Sergeant Pepper Taught the Band to Play…


Sergeant Pepper Taught the Band to Play…

It was 25 ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play…

It was 25 years ago, as well, when a young, fresh-faced John Van Horn, probably still in short trousers, launched this magnificent journal on a waiting world. The rest, as they say, is history. 

What was the world like back then? Over where you are the single space parking meter ruled. Here we had already worked out that
P&D meters offered so much more, and economically the break-even point was at just seven parking spots. 

Looking back, it seemed ludicrous that people argued against multi-space because: “The American motorist will not accept having to walk 100 feet to a meter!” 

Here in the UK, the police had failed at parking enforcement, and we were rolling out a new system based loosely on the Washington DC Civil Parking Enforcement program of 1980. 

Being British we did, of course, change it just enough to make it all but unworkable. Bowdlerization is/was alive and living in the British Civil Service! 

In garages it was just about unthinkable that anyone should actually walk to a pay station, and so you still operated with people in kiosks collecting money in the exit lane; which of itself created a whole industry of fraud detection and prevention. We were already on the way to near universal payment away from the exit lane with exit by pre-paid ticket. 

Which neatly brings me to when I first came across JVH. He was working for an American PARCS system provider who had just installed a system in a UK town. It didn’t work and the Borough called in a consultant. Water under the bridge. 

Politically, Thatcher was gone, and Major was just about running out of steam, soon to be replaced by Tony Blair. 

You had Bill Clinton and he was just about to release $227 million dollars of oil from the strategic reserve, as gas prices reached their highest levels for five years and the economy struggled.

Looking back at my passport, around that period I seemed to be splitting my time between Zagreb in Croatia, Mumbai in India and Beirut in Lebanon. 

Beirut was a war zone, and I got pulled into what became the rebuilding of the city center with a major parking project, which just happened to include certain attributes of a bomb shelter!

Zagreb was interesting. Unencumbered by any previous experience or prejudice, the locals had developed probably the most advanced parking operation in the world at the time. 

They had a mobile phone-based payment system which was just that: the payment went through the phone account, not a parasitic app linked to a credit card. However, I managed to find a few things to tweak and got elected an honorary life member of their parking organization as a result.

Mumbai was very much like herding cats. It’s a city of 18 million where virtually all actions are based on hard-copy typed documents. I am sure that Mumbai has moved on. 

They have built a Metro since I was there, but to this day, I am not sure if this mega city yet has a functioning street parking operation. The most fun was when I got volunteered to be “the international expert” on a committee set up by the High Court in Mumbai in response to an appeal against increased charges in the few parking lots where the city charged for parking.

Anyway, enough reminiscences, what about here and now?

The first time I went to Temecula to meet with the Temecula Group, the talk was of an upstart company called Uber that had disrupted the parking market by introducing low-cost travel services. 

This was eating into parking revenues, particularly at airports where Uber was often cheaper than paying to park. Doom and the death of parking was in the air. 

Downstream, other effects, like terminal side congestion and vehicles cruising until they are needed has shown that it’s not all good news and the parking industry has yet to disappear. 

Over here in Britain, Uber and its ilk have not exactly been welcomed with open arms by municipal government, or unsurprisingly, the licensed taxi trade, particularly in London. 

Now a supreme court decision may have finally done them in. Uber has always argued that drivers were freelance workers not employees, and so Uber had none of the liabilities associated with an employed workforce. 

The drivers didn’t agree and ultimately neither did the supreme court. Under UK law all employees are entitled to a minimum wage, to statutory holidays and a pension. Further, the tax man is now looking for unpaid taxes and state pension payments. Billions of pounds are potentially due, much of it to the taxman.

I mentioned last month how I had been asked to contribute to writing a new “how to” guide to car park design. I started to try to find out what other guides exist. 

Of course, there is the by now rather dated “Parking Structures” by Mary Smith et al, but it seems that nowhere is a definitive national guide, a set of rules that anyone building a car park must comply with. The European Parking Association has a quality award, but this is not in any sense a design manual. 

Maybe, John, this is a topic for a future PIE? After all, when buying cars, we all fish in the same pool, more or less. 

One conclusion that we have already reached is that, going forward, all car parks must be designed to accommodate electric vehicles with all that that means in terms of charging provision, and so on. 

Now, I don’t know what is planned in the U.S. but, over here, the government has determined that all new cars after 2030 must be electric, and most of Europe is thinking the same way. Since car parks should last 50 years, building for anything else just wouldn’t make sense. 

On the face of it the government’s commitment to e-vehicles is strong. Like for like, an electric vehicle is over $10,000 more to buy than an ICE equivalent and the government gives a $5,000-ish grant to help buy one. Further, the government loses about $1,200 a year in taxes and fuel duty for each electric car, plus, in many places, street parking and even charging is free for e-vehicles. 

But here’s the thing. The road system is falling to pieces and with the pandemic, the government is hemorrhaging money. Sooner or later the wheel will turn full circle and the smart money is on some form of mileage-based tolling system. 

Our present system of an annual fixed charge based on vehicle emissions has never really worked and when the government “improved” it, non-compliance rocketed. At least a mileage-based system should ensure that all pay.

And in breaking news, the government is launching a scheme to pay car drivers about $4,500 to give up their car and take the bus! Residents in Coventry will be given the money in credits than can be spent on buses and so on, if they give up their car. 

Here’s a thought: I join the scheme; I “sell” my car to my wife, pocket the money and carry on as before? Surely not!

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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