Park Rangers, Not Tax Collectors …
“Parking Enforcement Officers should be more like park rangers and less like tax collectors,” says Cory Marchasin, President of Paylock. “They should be there to manage a resource, not simply to penalize people who over-park by 10 minutes.”
Parking Today sat down with the company’s management team to discuss on-street enforcement and what might be a different approach to parking.
“The main problem” continued Marchasin, “is that the cities have an attitude about parking. It is all about revenue and income. The money is important to the city budget so that’s the focus.”
The management team told PT that a paradigm shift is required to solve the issues with people not paying parking tickets. “Turning up enforcement isn’t necessarily the solution.”
“There is a huge amount of political fear generated by parking,” Marchasin noted. “Parking affects every single voter in the community, and it’s contentious. Everyone has gotten a parking ticket, and there are always stories in the paper about a problem with an enforcement officer or millions of uncollected dollars.”
“New equipment is purchased to ‘get’ the scofflaws. The problem is that those scofflaws vote. The cities are dammed if they do, and damned if they don’t.”
The Paylock management team spends its time working with city governments to change the approach they take to parking. Although the company’s goal is to reduce the outstanding parking tickets, to do this properly the attitude of the city bureaucracy must change, Marchasin said.
“It’s like predator and prey,” he said. “The city is out to find the errant parkers, and the parkers are looking over their shoulders for someone who is going to write them a ticket for $40. This is not a healthy environment.”
Of course, as the amount of money generated by parking fines increases, the city sees it as a line item in the revenue budget. It’s a number that must be met. Enforcement moves from a parking management activity to an income activity. The relationship becomes adversarial. On one hand, the parkers are constituents and voters; on the other, they are treated as criminals, not customers.
“The goal has to be to turn a criminally sanctioned event into a business process,” said Paylock CEO Patrick Moynihan. “Companies like ours have to become less like tax collectors and more like facilitators.”
The company says that the city must come up with a plan to solve the entire parking issue, not just collect unpaid tickets. It needs to answer the questions as to why people break the rules, why they don’t pay, and how to work closer with the people who haven’t paid their tickets, the company says.
“If payment is quick and easy, people will pay. If it’s a long and complex process, then they put it off until it’s an embarrassment. No private business could survive if they treated their customers like most cities treat the people who owe them money. The only difference is that scofflaws have no other place to go.
“People hate the post office because they have no alternative. It’s true with the DMV, and it’s true in dealing with past-due parking fines,” Moynihan added.
Marchasin continued: “We could go in with a list of things the city should do and that we have seen work in other places, but we would fail. The reason is that so many different parts of the government have their hands in the problem. It starts with the mayor, city council, chamber of commerce, downtown business association, city administrator, police, parking office, finance, and public relations.”
“I’ll give you an example. The PR department works for a year to get a positive spin on enforcement officers. There are pictures of them helping old ladies across the street, saving kittens and the like. People are beginning to like them and then the mayor says something like, ‘We have to do something to get these scofflaws that aren’t paying their parking tickets; we need the money.’ He took all the positive work and erased it by making it about the money.”
“The company’s experience has been that all the stakeholders have never met to discuss the issue. All the groups mentioned above simply do what they do. They don’t realize that they could be working against each other. They need to come to the conclusion that there is a global solution and all work toward it.
“We become facilitators. First, we determine all those involved and then require that they meet to discuss the problem. We let them find the solutions (with some guidance). The solution is theirs, not ours.
“They come up with a best-practice solution that fits their community. Then they put it into action. The tools we supply help, but they don’t solve the problem. The group actually comes up with the list of possible solutions, shaped for their community. To be successful, they must go through the process. The process is as important as the outcome.”
“We can then find those in the organization that ‘understand’ and will put the solution into practice. But there is another problem. Government entities are fluid. People move from position to position. That leader we found this year might be gone next year. The process must be ongoing. You can’t just do it once.”
Marchasin summed it up: “Cities need to understand that parking is a resource that needs managing, just like a park. People love park rangers, even though they sometimes have to tell them what to do and even write tickets. They know that the rangers are there to protect the resource. We need to get everyone in the chain, from mayor to parker, to understand that and see that only good can come from a well-run, well-managed parking resource.”
Paylock provides technical and consulting services to communities to assist them in collecting past due parking fines. They can be reached at www.paylock.com.