So who blew it this time…..They can’t run a P by S machine


So who blew it this time…..They can’t run a P by S machine

I have sort of been tracking the installation of new pay by space equipment in Sausalito, that Tony little community across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. Here is the first reaction to the new machines, and it’s not great.

The money quote:

After their first day up and running, city officials began working toward rewording the machines and figuring out other ways to make the system more user-friendly.

It’s a little late now, sports fans. Whose problem is this? I’ll tell you who, the folks who designed and sold the system and the people who bought it. (If they did the things I’m about to point out, let me know and I’ll eat some crow.) To wit:

  • Did the city visit other cities that had installed exactly the same machines and learn the implementation problems they had and how they overcame them?
  • Did they study any of the myriad of articles concerning P and D/S implementation in the parking media to see how to make the change from nothing to the most advanced parking enforcement technology on the planet?
  • During the months prior to implementation did they have open houses and pass out flyers and visit local service clubs, schools, and churches and explain how the system works? Did they ride the ferry and give a training session to riders (who will be using the equipment every day.)
  • Did they ask the city council to actually use the machines (at a city council meeting) and see how they were able to follow the instructions?
  • Did they then fix the instructions to fit the problems that were pointed out?
  • Does the equipment design lend itself to ease of use ie – can you suss out how to use it with little more than a cursory reading of the instructions?
  • Was the local media called in and allowed to use the equipment and then make comments that were taken to heart so when they wrote a story like this one it was on the side of the equipment and not the users.
  • Why are the city officials “working toward rewording the machines” and not working with the manufacturer?
  • I note there are two companies (at least) involved here. One is the company that installed the sensors in the parking spaces and the other was the manufacturer of the equipment. Was this a problem?

My guess is that some of the above were done, some weren’t, and that everyone involved had the best of intentions to make this a grand success. The problem is, of course, that the trouble always begins when the system is turned on. If you do all the above, you will still have Mazie whose VCR still has the time flashing and will never be able to work the system. However here is the most telling quote:

Gregory said helping people at the meters could be a full-time job for some of the officers. The city parking staff has been working full-time to help with the machine transition.

I blogged about this issue earlier this month here. This is not a problem unique to this system or to Sausalito. As an industry we do a very poor job of educating ourselves and the public about our service. This stuff isn’t easy. Hell – Airlines, grocery stores, oil companies, banks and theaters spend billions on the problem and often get it wrong. We expect to be able to “walk” a novice through a relatively complex set of instructions on a four inch screen that can’t be read in sunlight. If we do use a full size LDC display we have some 15 year old video game wizard program it and then anyone over 30 has no chance.

I claim that any company that can design an intuitive product that the average person can run (a person who can get money out of an ATM and pump gas) will rule the parking world. Just keep it simple, don’t require a lot of decisions, and don’t give a lot of choices – If you use credit cards, be sure they work the same way the ones people are used to at gas stations and the checkout at grocery stores.

Remember the problem that they pointed out at Sausalito – The customer was required to input the lot number. Now the designer thought this would enable people to use any machine at any lot to pay and update their parking, however it made the whole process more complicated (who remembers their lot number).

Wow – I must really care about this – 800 words on a blog…


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John Van Horn

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