Please Don’t Scare the Customers


Please Don’t Scare the Customers

Everybody I know is cutting back these days. Concerns over the economy have motivated many of us to consider our spending and apply the latest fad in financial philosophy – austerity.
I have read all the “Little House on the Prairie” books and was raised by two baby boomers, so I know frugality and “making do” are not new ideas. But they are new to quite a few affected by the current economic climate.
Before I start sounding like a political commentator, I have to admit I hate politics, and I’d hate politicians if I knew any of them. Instead, I just hate the way they behave and the terribly earnest way they go about accomplishing so little.
Having held few titles of power more notable than student body secretary, back in high school, and Room Mom for my daughter’s first-grade class, I am not in a position to criticize, but I do it anyway, because I’m an armchair politician.
The way our nation’s leaders and our nation’s press scurry around predicting alternately the end of the world as we know it and the end of the fiscal crisis just makes everybody more and more nervous, and people like me less and less inclined to follow the news.
Even though I used to be a newspaper reporter, I can’t take in the steady stream of bipolar statistics, announcements and prophecies without wanting to go hide in the bunker I dug in my backyard and filled with canned goods back in the fall of 2008.
So, to preserve my sanity, I’ve decided to consider my own level of concern, based on my own observations, and retrench accordingly, just to be safe.
One area where I already make minimal expenditures is parking; unless you count the $3,000 I spent on a new driveway last year – a new driveway that’s already cracked in two places, something my retired general contractor father says is normal but still makes me grit my teeth on a daily basis. But we’ll put that in the “home improvements” category and move on.
There are many people, however, who have to pay for parking; they pay a lot of money and they pay it every day. And just the way I am scrutinizing my cellphone plan and grocery shopping tactics, they could be taking the time to review their parking costs.
I’ve never seen a parking garage or pay lot with “Sale! Sale! Sale!” signs out front and I doubt I ever will, but in times like these (an ominous phrase, despite the fact I’ve heard applied to every decade of my life), the business community would be well-served to do what the government and the media cannot do – reassure the consumer that, somehow, things are going to be all right.
Now, I can’t say exactly how that should be done; I’m not in marketing or the parking business. But I did find a few examples that might be helpful.
Good example: In Ohio, leadership at Dayton International Airport has decided to lower parking rates to attract more customers. It has reduced the maximum daily rate from $18 to $15. There are those who will disagree with this tactic, but a well-publicized price reduction is attractive to the penny-pinching public.
Bad example: The Pittsburgh City Council implemented a plan to use more than $700 million in parking tax revenue over the next 31 years to bail out its pension plan. It reportedly raised rates and extended hours of enforcement to support those numbers. The unforeseen development that has City Council members and the mayor pointing fingers and calling one another names is that the city’s parking authority will not turn over the additional revenue it is collecting.
What are the people of Pittsburgh to think? Their mayor and City Council members, people who would ideally be on the same team, are unsuccessfully tangling over the financial burden of a policy made while they were in grade school, and all the while drawing intense media exposure.
They look bad, the city looks bad, and the people of Pittsburgh feel bad. The implications are distressing, embarrassing and a bit ridiculous. Certainly, the city is in a desperate situation, but maybe it should take precautions not to appear so desperate.
Good example: In Santa Cruz, CA, city officials hope to fill downtown real estate by lowering parking fees for business owners. They made the change and then calmly mentioned it to the press. They also described the benefits of their near-Silicon Valley location and defined the kind of high-tech satellite they imagine capitalizing on this parking perk.
There’s no arguing times are tough. Some days it seems as if the panic is all generated by the 24-hour news cycle. Some days it seems oppressively real. What I keep telling myself is to be calm, make careful decisions, hope for the best, and stay out of that bunker.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is an Amateur Parker and PT’s proofreader. She can be reached at

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