Is the Publicís Perception of Parking Changing?
Do you like parking?
It’s a simple enough question with an answer that’s anything but. Depending on who you ask, the response you get can span from a dismissive expletive to pedantic urban theory or any one of a thousand opinions and insights in between.
It’s safe to say that, if you’ll excuse the cliché, parking means different things to different people. Heck, it might even mean different things to people at different points in their daily journeys—specifically, have they found a spot or not?
Even those of us deeply invested in the industry, whose companies and employees and livelihoods depend on us successfully monetizing parking strategies, may form our answers with varying degrees of affection.
Sure, we all recognize the imperative place parking has in our social and transit ecosystems, but, boy, can it be difficult to push effective policy forward; or to rebut the hype that our industry’s days are numbered; or to ebb with the ebbs and flow with the flows of unpredictable consumer trends.
But, let’s be honest, obviously the most important answer to concern ourselves with comes from those who need to park.
What Do Real People Really Think About Parking?
Donald Shoup, likely the most well-known researcher and theorist in the history of parking, half-jokingly posits that (for most people), “[thinking] about parking seems to take place in the reptilian cortex, the most primitive part of the brain responsible for… fight-or-flight” decisions and the resuscitation of innate survival instincts.
Those are some pretty vivid words, aren’t they? And not entirely inaccurate.
They certainly help shine a light on parking lot arguments and Boston’s infamous street parking wars (which tend to rage heaviest in winter, when people have to shovel snow for hours on end to make room for their cars).
Shoup’s observation that parking triggers very powerful thoughts and behaviors in people is right on point.
We all know someone (perhaps ourselves) who gets agitated after a few seemingly hopeless minutes of spot hunting. Or can empathize with the young executive spiraling to the top of a maxed-out facility, wondering if he’ll ever find a parking spot or be late for work—again. Or have witnessed, or maybe even taken a side in, a parking lot shout-off.
And then there’s the demi-euphoria or of finding a perfect spot—a car-sized, empty asphalt gift from the parking gods. You momentarily swell with equal parts happiness, relief, and disbelief. You can finally relax, turn off those well-oiled fight-or-flight instincts because you found what you desperately needed.
Until parking can be revolutionized—and let me make it clear that a parking revolution absolutely has to take place in order for us to have a successful mobility revolution—it has to be seen for what the public views it as: a resource to be competed for.
It’s an uncomfortable way to think of an industry and aspect of life that we’re all interested, engaged, or employed in, perhaps all three. And yet, that’s how the majority of drivers view it, at least to some degree.
Changing the Way People Look at (and for) Parking
Asking the average driver, “Do you like parking?” is effectively like asking the average person, “Do you like job-hunting?” Most people would say, “no”. Because job-hunting is rarely an enjoyable experience, unlike actually getting a job.
But, just as job-seekers have learned to utilize new advancements in recruitment services (everything from niche agencies, such as Creative Circle to digital networking, like LinkedIn), new avenues in parking can change the customer experience.
And if we can change their experience of parking, we can change their perception of it. And then, maybe even their behavior.
Effective approaches for doing so are nearly endless and differ, city by city. But there are a few unanimous ways to positively shift the public perception of parking.
1- Go head-to-head with trends
Convenience will always carry weight when it comes to mobility, including deciding if and where to park. To help them through the sales funnel, a lot of parking companies need to step up their convenience game with services that the majority of customers both want and expect.
Mobile is the undoubted king of convenient services. Garages can appeal to a wider audience base with apps that: put facility vacancies in the palm of your hand; let you pay for your stall for a private event; or let you reserve a spot for yourself months in advance.
If people find it convenient, they’re more apt to use it and more likely to like it.
2- Educate the public
Every time I feel a little detached from the public’s paradigm, I click to this Quora.com thread. It kicks off a short (and somewhat tangential) conversation starting with, “Why do so many people around the world hate parking?”
The “answers”, considerably speculative in nature, offer up an array of people’s personal reasons for bemoaning parking, each overflowing with confusing, often nuanced, inaccuracies. It reminds me that people may know how to park, but they don’t know much about parking.
Including the public in the discussion will help educate and inform them about parking’s role in mobility ecosystems. Consider what a well-crafted awareness campaign could do to expose the “high cost of free parking.”
3- Demonstrate transparency and value
One of the leading theories in mobility management is that by eliminating free on-street parking we can invest the revenue from paid parking into our public transit and infrastructure. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the benefits this would bring about for cities, both today and tomorrow.
But people are often skeptical of how well this will actually pan out, that the funds won’t be misappropriated or otherwise wasted.
Governments and private organizations alike can increase consumer trust by being open about where their fees are going, which mobility managers they’re collaborating with, and what policies are being pushed forward and the reasons behind them.
For private parking companies, one of the goals when it comes to building trust is dispelling the myths about greed and arbitrary price hikes. Demonstrating a shared interest can go a long way, with many ways to do so.
For instance, engaging signage throughout your facilities can help educate drivers about the benefits of paid parking in congestion reduction.
Or you can take on a cause. Ace Parking, for instance, conducts our annual Park For Pink campaign each October, where we raise money in the fight against breast cancer. (To date, we’ve helped raise well over $400,000 for non-profits and hospitals.)
What ways can you demonstrate trust, transparency, and added value?
Improving the experience of parking improves the perception of it. By accomplishing both, our industry can shift the conversation away from “Do you like parking?” and more toward “What do you like best about parking?”
Think about environmental organizations promoting initiatives such as clean water, air, and food for the malnourished. No one considers these causes in terms of likability; they’re considered necessary for improving the quality of life for all, regardless of whether or not you support them.
To me, it’s not farfetched to envision a similar reputation for parking. I believe we’ll see it transformed from a necessary evil into a necessary solution. Tomorrowland depends on it.