That Infamous Solution in Search of a Problem


That Infamous Solution in Search of a Problem

Parking lot reservation by the web.  I have been hearing about this for more than five years. Usually its from someone that has a personal problem finding a parking space (got to the airport, couldn’t find a space, can’t find a space when my kid has a concert at school, etc) and they set out to solve the problem with technology.

Set up a web site so people can go on line, enter a location, find a parking facility, and then reserve a space for the date and time needed. Sorry, I just don’t buy it.

OK, perhaps I live in a strange, parallel universe, but I just don’t have a problem parking when I drive to places, and I drive to a lot of places all over the country. I get in a car, take out a map (or my mapquest printout), and drive to where I want to go. I then look around for a parking space, find one, park, and go about my business.

In New York City, I pay a lot for the privilege of driving my car and not taking public transportation or taxis. At Costco, I park over by the wall on the west side of the parking lot and walk three minutes to the front door, when I visit the mall in Santa Monica, I park in one of the six parking decks and drive to the roof ( as I also do at Westside Pavilion, the Bridge, and other popular venues.) If I’m going out to eat, I usually valet park. Its very inexpensive, as compared to the price of the dinner, and very convenient. When I fly, I use the valet facility at one of the off airport parking lots. It costs half what the on airport valet parking costs and I have never had to wait even a moment to find a space. I just don’t understand the problem.

I note that there are a number of sites that find parking for you at airports.  I think that may be a reasonable thing.  You normally plan to fly weeks in advance, and a part of that process can be reserving a parking space. It makes sense for the non frequent flier. But the rest, I just don’t get it.

I really think it goes back to my first graph — Individuals have a parking problem, so they assume everyone has a parking problem. The fellow who set up a web site because he couldn’t find a parking space at the airport admitted to me that he was perpetually late for his plane and really didn’t have the time to park his car. He wanted to just drive to the closest space to his gate, park, and walk to the plane. To that I say, get a life. 

As for the other fellow that started a reservation/parking share system, he complained that whenever he went to an event at his kid’s private school, there simply wasn’t enough parking space on street in the Tony neighborhood where the school was located. I recommended that the school rent some parking space near by (probably from a church or business) and people walk, or they set up a valet system, or they rent space further away and hire a shuttle.  Of course the parents would have to pay a few bucks to cover the cost, but as my friend pointed out, he was very willing to do so if he could simply find a space to park.

So in the second case, the parking problem could be solved by hiring a parking operator to look at the problem and offer a solution. Isn’t that what we are all about as an industry?

There have been a plethora of articles in the MSM written about the lack of parking in the US.  They always appear during the Christmas holiday season when malls are stressed and airports are at capacity. There is much wringing of hands and quotes from a mom with three babies who can’t find a parking space 20 feet from the store she wants to reach, or a student who is looking for free or cheap parking in an area that has proper charges for on street parking. He drives by six spaces that charge $3 and hour to find a space that is free.  Oh, and there’s the grandmother going to visit her children who worries for weeks before her flight that she won’t be able to park at the airport. Of course, when you drill down through the article, you find that she did find a convenient spot, but she was still "concerned."

The guy who called me from NBC (I ended up on the cutting room floor again) was from New York and told me basically that I was full of crap with the idea that there is plenty of parking.  He said obviously I hadn’t been in New York lately.  I commented that I had been in New York just a few weeks before. I had driven and had no problem finding a parking space — however it wasn’t cheap.

AH HA, he said. See, there’s not enough parking. What he really meant that in New York there wasn’t enough FREE or CHEAP parking.  Well Duh. You have five million people living in an area smalled than DFW airport and you can’t figure out that parking may cost a bit.  It’s one of the most expensive places to live on earth. Parking is just part of the problem.

The others that have started reservations programs are from San Francisco, arguably one of the cities with the most screwed up parking policy AND an extremely high density. Chicago—I’ve never found a problem with parking, DC, Baltimore, LA, Seattle, funny…I travel all over the country, parking is my business, and I simply drive up to where I’m going and park my car. Sometimes I have to pay, sometimes I don’t. Its simple.

We are spoiled.  We don’t like to walk — We had a big brouhaha in PT a few years ago when a Brit opined that Americans were lazy and would get in their cars to go across the street for a quart of milk. It raised an uproar.  The only problem is that the fellow was right. The parking problem of the folks mentioned above would be solved if they left a bit more time at their destination and were willing to walk no more than five minutes from their car to where they were going.

OK, back off. I know that there are some places that need additional parking and assuming you let the free market work, it will be provided. But demanding huge garages and acres of parking lots is absurd. Churches know that you don’t build the church for Easter Sunday. Parking operators know that you don’t build your garage for the day before Christmas.

The solution isn’t reservation systems, or giant garages. Its drivers that understand that if you pay a bunch of money to drive your car, you must also pay a bunch to park it.  Once you get over that hurdle, there is no problem.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

5 Responses

  1. ‘…the solution isn’t reservation systems, or giant garages. Its drivers that understand that if you pay a bunch of money to drive your car, you must also pay a bunch to park it….’
    Wow! Are you still finding your way in the next 10 years while the number of the cars is ever increasing ?

  2. HEH — The Shoupista approach (and mine) would probably mean fewer cars. If parking cost a lot, many people would decide to use alternate transportation means rather than cars and traffic and congestion would be reduced. For that to happen, the free market has to work.

  3. I believe that the idea of a reservation (but wouldn’t sware to it) was concieved by Off-Airport operators that ran into capacity problems during Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the problem/question in my mind is how do you make sure that you have a space for a customer with a reservation unless you have someone with a list at the entrance to you facility to check off those with reservations as they arrive. Then and only can you moniter the amount of space left and assure a customer with a reservation a spot to park in.

  4. I don’t think you care (about having space, that is). You just stack em in, cheek by jowl, on those days when you are full. Of couse one way to ensure you have space is to charge in advance and for every charge put a cone in a space. When a person arrives with a note saying they have paid, you remove a cone….I’m sure the actual reservation system is much more high tech.

  5. John: Thanks for your insights early last year. Click on the link to the CarHarbor blog to see where we came out.

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