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Should We Complicate a Process, Just Because We Can?

April, 2023

A “Discussion” Between John Van Horn and Clyde Wilson

First, JVH: Clyde, are we, as a parking industry, supporting all our customers? Astrid over at parknews.biz has posted article after article bemoaning cities and parking organizations that are requiring their customers to use various parking apps to pay their parking. This, it appears, leaves many, including seniors, out of the game. Let’s face it, many seniors, and others, simply don’t want to use the complicated apps required by many cities.


The process of downloading, loading in credit cards, actually trying to figure out which of numerous apps on your phone to use in a particular location, can be overwhelming for some.


Sure, a 22 year old who has grown up using a smart phone may easily navigate the myriad of programs now available. But what about the rest of us?


For instance, the city of Pensacola, FL, has just installed its third app in four years. Seems the other ones, for whatever reason, didn’t meet the needs of the enforcement staff or just didn’t work. Well, what about the needs of the parking public? There was a lot of chuckling and smiling written into the story published on parknews.biz and it all came from the new head of parking enforcement. Personally, I don’t find anything funny about it at all.


I live in Los Angeles. It’s actually an amalgamation of many cities. Within a 15-minute drive from my home there are Culver City, Santa Monica, El Segundo, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Torrance, Manhattan Beach, and of course, Los Angeles, itself. That doesn’t count nearby cities like Pasadena, Monrovia, Long Beach, and countless others.


Each city has different rules, and most have different apps you need to navigate to pay for your parking. And in many, there is no alternative. No pay on foot, no parking meter, no way to pay except use your phone.


I’m not talking about private parking operations which have differing apps and systems required to pay for parking. I periodically visit half a dozen doctors in different locations and each one has different systems requiring different actions to pay. Some use Pay on Foot, some apps, some require you to enter a credit card into your phone to pay. The one I like the best has a helpful attendant at exit to send you on your way.


The British are finding considerable push back, particularly by seniors, when they are faced with downloading and using complex programs on their phones to pay for parking. Many downtowns are finding that a lot of folks just aren’t coming to shop because the parking is so complex.


Let’s face it, those of a ‘certain age’ simply don’t have the patience, the skills, the knowledge, or the desire to operate complex computer programs. A parking colleague and I went to dinner here in Los Angeles last month and were faced with a Pay by Space parking system. Between us we had 75 years’ experience in the industry. After we futzed with the machine for a few minutes, we gave up and went to dinner. We figured if we got a ticket the experience fighting it would be worth it. In this case, we won the parking lotto.


I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to computers and being able to suss out the ins and outs of their, as C3P0 would say “rusty innards.” I’m just not sure I want to stand in the rain or hold up a line of people just to pay for the ‘right’ to park. I’m not sure I want to download various programs onto my phone and then try to figure out which one to use. Note, I use the words ‘program’ and ‘app’ or ‘application’ interchangeably since an ‘app’ is nothing but an algorithm or program we are required to use to make the electrons flow properly through the silicon chips in our phone or laptop.


Are we doing our customers a service? Parker Technology tells us that they receive millions of calls for help from people who, for whatever reason, cannot make the various parking systems they face daily work. It’s a good thing for Parker, but is it a good thing for our industry?


Is it not time to make parking simple, rather than complex? Just because we can complicate the process, does that mean we should?


Clyde Responds: John, parking is simple, always has been, the equipment had a high failure rate, but was simple to use. As an industry, we have to constantly move forward with the times and there lies the problem. The challenge is three generations. In almost every parking operation, we have to deal with three generations. The 20 to 40 year olds, 40 to 60 year olds, and the 60 and older crowd. 


Parking has moved from cash to credit card, and is now moving, and will continue to move over the next 20 years, from credit card to app or E-purchase. In 1995, not really that long ago, all parking, except for a small volume at airports and in New York, was paid for with cash. In 1997, I saw the movement to credit card in the small parking purchase. It was in 2008 that we thought we had hit the big time when the stats showed we were at 70 percent credit card purchases. That means we still had to have cash, but if done correctly we could move most people, not all, to credit card. 


We didn’t just take cash away, but we moved it away slowly. I remember clearly that by 2015 we had credit card usage above 90 percent and almost 99 percent of people could pay with a credit card if we just took cash away. So, in 2020, we begin to see the move to app type of purchase, but the buyers and the 20-year-olds developing the app purchase are forgetting the transition period.


