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Every Other Booth

Well, at least it seemed like it. We attended the NPA annual convention and as usual, they did a great job and had well over 125 exhibitors. As I walked around the floor, I noticed that practically every other booth had some type of License Plate Recognition (LPR) system on display.

All the PARCS Systems had integrated LPR. This allowed you to use the license number as a credential for monthly parkers, plus use them for parking reservations, and capture the plate and connect it to the ticket issued on entrance. That way, when the person paid at a central location, the system would recognize the plate on exit and allow the exit without stopping. Neat huh.

Then there were the parking guidance systems that used cameras to locate empty spaces and change lights above them from red to green. The cameras also captured the license plates and on some systems would report those plates and if you forgot where you parked your car, you could key in your license plate and the system would tell you the floor and space number where you left it. Now that’s a feature I could use daily.

LPR is used in enforcement both on and off street. A camera equipped vehicle is driven down the street and each license number is checked for payment. If none is found, some systems let the officer know and a ticket can be issued. In other cases, the citation can be mailed to the offending driver.

Data, and using it to understand your parking operation is important, and LPR and video is a key to capturing that data. Cameras can survey large portions of a surface lot or a street and tell the parking operator just how many spaces are available at any point in time. This can be key to dynamic rate setting and communicating to drivers just where parking is available.

The curb has become an important aspect of parking control in most cities. Video and LPR can give PEOs a grasp of just what is going on at the curb and enable them to enforce curb regulations.

Always a skeptic I asked many of the folks in the LPR booths just what their valid read rate was. The answers were substantially different from those received even five years ago. Virtually all claimed valid read rates in the very high 90s. AI, extremely fast processing, high end cameras, and excellent programming have made a considerable difference. Some systems not only read the license plate, but also captured the vehicle make and model. Pretty fancy.

Most systems had a back up in case of a misread. But they were seldom used.

Considering all the options, it seems to me that this is a most reasonable approach to parking control. Technology has moved in. Trailer hitches, bicycle racks, mud, snow, ice, and missing plates make 100 percent reads impossible. However there are work arounds for those issues.

The LPR portion of our industry has made great strides. The marketplace is reflecting those advances.


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Ageism – It Works Both Ways

When we visit the UK, are we not impressed with the sense of history. This is a place where kings and philosophers walked, thought, and partied for millennia. A place where empires were built and destroyed. A place where we could actually learn a bit about how to prevent disasters as well as create them.

I was in a pub in the UK a few years ago and a woman of a certain age accosted me. “Young man, American right? What do you like most about England.”  I responded “I think it’s the sense of history. Why, in the US, there are few buildings more than 150 years old.” “Young man,” she said, “Clive and I (Clive was sitting next to her, sipping his G and T), Clive and I worship in a church that has had services every Sunday for 1000 years.”

I get chills every time I tell that story. Think about it. A thousand years. Think of all the successes that were wrought, the failures that were suffered. Think of all we can learn from them and avoid disasters lurking around every corner.

As one ages, certain changes become apparent. There are physical ones, of course, but also that brain often slows down. Things that happened quickly now seem a labor. One of the big frustrations is when the youngsters around you begin to finish your sentences or your thoughts.

When you are young, everything seems so obvious. These issues and problems can be     solved quickly if only…Your ideas can be made to work if only… Someone points out a fatal flaw, but hell, they are over 70, so what can they know…Surely there is a workaround. Look at all the successes I’ve had. What can this old codger know that I don’t?

Similarly, how often does a senior discount the thoughts of the young, simply because they are young. “I tried that 50 years ago and it didn’t work.” Of course, the world does move on, times change. Maybe something that wouldn’t be possible half a century ago, would work today. After all, at one time folks thought the world was flat.

A friend once told me that something was impossible because it went against the laws of physics. I asked him if we knew all the physical laws. His life was built around assuming he knew ‘everything’ that was important.

I shudder to think how horrible the world would be if the young didn’t try to do things I knew were impossible. Would we be living the lives we live? But at the same time, consider what age and experience brings to the party. Does it really slow things down, or does it oil the machinery to make it go smoother and faster.


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Back to Work, or Else

I am honored that the venerable Wall Street Journal reads this blog. Coming off my piece about working from home, they had nearly a full section this last Saturday titled “Back to work, or Else”. They didn’t give me credit, but that’s OK. We all know who had the idea.

Employers including Apple Inc., Prudential Financial Inc, and BMO Financial Group plan broader September returns at their US offices. Some companies, such as Ally Financial Inc., have sent notes in recent weeks reminding workers to come into the office consistently. Goldman Sachs Group inc. said it was lifting all vaccination and other requirements to enter most of its officer after Labor day.

Others, including Marriott International are opening gleaming new office spaces with the hope and expectation, that workers will use them.

There’s an entire article in the WSJ about UMW Holdings in Pontiac, Michigan. They have 7,000 employees and have mandated that they will work in the office. They lost 500 employees over the policy, but say that it has been worth it. One supervisor noted that she can see her 60 staff members and can quickly see if one is struggling, and can walk over to help. “Overall it strengthens us at a team.”

Some employees complained that they couldn’t do their laundry during the day when they had to come into the office. Well Duh.

