“Star Trek,’ The Dog Ate My Homework, PIE 2016


“Star Trek,’ The Dog Ate My Homework, PIE 2016

 In “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” the Enterprise crew goes back in time to the 20th century to save the Earth (and a pair of whales). On attempting to return to the proper century, Spock is required to guess at the data needed. The dialog reads like this:
Kirk: Mr. Spock, have you accounted for the variable mass of whales and water in your time re-entry program?
Spock: Mr. Scott cannot give me exact figures, Admiral, so… I will make a guess.
Kirk: A guess? You, Spock? That’s extraordinary.
Spock: [to Dr. McCoy] I don’t think he understands.
McCoy: No, Spock. He means that he feels safer about your guesses than most other people’s facts.
Spock: Then you’re saying…
Spock: It is a compliment?
McCoy: It is.
Spock: Ah. Then, I will try to make the best guess I can.
McCoy: Please do.
McCoy knows that Spock will take a lifetime of knowledge, data and skill and most likely come up with the right answer. Fair enough, but what the hell does this have to do with parking?
Anagog, an Israeli company, has developed a software program that uses a “best guess” to determine where parking spaces are open and where they will soon be open. They do this by using terabytes of data they have collected about parking habits around the globe. They combine that with other data that can affect parking (weather, time of day, day of week, holidays, local customs and events, etc.) and can come up with a pretty close “best guess” to tell parkers where there are open spaces near their destination. They then give the parker “last-mile” turn-by-turn directions to get to the parking space. 
Anagog also supplies this service to other parking apps to enhance their capabilities. I know it all sounds a bit “Star Trekkie,” but why not?  
We are creatures of habit. We tend to do things the same way, time after time.  The more data you collect, the more accurate your predictions as to how someone, or a group of people, will react or, in this case, park. This manner of collecting information is called “crowd-sourcing” and seems to be gaining favor in the high-tech community.
No in-street sensors, no “Wi-Fi” data collection, no interfacing with city computers, but you still get good, reliable parking data. And the more it’s used, the more information collected, the better the end result.
By the way – another reference to our industry in “Star Trek IV”: Kirk and crew landed their high-jacked Klingon Bird of Prey in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (actually Will Rogers State Historic Park in LA), and as they left to find the whales, transparent aluminum, and some radioactivity for fuel, Kirk’s last words to the three groups was, “Don’t forget where we parked.”
Ironically, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock, passed away a few days after I wrote the piece above. My comments on his life, and that of his alter ego, can be found on PT’s Blog atIs JVH Prescient? Sadly, No – Leonard Nimoy and Spock.
The city of Harrisburg, PA, has a problem: People don’t like the parking program there.  Now there’s a unique statement! I’m sure this is the only spot where people don’t like parking programs. But reading the PennLive.com article that Astrid picked up over on Parknews.biz, you would think the parking folks in Harrisburg were in grammar school and dealing with stern teachers. 
As I understand it, the fact that there are improperly written parking tickets relate to modems not working, parking folks not setting their equipment properly, poor communications between enforcement officers and staff, plus a general breakdown of good PR between the parking operation and the citizens.
I note that on-street parking in Harrisburg has been “purchased” by an outside entity and is being run by a major parking operator. Fair enough.
If I discuss parking rules and regs and enforcement with some of the most successful municipal parking operations on the planet, they tell me that they focus first on customer service, then on the rest. Customer service is job one.
They feel that they are in a particularly difficult situation since the normal capitalistic self-cleansing effect doesn’t work. There is no company waiting in the wings to take over if a municipality does a poor job. They just keep doing a poor job. 
So municipal parking operations must focus on keeping their customers happy. And the successful ones do.
This makes it even more difficult when a company takes over on a long-term lease. Just where do the priorities lie? Normally a company tries to do a good job, because if it doesn’t, it will lose something – business, a contract, employees, whatever.
Harrisburg is attempting to fix its PR problem by lowering prices. Hmmmmm. Which are the most respected companies you can think of  – Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Nordstrom’s … Not really known for low prices, but they are known for quality, service and excellence.
When people in Harrisburg or anywhere else complain about parking, they complain about tickets, about lack of convenient parking, about surly enforcement staff and bureaucrats. They seldom complain about the price of the parking.
They complain about the regulations being inflexible, about “parking Nazis,” about senior citizens being targeted, about tickets being written for the most minor infraction. One improperly written ticket does more harm than doubling the cost of parking downtown.
Municipal parking operations that focus on eliminating those problems have fewer complaints and fewer problems with citizens. They work with the citizens to ensure that the rules are fair and fairly enforced. Maybe Harrisburg and municipalities like it need to take heed.
(By the way, my dog didn’t eat my homework, but she did eat a $20 bill that slipped off my desk onto the floor. The cur left just enough so I couldn’t paste it back together and throw myself on the mercy of a bank teller. Sigh.
The Parking Industry Exhibition 2016 will be held Feb. 28-March 2 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. We are moving from our traditional venue to stretch our legs a bit to more of a “party” venue, because PIE 2016 will be Parking Today’s 20th anniversary celebration. We are beginning to talk it up now, culminating with a huge party in the city that means party.
PIE 2017 will be back in Chicago March 5-8 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. We like the Chicago venue for many reasons. It’s easy to get to. You don’t need a car or shuttle from the airport (the hotel takes care of that). 
Being able to hold the exhibition, seminars and networking events under the same roof means more time for conversations about parking. And Chicago’s a three-hour flight or less from almost anywhere in the U.S., rather than requiring those on the West Coast to sit five hours on a plane to get to, say, Miami.
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