triple the price of the batteries? We are committed to the EV, and now our supply lines are strangled. We have shut down production of ICE vehicles. Whoops.

My favorite law, that of unintended consequences, raises its ugly head. I mentioned before that when we let the government pick winners and losers, it doesn’t do a very good job. Can you say Solyndra, or Enron? In this case it’s not just loaning money, but it is forcing a product on the public, setting impossible goals, and setting up entire industries for failure. 

Wouldn’t we be better off if we let the marketplace move at its own pace, let the technology keep pace with demand, and let EVs grow at a pace manufacturers can match? 

Then China might be left holding a very expensive bag. 

If you read the headline from an article posted on Parknews.biz, you would begin to consider a harbinger of disaster ahead “How the $8 billion parking industry is evolving to stay alive.” If you drill down to the 10th graph, you find that they are discussing parking operators. Seems companies like SP Plus, ABM, and LAZ, plus the many smaller operators generate the $8 billion.

However, if you take the parking business in toto, you find that it will generate over $144 billion this year, an amount 10 percent above 2019, the year before the pandemic. It seems to me that having come back after the heavy COVID losses to a 10 percent increase should be the headline. As an industry, we appear to be doing well. The large parking operators are not doing so well, but expect about a 2 percent increase on their bottom lines over the next five years.

If it bleeds it leads. They searched out about 6 percent of the industry and even though it appears to be growing, they are growing because operators are focusing on technology to help their bottom lines. Don’t be misled – Parking is coming back strong.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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