Reflections on Change – A Parking Pro Retires


Reflections on Change – A Parking Pro Retires

 As my career with Virginia Tech begins to wind down and I look forward to retirement, I find myself reflecting on my time at Parking Services and the many changes and advancements that have occurred in the parking industry throughout my 20 years. 

In 1997, after 18 years with the university, I began my career in the parking field as the Parking Services Assistant Manager. 
Although I had not previously worked in this arena, I discovered that the profession spoke to my curious and detail-oriented nature. In my pursuit to better understand the nuances of parking management and foreseeable growth, I soon found myself surrounded by other parking professionals from various institutions of higher education. 
This networking allowed me the opportunity to tap into the strengths of my peers and to learn from their trials and errors. Now, as a seasoned parking professional, I encourage everyone in the field from the front line and enforcement, to the managers and directors to seek out like-minded colleagues and pursue all opportunities to advance and diversify their skill base. Working in this specialized profession, these relationships have provided me with immeasurable support.
During my tenure with Virginia Tech Parking Services, we have evolved from days of long lines and customers waiting in the lobby to purchase parking permits, to now purchasing them online – and with the technology of LPR, no permit at all. 
The 20 years of technological advancement from transponders and card readers to RFID have improved access controls, allowing for greater efficiency and enhancing our customers’ experience when parking on campus.
Manual parking meters, which may or may not have worked correctly, have been replaced with digital multi-space meters and pay-by-phone. The continued development of convenience-centered software and hardware is what continuously drives the parking industry on university campuses. 
The technology in the parking world progresses so rapidly that it can be a challenge to determine which upgrades are necessary and value-added, as well as feasible within one’s budget. Although parking equipment is unique, it is not universal and one size does not fit all. 
Each institute has its own individual needs and challenges; and although a particular device or program may work well at another university, look good and sound great, it may not be the best fit for your campus. Knowing your operation, your customers, and the amount of change that they are able to tolerate and adapt to at a given time is paramount in the implementation of enhanced technology. 
Professionally, some of my most taxing times were directly related to new technology that was not embraced by our customers. These unpopular changes required me to reevaluate our specific needs and, at times, revert to the previous equipment in an effort to slow the revolt against parking. 
I caution one to not act too fast when making changes. It is crucial to thoroughly study all prospective upgrades to ensure that you are on the “cutting” edge of technology, instead of the “bleeding” edge. 
It’s well-known that customers take parking very personally and are passionate about their wants – after all, an entire reality series is based on this relationship. 
As parking professionals, we know that customers have three fundamental desires: a space close to where they need to be; at any time they need to be there; and for as long as they need to be there. If we could accommodate these requirements, I presume that Parking Services would become one of the more highly thought of departments on campus. 
Unfortunately, we are not able to satisfy everyone that we serve. Regrettably, this all too often leaves university parking departments being reflected in a negative light and not being as highly regarded as they deserve to be. Although some may regard parking enforcement as a necessary evil, it’s often a customer’s initial contact with the university.
Training your staff on the importance of being the face of the institution is key to providing the customer service that offers a welcoming environment and lays the groundwork for a positive parking experience. Although we may not be able to provide all that the customer wants, it’s our responsibility to provide our staff with the ability to offer alternatives and options in order to assist with their needs.
I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a member of the parking profession. Like many, parking has become a significant part of who I am, and I am honored to have been affiliated with people in the profession – many have become cherished friends. 
As we approach the 10th anniversary of the April 16, 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, I am humbly reminded that it is these relationships with staff and colleagues that sustain us through the most difficult of times. In our time of greatest need, we were embraced by an outpouring of compassion and support. Collectively, professionals in parking, including vendors, went above and beyond in their support. After many tireless hours, and with a staff near collapse – VT Parking Services gratefully welcomed the helping hands of the Parking Services staff from the University of Virginia to offer relief during graduation. 
Many may not be aware, but our department suffered the loss of one of our own – an honor student, and a native of our community that worked special events. He had been part of our team for three years and was one of the most exceptional young men that I have had the privilege to work with. As well, I am honored to have served with a staff, that in the face of our university’s most devastating event, was able to maintain professionalism and grace. 
If you speak to most any long-term parking professional, most all would be able to recall and pinpoint an event or circumstance that inevitably changed how the industry did business. In the aftermath of April 16th, it was evident that procedures for parking play a major role in an event of this magnitude. With contributions from several close colleagues, we created Virginia Tech’s first parking plan for the various groups that come to your campus for any unexpected events. This plan was developed to address the multitude of unique needs of the various groups that converge on your campus. Virginia Tech’s tragedy not only affected our university, it also prompted a nationwide dialogue on campuses regarding the necessity for having a plan in place to manage this type of situation. 
Although I am retiring from Virginia Tech, I will always consider myself a parking professional and look forward to continuing to be part of the industry. After all, “Retirement may be an ending, a closing, but it is also a new beginning.” (Catherine Pulsifer) 
Richard McCoy is former Director of Parking and Transportation Services at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. He can be reached at
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