Uncertainty and Autonomy Thoughts for 2018


Uncertainty and Autonomy Thoughts for 2018

Why did the economy stall and stumble during the Obama years, and yet take off like a rocket upon Trump’s election? Many wags say that it’s the uncertainty factor.

That is, if business knows what is coming down the pike, it can factor that into its plans and press on. It can hire, set prices, develop new products and carry on — i.e., it knows what is going to happen.

During the past administration, the future was seemingly unknowable. The government was passing rules and regulations by the hundreds without benefit of Congress and its review process. Business didn’t know from one day to the next what was going to happen. So, instead of investment, hiring, new products, etc., it punted.

For good or bad, business today seems to understand that those rules are being revoked and new ones are not on the horizon, and business is being left alone to do what it does best — create jobs, build factories and make money.

There is a “feeling” that it knows what is going to happen. Politics aside.

I wonder if this isn’t what is happening in our industry. We just don’t know. We are uncertain.

At PIE 2017 back in March and at the NPA conference in October, the seminars that were jammed were those that attempted to see the future.

Should we build new garages, or get by with existing ones? OK, there are going to be more vehicles in the next couple of years, but how about beyond that? Autonomous vehicles are coming, but how will they affect parking? Some say they will do away with the need for parking. Others say it’s not realistic to believe that.

We are trapped in the middle of the uncertainty factor.

What to do, what to do?


Years ago, Thomas Malthus and later Paul Ehrlich told us that the world was close to ending. Over-population would mean deaths by the millions, starvation, and the end of life as we knew it. Yet, here we are, years later, and there are more people, but fewer are starving. More people living above the poverty level worldwide.

How can the experts be so wrong?

They forgot to factor in the resilience of the human spirit. People left to their own devices will solve problems and make things better.

I was told by a mentor to trust my instincts. I fly all over America and see nothing but open space below — a lot of places for people to live and prosper.

I go into Costco and can’t get down the aisles for all the “stuff” that makes lives easier. I drive 40 miles through my city and see store after store filled with commerce — people shopping and taking home “stuff” they want.

People tell me that shopping centers are closing, and I’m sure some are, but Westfield and GGP are spending billions refurbishing existing centers and opening new ones. Are they stupid? I think not.

The new centers aren’t just for shopping, but for entertainment as well. They are mini-Disneylands where families go to play, see new “stuff,” watch a movie, and enjoy their time off. Oh, and they spend money, too.

These companies are reinventing the way people shop. They understand that people may buy a lot online, but they still want to see what they are buying. And they want to be entertained while they do it.


My mentor also told me to look out the window and see what there was to see. To dream about what is possible, and then do it.

Areas where people want to go are becoming congested — shopping areas, entertainment areas, sports venues, and the like. Why not build parking structures a few minutes away, convenient to freeways and large streets, then have shuttles that take you the last mile. I would ride that in a heartbeat.

Make it faster and easier to park, and I’m there. Use that technology to solve the problems, not create new ones.

If we can develop apps that make Uber and Lyft work, why not apps that make carpooling work? It wouldn’t take many users to greatly reduce traffic during rush hour.

As Westfield does at its Century City mall in LA, give people choices. There are half a dozen ways to park, ways to pay, ways to enter and exit. They didn’t have the arrogance to say one-size-fits-all, but asked, “What do you want?” and then provided it.

I understand that Uber has worked out a deal with parking operators in Chicago to store their cars when they are not being used. Who would have thunk it?

There are five ideas I had just looking out my window. What if someone who knew what they were talking about looked out their window?

We need to embrace the uncertainty factor. Go with ideas that fix problems. Ask people what they want and give it to them. Don’t think outside the box; throw it away. Ignore the soothsayers; they are always wrong.

You only have to be right a tad over half the time and all is right with the world.


The City of Las Vegas is testing a self-driving shuttle to take folks around its iconic downtown area. The shuttle carries about a dozen people and travels a six-tenths-of-a-mile circuit with four stops. It has no driver.

The newspapers were full of headlines as the critter had a slight fender-bender after being in operation for about an hour. I have read a number of articles and spoken to people on the site. Here’s what I have discovered:

Let’s start out by saying that the accident was not the shuttle’s fault. A semi backing its trailer into an alleyway bumped the shuttle, which had stopped to let the backing operation complete. The semi driver received a ticket. There was so little damage to the shuttle that you probably would not repair it on your personal vehicle.

I have learned quite a bit about this test and the shuttle operation.

The shuttle had to be “trained” to follow the route. That is, it was driven around the route for two days to learn where it was supposed to go.

A central control hub is installed atop a building near the shuttle route to help guide it. If the route should be expanded, additional hubs would have to be installed.

The shuttle travels at about 20 mph.

There was considerable investigation of the “accident,” and although it was certainly the truck driver’s fault, had a person been in charge of the shuttle, they would have done one of two things — honk at the truck and alert the driver or back up a few feet — and there would not have been any accident.

There is an “onboard host” on each shuttle, but they are there for the convenience of the riders and have no control over the shuttle.

A “traffic minder” at shuttle stops is designed to ensure that vehicles don’t block the shuttle’s space by the curb. I’m told that drivers in Las Vegas don’t follow the rules and can park blocking curb space, even though signage is in place.

You have to begin somewhere, and this is a place to start. Sensors and software needs to be tested and the bugs worked out. What we need to remember is that this shuttle is light years from a Level 5 autonomous vehicle that would be any kind of threat to our industry.

The vision of a driverless car pulling up in front of your house in Westchester County outside New York City and taking you to dinner and a show in Manhattan isn’t even a gleam on the horizon. That car is what might begin to strike fear in the hearts of parking operators everywhere. Relax, decades to go, I think.

Article contributed by:
John Van Horn
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