Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations – Parking’s 85% Rule


Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations – Parking’s 85% Rule

President Bush often quoted the term “soft bigotry of low expectations.” It refers to setting standards for one group lower than another, the idea being they can’t, for whatever reason, achieve as much as the other group. Time and again that has been proven nonsense. Certainly some may have to work harder than others but perseverance and hard work will usually win the ay.

We have a similar problem in parking. It goes unsaid, but it’s an undercurrent that permeates most of our professional lives. I call the 85% rule. We seem to think our actions are ‘good enough’ if we hit 85%.

  1. I was walking the trade show floor at the IPI and in one booth I talked to the CEO about his product. He said, after I swept through the normal chaff and got to the wheat that his product collected, he could guarantee, 85% of the data it sought. He seemed to think that was acceptable for this industry and smilingly went on with his spiel.
  2. A few years ago, an auditor friend of mine noted in a valet only garage at a major hotel in a major city, 17% of the tickets were missing on any given day. When he told the operator the response he got was “Wow, at least we have this location under control.” And the guy wasn’t kidding. He honestly felt that 17% ticket loss in a garage where basically every ticket was handled by his employees was acceptable because it was the best that could be done.
  3. I was talking to a division manager of a major parking company and he was laughing about how those of us in parking needed a shot of Carbon Monoxide from time to time just to stay alive. He then got serious and told me, with a straight face, that 15% of the revenue is uncollectable, and we have to accept that.
  4. In many cities, when we talk about collection (of citation revenue) we find that if they are collecting 85%, it’s a lot. Most collect less than that.
  5. I was told at the meeting of PEO’s in Australia that a good rule of thumb is that 90% of all citations are never written. In other words, scofflaws get away with it 90% of the time.
  6. When I was installing revenue control equipment ( back in the dark ages ) we found that whenever we put new equipment in, the revenue would immediately jump at least 15%. By the way, I think this is true of most equipment.
  7. A VP at a major parking company told me that he could take away the operation from a competitor, any competitor, whenever the company had been at a location for more than five years. He would simply do an audit, easily find 15% missing, and show the owner. He also noted that any other company could do the same thing to him. He saw no real solution to the problem.
  8. This same VP told me that only about 15% of the people in parking really are of a high quality. It was virtually impossible to increase that number. You had only so many good people and because of that, the rule I quoted in number 7 was true.
  9. A buddy of mine does audits for cities around the country to find out if operators and owners are cheating on paying parking taxes. He says that a tremendous amount of parking revenue is not reported, particularly from so called ‘fly by night’ parking companies. He says if a city gets 85%, they are doing very well.
  10. I was privy to an audit done of a major city when it was ‘going out’ for a PPP deal. The informal audit showed that revenue in the city run garages was potentially much higher than reported and that management really had no clue what was going on. The operators bidding the deal would bid almost any amount because they knew they could easily increase the revenue and meet their bid requirements


And so it goes. I don’t speak to everyone, but these anecdotal comments have to have some basis. I didn’t just make them up. Before you burn up the ‘net castigating me for painting with a broad brush, I do know that some of you out there do a good job and run competent organizations. But I’m afraid, my friends, you may be the minority.


Have we grown to accept mediocrity as a way of parking life? We pay our managers less than they would make running a team flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Our operators are forced to accept contracts that ensure they lose money because asset managers see us as a commodity. “They are all the same” is what you hear from owners and managers far and wide. They were talking about equipment as well as operators.


Thinking about my first example the company had its roots not in parking but in technology. Perhaps he thought 85% was “good enough” for parking. After all, how hard can it be, parking cars?


Are we better than 85%? Probably not if we see that number as acceptable. One of the most expensive, small, and successful parking operators in the country was Edison when it ran other than its own locations in the New York area. They accepted nothing but perfection. No lost tickets. Not one dollar missing. If it was, they found out why and spent thousands to ensure it didn’t happen again. They charged a lot for their services and most asset managers wouldn’t pay the freight. But those that did saw a slick, smart, successful parking operation. They weren’t included in the “they are all the same.” Edison developed its own technology, forced the manufacturer to make it 100%, and understood that the 15% rule didn’t work for them.


Think about your operation. How many of your parking meters are ‘down’ at any one time? How many citations don’t get written? In off street locations, how many pieces of equipment are broken, running off line, or don’t work properly? How do you know? If you ran a card list right now how many active cards would there be for which you aren’t collecting a monthly fee? Does the POF compute fees correctly? Are you sure? Are all the intercom’s working? Does your staff follow up on every problem or just ‘open the gate and let them out?” Are your PEOs napping? Have you actually gone to the garage or walked the street and seen what is going on out there? When did you check the lease agreements with your tenants and have you updated the rates you are charging based on those leases. Are you following the 15% rule?


Is our industry with all its fancy technology, seminars at trade shows, training programs, fancy slogans, doing only “B” level work? If you excel in your operation and know the magic – let me know. I’ll be happy to eat a little crow and tell the world. You know where to find me.













John Van Horn

John Van Horn

3 Responses

  1. Why don’t you write like this more often instead of the usual Blog nonsense you put out? This is good information and analysis.

  2. JVH – well said. I too believe there is much complacency and “shoulder patting” in the industry. Whether 85% is the number the industry strives to achieve is debatable. However, what isn’t debatable is that the parking industry as a whole suffers from a stigma of lack of accountability and customer service.
    The parking industry is predicated on consumers/drivers filling up parking lots to maximize revenue. Yet, the focus for most parking operators is THEIR clients (i.e. cities/municipalities, real estate holdings, and property managers). It amazes me how many times we’ve spoken to parking operators who either put the blame back on the driver, plead ignorance, or worse just don’t care. This apathy has created a reputation in the industry of “shady operators” and “dishonest practices”. If you look at certain websites (i.e. Google Places, Yelp, Citysearch) anytime someone posts a comment about a parking operator at a specific location, invariably it is a negative review warning customers to park elsewhere. While this single incident may not be indicative of operations as a whole, it doesn’t help the perception of the industry.
    Thankfully, this is starting to change and we at are helping make that change. We reward parking operators who recognize excellent customer service and strive to make every parking experience seamless and enjoyable. Parking and enjoyable may be hard to fathom for some, but we’ve processed 100,000+ parking transactions and make it easy for customers to provide feedback AFTER their parking experience. Over 20% of customers provide feedback and 95% of them provide a “recommend this service” with detailed notes explaining why they recommend this facility. (And no, we’re not satisfied with 95%!) If a parking provider continues to show apathy or a disregard to the customer they are removed from ParkWhiz. Ultimately we believe the transparency of the internet will weed out bad operators and create a playing field that will force operators to aim for 100%. Mark my words, in a few years, we’ll be writing about Parking’s 100% Rule.

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