It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
In "Nine Things Successful People Do Differently", psychologist and author Heidi Grant Halvorson writes that not only do we fear change, “[people] genuinely believe that when you’ve been doing something a particular way for some time, it must be a good way to do things. And the longer you’ve been doing it that way, the better it is.”
It’s no wonder that universities have a tough time considering better ways of running their parking departments. In parking, as in life, we often stick to what is familiar and comfortable while conceding that there is always room for improvement.
Yet, we lack the willpower, drive, courage or political capital to pursue the change we know will result in improvement. In this article we’ll focus on some of the most common things universities continue to do but might be better off to change.
Many schools sell permits for parking, but the permit only provides a chance to park on campus; it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually be able to park. The number of permits sold is typically not capped, often creating a situation where there are many more parkers than parking spaces. This results in excessive vehicle circling as parkers search for available spaces, additional congestion and pollution, and unhappy drivers fighting for available spaces.
This “hunting license” approach works when parking demand is low, but at schools the parking supply and demand relationship changes, requiring a new way to allocate scarce parking resources.
Several schools have shifted to a tiered, demand-based permit systems where the price of a permit is based on the relative demand for the facility for which the permit is valid. This system relies on the same kind of supply and demand economics we use for every other good or service we purchase and provides price and convenience options for parkers. The integration of driving alternatives (and a reduction in congestion, pollution and more efficient use of parking resources) results from this approach.
Many campuses continue to spread their parking and transportation programs across multiple departments. Police write parking citations, permits are sold from the business office, the planning department plans for future parking facilities, and athletics handles parking for athletic events.
Multiple perspectives are healthy and advised, but a decentralized and fragmented parking and transportation system promotes inefficiency, poor customer service, and tactical rather than strategic thinking. The alternative is to centralize parking and transportation into one department.
The ideal university parking and transportation program marries fleet services, alternative transportation, special event parking, and transit/shuttle services in addition to parking operations and planning. Centralized parking management provides the best opportunity to deliver consistently good customer service, and to achieve the university’s strategic goals and objectives through coordinated delivery of access and mobility programs and services.
Strategy or Tactics?
Far too many universities function exclusively in a reactionary mode, bending and yielding to the most vociferous and hostile constituent or the one with the most clout. This results in an exceptions-based approach to managing parking and transportation resources, breeding confusion, inequity, dissatisfaction and inefficiency. Conversely, programs that have a solid strategic footing make principled decisions that are based on broad but defined goals and objectives.
The “hunting license” approach works when parking demand is low.
To be effective, strategic plans must be operationalized by tying daily activities to big picture goals and objectives. This is accomplished by including strategic planning goals and objectives in job descriptions and performance reviews, by well-crafted work plans, and through active and informative management and leadership.
Strategic goals will be achieved when each person in an organization knows why their job matters and for what purpose they work. Further, the employees who carry out the plan will find their work more satisfying when they know that their actions matter beyond menial tasks.
The very best parking strategic plans don’t look too far into the future. Ten years is about as far as one can reasonably plan with any amount of certainty. The farther out you look, the more abstract the future seems.
This makes connecting the plan to what is accomplished today difficult, if not impossible. Superior strategic plans include consideration for capital needs, human resources, organizational structure, finance, marketing and communications, and multi-modal accommodations. Most importantly, strategic parking and transportation plans must be set in the context of shared values so that broad buy-in is achieved and maintained.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. All too often we continue with old practices while not being satisfied with the outcome, or worse we can’t bring ourselves to change something even though we know that there must be a better way.
If we’re no longer satisfied with the same old results such as angry parking customers, financially strapped parking departments and too much parking demand and congestion, we’ll need to accept and embrace change.
Note: This article was adapted by Timothy Haahs & Associates from a series of blogs first printed by the International Parking Institute.
Casey Jones, CAPP is a Vice President at Timothy Haahs & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org