Vegas, Missoula and, Strangely Enough, Parking


Vegas, Missoula and, Strangely Enough, Parking

 It was so great — you drove up in front of the hotel, tossed your keys to the valet, and they parked your car. You were treated like royalty.  It was a little thing, but a good one. Las Vegas always led the pack with service. There were free drinks at the tables, buffets that stopped traffic, and free self- and valet parking.
I always went to “Sin City” with the idea that gambling was rather like going to a show. You invested a certain amount of money, had a good time, and probably lost the money, much like the price of the ticket to see an Elvis impersonator. That way, you never felt bad when you lost. And, just maybe, you would win (yeah, right).
But when you left, a tad poorer than when you arrived, you handed your ticket to the valet and there it came, your car was delivered, free,  right to where you were standing. That felt good, and took out some of the sting when you split 10s.
But no more.  Good business sense has taken over. The MGM hotel chain, which owns a dozen of the casinos dotting the Vegas Strip, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Luxor and Mandalay Bay, has decided that it will charge $10 a day for self-parking, more for valet. 
So who gets hit the most? Yes, those of us from LA who drive across the beautiful desert to visit.
Why? Money, that’s why. Seems that the days when all the profits in the hotel trade in Las Vegas came from the gaming tables is gone. In fact, less than half now comes from craps, slots and blackjack. The rest is from food, hotel rooms, and entertainment — and soon, parking.
Do the numbers.  MGM Resorts alone has more than 37,000 spaces on the Strip, and assuming only half of them are full each night, that would generate $67.5 million a year. That’s not chump change, even in Vegas. How long will it take the others to jump onboard?
So the decision was made. Some lucky PARCS company will get a dozen large systems on this go alone. Word is that SP Plus will take over the parking operations. Will MGM be a little sneaky and divide up the systems into two or three parts — thus motivating the companies to do their best to keep the deal? It worked at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, why not in Las Vegas?
But I digress. It’s been tradition that some of the amenities in Vegas were “free.” You might not be able to be “comped” for your room, but your car got a place to park. Not anymore. It’s sad, but then, that’s how business is done.
Here’s the headline: Missoula’s “new parking meters pose difficulties for drivers with disabilities.”
When I read the headline that we at picked up from the local paper, I scratched my head. I didn’t think that new meters would cause problems. I was right.
It’s almost as if the people who write the headlines don’t read the article. The headline above, which refers to the new T2 Luke II machines installed in the Montana city, is extremely misleading. 
The article points out that parkers with disabilities were surprised and upset when they found out they had to pay for parking — certainly not something having to do with the pay-by-license plate equipment.  It also seems that there was some confusion as how to add time — once again, not a problem with the equipment, but with the city and its communications.
It also seems that the problems the disabled were having were no different from the problems they had with the existing meters (difficulty holding on to a coin and placing it in the meter).
There is one area in Missoula that needs to be explored — that is, the use of pay-by-cellphone, and I think that’s underway. The pay-by-cell would enable the disabled to use their phones to pay, and that will alleviate any issues, but once again, this is not a problem with the “new parking meters.”
I do wish that editors would read the headlines as well as the articles before OKing the piece for print. The headlines can give a very different meaning to the article, and so often readers stop reading when the type goes to 9 point from 24 point.
A paper presented at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, in mid-January concludes that as parking availability at either the destination or the origin of a trip increases, so does driving. 
(Of course, if you followed, you would already know all this.)
As a Washington Post blogger reported, if people are forced to park on-street and live in an area where there is a lot of business parking, they tend not to drive, because they will lose their parking space. Likewise, if parking is available at work, they tend to drive, rather than take other means of transport.
(It seems to me that a book was written about all this a few years ago. Don Shoup, call your office.)
I don’t see that this is something that requires a world-class study. Thoughtful people won’t drive their cars where there’s no place to park it (or it’s too expensive), and they also won’t move their car if they are afraid they will have lost their space when they return.
The author of the blog post referenced above said her family does not drive anywhere in the DC area after sundown on Friday or Saturday, because they will lose the on-street space near their apartment. On those nights, drivers visiting nearby clubs and restaurants take the spaces. 
(The commentary I quoted on my PT Blog Jan. 13 about parking in Shanghai, China noted that one driver commented that he always returned home before 4 p.m., because the complex where he lived had only 200 spaces for 900 apartments, and those filled quickly after 5 p.m.)
Parking availability does affect our actions.
How does this affect policy? If the goal is to cut driving trips to the central city, then the logical approach would be to reduce the amount of available parking.
However, it’s also important to replace those reduced trips with something (carpools, buses, rapid transit, Uber, transporters). And that’s not cheap. If one can’t get to work, or to shopping, or to the museum, or to restaurants or clubs, then — guess what? — those attractions will move to where the people live, and the downtown will be decimated.
My favorite law — the law of unintended consequences — kicks in, and the very thing you were trying to accomplish — a livable downtown — ceases to exist.
When you attempt to alter behavior, beware. You might get what you ask for.
Next month is the 20th anniversary issue of Parking Today. Hopefully my addled brain will be able to scare up some stories about our history. See you then.
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