It will take 15 years before we move to all apps or some type of E-purchase. So, we have three generations, but have 100 percent experience that due to the transition time required, we can and need to provide two methods at a time. The transaction for the last 35 years: Only Cash, Cash to Credit Card, only Credit Card, Credit Card to App, Only App by 2035. 


Parking is still simple, I still remember difficulties using and maintaining the old cash machines. Credit Card was much easier to use and maintain; App easier yet. Parking is still simple, but we the manager, the purchaser of payment systems, have to think through our customers. I am younger, so in 2035, I’ll pay for the parking, John.


JVH Responds:


Clyde, I note that your comments are from the point of view of the owner/operator, not the driver. We have not asked the critical question: “What does the driver prefer?” or better yet “What fills the needs of the customer?” I know it’s difficult, but can you put on the driver’s shoes and walk a few miles in them?


Clyde gets riled up:


John, first of all, I am not just in the parking business but also very much a user. so, I can see both sides of a subject. I do understand the issue from both the parking operations side and the customer’s side. But instead of taking a side, I have had to become a student of change. I am the one that developed Focus Point and it was very much about change, I am the one that developed Flow Thru the first ticketless system, it was all about change. 


I worked really hard studying the impact of change. There are also many books written just on the subject of change. Understanding change is very much a science and a requirement for getting to the moon and back. This is not about walking a mile in the customer’s shoes, I have; this is about the reality of managing change. We are certainly creatures of habit. We do not like change…


If what I’m doing works, then I will keep doing it and not care much for change. We used horses and buggies for hundreds of years. When the first cars came out, they were purchased by people who had money and big egos, but secretly everyone hated cars. They were not reliable to start or keep running. Horses always started and never left you stranded. Cars were loud and they were not really built for the dirt roads of the day.


Changing from horse and buggy to cars took about 30 years. All four of my grandparents died one in the late 50s and the other three in the late 60s having never really used a car. Two never drove a car, one had a car in the late 20s, but one of his sons was in a wreck so he sold it and never had a car again. One grandmother decided at 75, after grandpa died, to drive and bought a car. I was excited to see her move forward with change, but the other cars she hit and the one storefront that she drove through did not feel the same. 


We had to take her keys away, but she tried. If it were not for the Henry Fords of the country, we would still be using horses and buggies. It is always hard to look back that far, so people today laugh at the thought that it took as long for people to accept cars as it will for them to move away from cash. We are creatures of habit, but change is inevitable. 


Also, I was using the term APPS above because people tend to say app when apps are not good for our business but e-payment is moving forward to replace credit cards. 


Love a good debate.


JVH has something to say to that:


Clyde, I used to think “all change is good.” Lately, I’ve rephrased that to “most change is good.” Far too often merchants make changes without taking into consideration the wants or needs of all their customers. Some, however, have not.


Banks have installed ATMs everywhere, but have not shunned those who want to deal with a human. You will find walk in banks pervasive in our landscape. Superstores are installing self-checkout lanes, but have found that most people still use those with human clerks. I read somewhere that vinyl was coming back. Young people and some not so young, are buying record albums by the tens of thousands, even if they don’t own record players. Seems they want to touch and feel the records, not just each other. And let’s face it, I would love to pay a few cents more per gallon for someone to pump my gas.


I love Amazon, but I do go to the ‘store’ or Costco when I want to be immersed in good old American capitalism. Somehow it feels good. I’m all for change, but not when it replaces my ability to choose, when that choice affects how I go about my life.


I see your grandparents and raise my father. He was 25 before he even saw his first airplane, but lived to see men walk on the moon. He was a craftsman, a printer. Through most of his career he printed using tools that weren’t that different than the ones used by Gutenberg when he turned out his bible in 1450. However, my father changed with the times and before his retirement he converted his printing operation to fully computerized, including the most modern offset presses. A true Renaissance man, my dad.


PS: We can keep this up as long as you like. William Randolph Hearst once said that you shouldn’t argue with someone who has an infinite amount of paper and an infinite amount of ink. Or in this case, an infinite amount of electrons and an infinite amount of silicon.



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