They Love to Drive – He Provides Places to Park


They Love to Drive – He Provides Places to Park

“We have 20,000 spaces and park 10 million cars a year.” What’s he talking about? Disneyland? Dodger Stadium? Nope, the city of Santa Monica, CA. Frank Ching is Parking Coordinator in this city surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean on the fourth.
“People here drive to work, shop and play,” Ching said. “We must manage our parking assets so we can best serve them.”
Parking operations in Santa Monica were consolidated under its finance department three years ago, and Ching was given the task of updating the systems used to monitor parking operations.
“Our city focuses on sustainability. Californians love to drive. I have to deal with that paradox,” he said. “Some of the programs we put in place make sense, like solar panels and pay-on-foot to speed up exits. But sometimes I wonder, when we install, for example, very expensive, low-power-usage motors in the elevators, will we ever get a payback?
“One of our goals has been to help move people from cars to bicycles. We have bike centers in some of our central garages. Bikers can join and store their bikes there, have a shower, use a locker and be off to work. Also, for a small monthly fee, a person can borrow a bike and run errands, go shopping, ride to a meeting, or just get some exercise. Plus, visitors can rent bikes to tour the city. It’s a neat program.”
Ching is proud of an app the city has which enables smartphone owners to find available spaces in off-street locations and to check prices, and soon to show on-street space availability as well.
“We are installing in-street sensors that will give us real-time information as to usage and tie in to the app. In addition, the sensors, which connect to the IPS credit card-accepting meters, will “reset’ the meters when a car leaves the space.
“We have tested the reset and actually reset the meter after one minute. That way, if a person sees a car leave, they will note there is some time on the meter, and when they check, they will see that it is almost used up. With this plan, we have had no complaints about the meter resetting policy.
“We will expand the sensors and the resetting policy to all our meters this year,” Ching said. “Our studies have shown a 15% to 20% increase in revenue based on the use of the reset policy alone.”
All of Santa Monica’s off-street garages are run through a central station monitored by one staff member. Parkers with problems can contact the staffer and problems can be resolved.
“We removed all staff from the garages and went with pay-on-foot equipment. It has been extremely successful, both in cost savings and in streamlining the operation,” Ching said. “We see our parking operator [Central] as a partner, and have been pleased with their work over the past three years,” he added.
“Our merchant validation program [Eval] is cloud-based and tied in with Skidata garage equipment. Each ticket has a unique number when issued, and merchants use that number to validate the ticket.
“If they have a high volume, they can have an inexpensive scanner connected to any PC they have that is online. If the volume is low, they can simply enter the ticket number into an app that sits on their PC, or frankly, on any smartphone. The system gives us the ability to have merchants all over our four-blocks-long Promenade provide validations to their customers without extensive wiring or the use of stamps.”
Santa Monica has begun instituting a pay-by-cell system through ParkMobile. “It is in its infancy now, ” noted Ching, “but our plan is to have all meters, all parking garages, and all pay-and-display equipment served by the program. I think that for it to be successful, all parking must be payable through the program. We are considering giving pay-by-cell users a rebate in the amount of the surcharge added by the vendor.”
The city also is involved in a recently renovated shopping mall right downtown. Santa Monica shares control of the two parking structures at Santa Monica Place with owner The Macerich Co., and has worked with the developer to bring a parking guidance system to the garages to ease parking in the complex facilities. Park Assist and Amano McGann provide the systems in the garages.
Ching’s surface lots that support parking for the beach hold 5,500 spaces and are served by pay-by-space equipment from Digital Payment Technologies. Pay-by-space is convenient and allows for easy enforcement, he said. Although mostly empty in the wintertime, the lots are jammed in the summer months.
Event parking is an issue in Santa Monica. For example, Cirque du Soleil has pitched a large tent on one of Ching’s lots near Santa Monica Pier.
“We lose a large number of spaces and also have to park attendees in lots throughout the city,” he said. “We have permanent signs that direct attendees to these lots and shuttles that take them to the show.
“Plus, we have a number of events in our civic auditorium and street markets and fairs throughout the year. Santa Monica is a busy place,” Ching said, “and parking is a large part of the activity.”
PT Editor John Van Horn can be reached at

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John Van Horn
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