Hard Core and Commoditization
“Wow! He’s really hard core, isn’t he”?
That’s the response I got when I gave a five minute talk to the Parking Resource Forum held last month in Southern California. I seemed to have tweaked a few sacred cows.
The Forum is primarily designed for municipalities and discussions are relevant to on-street issues.
I spoke about “The Parking Experience” and how I felt that those charged with on-street parking were in an unenviable position when tasked with making the parking experience a positive one for their parkers.
I noted that there were many things that off-street operators could do to make the experience a better one, from cleaning up the parking structures to using tech, to making entry and exit seamless.
However, on street, I said, was a different matter. I noted that I was hard pressed to list things that the people in that room could do to make the lives of their citizens better and the parking experience a positive one. I noted that they are under pressure to keep revenues up while enforcing rules that are sometimes difficult to justify.
I noted that in a law being considered in Sacramento, AB 516, the term “often astronomical” was actually written into the wording of the document to describe parking fines. Someone, somewhere, is not getting the message.
I said that the hatred (yes, hatred, a word used by a PEO in the room) was so inbred that changing perception was going to be extremely difficult.
Julie Dixon, the Forum’s organizer, leapt to the defense of the municipal parking orgs present by saying that there were many things they were doing, including setting up parking districts and plowing money collected from citations back into the neighborhoods from whence it came. Fair enough.
Some commented that people are more willing to pay fines if they feel the money is going to a good cause, like better streets and sidewalks. I countered that I don’t think the majority of people believe or even know that is happening.
When you get a ticket, I said, typically you are pissed off and are looking for someone other than yourself to blame. Some responded that they had some success when they explained to the parker just why the rules were in place. Now, there’s an idea.
I may have come across a little strong to those on the parking front lines, but when a PEO introduced himself as the most hated man in the room, the laughs he got were a little strained. Just how do we as an industry make the parking experience better, both on and off street?
Some of the comments did give me a few ideas.
What if we included a little card with each citation written that had a phone number on it and told the violator that if they wanted to discuss the ticket, and why it was written, they could call. Have folks at the other end of the line trained by someone from Disney to handle the calls and give them the power to adjust the citation if it is reasonable to do so.
How about a PR campaign explaining why the rules are there and the good that comes from them? (This might start a review of the rules and a better understanding of how the so-called Draconian regulations came into being.)
The police have outreach programs going to community meetings and talking about policing issues, why not have such programs for the parking department?
One city noted that they provide warnings for the first violation. What a great idea.
My problem, municipalities, is that making the parking experience better doesn’t appear to be job one. If it is, it doesn’t appear to be working. If I’m wrong, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to be “hard core.”
Commoditization – the act of treating something as a mere commodity.
I was speaking to senior member of the leadership of a major parking operator the other day. I, of course, held forth on my issue with the Parking Experience and the industry’s need to make parking something people want to do, not have to do. He agreed completely, with one caveat.
“Don’t forget that many asset managers are forcing the commoditization of parking. For instance, we will run a location for $400 a month, plus expenses. It will generate, perhaps, over a million to the owner. An asset manager who wants to lower expenses will cancel our contract and take in another operator who will do it for $50 less. Where is the money going to come from to enhance the Parking Experience?”
He has a point. I have been writing about this issue for years.
Owners may want the best for their tenants, but the asset manager, the building manager, is also tasked with keeping expenses at a minimum. And one area to scrimp is parking. Turn it into a commodity that is purchased solely on price. How do we fight against that?
In previous blogs, Brandy, George, and Brian spoke of customer service and treating the customer ‘right.’ How can you do that when your boss, in this case, an asset manager, is only concerned about lowering expenses? They don’t seem to be concerned at all about maximizing revenue. They treat parking like an elevator or restroom. You gotta have ‘em. There are 20 seminars at BOMA on how to reduce your costs with new roofs, or air conditioning, or elevator upgrades. But how many do you find concerning parking? One or two?
Shopping centers are finding that they need great parking operations to attract customers, but office buildings often don’t have the same issues. If you are going to see your doctor or lawyer or investment advisor, you have to park there. You do so and pay the fee. That’s how it works. If the parking is crummy, so be it. At a shopping center, if the parking is crummy, you drive to the one down the street.
Parking operators fight this battle every day. Keep the costs down. Remove expensive staff. If possible, remove all staff. Have one manager for four buildings. Pay minimum wage. Take out every other light bulb to save electricity. The list is endless.
Compared to the building rent, parking revenue is a small number. It doesn’t seem to get anyone’s attention. If an operator wants to keep a location, they have to keep expenses down.
It’s a difficult conundrum.