Another Dead Robot, Cash is King, Bankrupting our Customers
I have spoken before about robotic car parks. You know the story; always the wallflower, the under-achiever, not quite delivering what was expected, just not quite what was promised. Anyway, back in 2001, in the fair city of Edinburgh, a company called Autosafe SkyPark launched the future of parking on a waiting world. Dubbed Britain’s most technologically advanced car park, it followed examples in Beijing, Sydney and Tokyo to offer fully robotic “modern” parking. Only it didn’t.
The 600-space robotic car park made all the usual claims and used all the well know superlatives. Was it the future? Was it hell? It lasted just over two years before going bust in 2003. The only reason that I am mentioning this is because, 15 years on, the site is finally being redeveloped and, as the car park is taken down. Surprisingly, the demolishers have discovered eight cars sitting patiently in the car park for someone to collect them!
Now why anyone, let alone eight people, would “forget” their cars is a mystery. One ex-employee, who remembers having to constantly intervene to override the system and recover cars manually (gee wonder why they went bust?), has suggested a sensible reason. Apparently, when the facility was first built the owners bought some old cars to use to test and calibrate the system and, when they had finished, they simply left them in situ.
That’s probably right but I much prefer the conspiracy theorist options. Why pay to scrap a car when you can simply leave it in the car park? Ah, that’s where the bank robbers escape vehicle went, and best of all, how to get rid of your wife! The cars are being recovered and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they contain.
Cash is King, No More!
Meanwhile, an interesting milestone has been reached in the UK at the start of 2018. For the first time payment by card, i.e. e-payments, in all transactions have outstripped payments by cash. Being a luddite, I have always believed that, as an industry we should always offer the cash option. This is for purely pragmatic reasons: not everyone has a credit card or a smartphone, and even if they do, these are private systems that are owned and operated by third parties that our industry has no control over. So if we drop cash someone else is telling us who can and can’t be our customer.
Here in the UK, I understand that about 40 percent of the population doesn’t have a credit card. Figures on phones are harder to get, but it seems that, although there are more phones than people, about 12 percent of adults still don’t have a phone. Plus of course, those who have a low value pay-as-you-go contract and are not going to be too keen to eat up their talk time credit paying for parking. So, drop cash and you are potentially saying to a large chunk of your customer base “get lost, we don’t want your business”.
I am absolutely not saying that we should turn our faces away from new systems and ways of doing things, just that we should always think long and hard before replacing the old ways, rather than offering the new ideas as an add-on.
(Just in case you think these are the demented ramblings of an old man who is long past the time when he should be culled.) Just look at the credit card in your wallet/purse.
We now use chip and PIN and NFC technology but wait, what’s this? The latest super smart card still carries the mag stripe that these technologies supplanted AND still have the embossed characters that allow machines that use paper transaction slips to be used.
Next time some snake oil salesman from the finance industry tells you that cash is passé and should be dropped, I suggest that you do as they do, not as they say. Oh, yes, and one other little thing that they kinda gloss over: overall, the cost of doing business (i.e. bank charges) with e-payments is over twice the cost of handling cash. Who would have expected that?
Laws and Consequences
I am writing this over a month before you read it so forgive me for looking back to something that John posted at the beginning of March. The story was about a young woman in Chicago who had accumulated thousands of dollars in debt from unpaid parking penalties and ended up being bankrupted by the situation that she found herself in. The thought-provoking article touched on a number of issues about the whys and wherefores of how the young lady got to this point. Certainly there is a good PhD in trying to understand the bigger picture, however I picked up on two points.
The law says that when we reach a certain age we become responsible for the consequences of our actions even if, as in this unfortunate young lady’s case, she appears not to have been equipped to understand either how to do what she was doing correctly or the implications of doing it wrong. Should we therefore impose some test other than age to determine responsibility?
Second, and a point I increasingly am coming to, is the system irredeemably broken? If the system of rules and penalties for non-compliance is so badly designed and so difficult to comprehend that this young lady and many other citizens of the Windy City are being pushed to the point that they have no choice but to become bankrupt, then surely the system in place is broken and should be fixed or replaced?
Or of course, could it be that many of these people just don’t give a damn and ignore the rules as a matter of course, intuitively knowing that if you don’t pay then most of the time you will get away with it and can freeload with relative impunity?
And finally, my home town is now officially the coldest place in Britain with a temperature of -11C! Sure, I know that for may of you that is practically balmy, but in a country that gets a fit of the vapors at zero this is a big deal.