When executives at competitors call Mat Ishbia, UMW CEO, and say they are hesitant to push their own workers back to the office, he said he jokes in response: “I tell them, ‘Let them stay home,’”, He said. I’m kicking their ass and having fun with it.”

The Journal interviewed folks at of all places Zoom. The company had great successes at the beginning of the pandemic, its market cap was 159 billion. That has now dropped to 24 billion. The WSJ reporter noted that, like most tech companies, the concept of hybrid work is mostly to the remote side, however he found that the most provocative theory, “floated by the company’s Chief People Officer, was that remote work could prove harmful in the long term. Will those who work from home be lonelier and unhealthier? What if research shows that men and women coming to the office get promoted faster and make more money than those working from home? How can companies mentor employees and keep their company culture without sharing a physical space?”

The conclusion from WSJ is that when it comes to hybrid work, no one has the answers.

Well, I do. It’s obvious. UMW has the answers. Get your people back in the office, and you will too.


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Free Parking Isn’t Green – Yeah, Right

An article published over at The Good Men Project by Joe Cortright and my buddy Tony Jordan lambasts the (get this) The National Renewable Energy Lab for building a LEED Certified “green” garage because it is too big. It has all the ‘green’ credentials including solar panels and the rest, but it isn’t green because of its very existence. You can check it out on Parknews.biz.

Seems Joe and Tony feel that having a garage encourages people to drive and therefore pollute the planet with their gas guzzling vehicles. This garage has 1500 spaces to support a building housing 1200 people. It doesn’t say whether the NREL is expanding and perhaps could house more than 1500 but who cares, it’s a garage. And, its located in a suburban location where people, darn it, will be forced to drive to get to work.

Damn those planners at NREL. They could have built in downtown Denver where there are plenty of apartments for their 1200 employees and their families. Just where everyone wants to be, in the central city. My guess is NREL built where it did because that’s where their employees live.

Joe and Tony, however feel that people should be forced to live in dense cities. To wit:

That’s the problem, really.  We have an abundance of proven technologies that are “high-performance, low-emission, energy-saving strategies”–they include dense cities, cycling, transit, walking and car pooling.  But technologies don’t work, or don’t work well if we subsidize people to use energy-wasting alternatives and locate large concentrations of workers in places where they have few alternatives but to drive single-occupancy vehicles.

First of all, dense cities are required if you want walking, cycling and transit. I guess that’s where we are going. I assume Joe and Tony never heard of incentivizing car pooling if the company is so ‘green’ and the employees want it. They could still park for free but if they car pooled they could park close in, maybe get a few bucks bonus, who knows.

The first mistake NREL made was locating where it did (over 370 acres) I’m sure there’s plenty of open space in dense central cities. Then it built a garage. Who do they think they are?

Come on, Tony, aren’t there enough places to attack without attacking the very company that is attempting to promote green energy?  The irony of it all.


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Parable of the Two Shoppers

I was at the supermarket the other day and noted that the number of baggers was below normal. In most of the lanes, the cashiers were on their own. There were two men in front of me. One was a yuppie right out of central casting. Well dressed, coiffed, shoes shined, the whole package. Age about 30. The other was what some would call central casting also. He was mid 40s, dressed in construction gear, had a scruffy beard, dirty boots, and no doubt a gun rack in his pickup truck. I could probably predict the bumper stickers on each of their vehicles. Both had a basket full of groceries to be processed.

The first man in line stood there with his arms crossed, glaring at the cashier, as she processed his groceries and then bagged the entire batch. He didn’t even have his credit card out when she finished and we had to wait until he searched his clothing, found his wallet, pulled out his card, and processed it after the entire basket full of groceries was bagged and in his basket.

The second man in line sized up the problem immediately. He grabbed a bag and started filling it with his groceries. He had a couple of large heads of lettuce and some of the leaves fell on the floor. He picked them up, placed them in the trash and continued bagging. When the cashier was finished he already had his card out, processed it quickly, and finished bagging. He got his groceries in half the time as did the first man., and the rest of us in line greatly appreciated his alacrity.

I’m sure that by now you have seen through my little ploy. Yes, it was the scruffy guy who bagged his own groceries.

It has been my experience that those who work with their hands, who fix your plumbing, drive trucks, park your cars, build cities, pour concrete, plow the fields, can always find time to jump in and help when its needed.

These are the people, often denigrated, who work and honest day and get paid an honest wage. They have learned from their toil that lending a helping hand isn’t expected but is always appreciated.

These are lessons that can only be taught with experience, not in school. The next time you come upon an accident, or an emergency scene, take a look at who jumps in to help and who grabs their phone to take pictures. You shouldn’t be surprised, but many will.


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Another Reason to Oppose “Work from Home”

Not everyone knows everything about their job. They need support from their peers when they have problems. Let’s face it. It’s impossible to know everything.

When we hit the wall, what do we normally do. We wander down the hall and stick our head in Charlie’s office and say “Hey Charlie, got a minute. I need some help with the Jones account.” Happens every day. No wait. Charlie is no longer there. He is working from home.

So, do we set up a zoom call (a pain), pick up the phone and call him, send an email and ruin his day, or punt.

I say most of the time we punt. It wasn’t that important anyway. Charlie is an expert on the problem I have. But he’s also a very busy guy. For whatever reason, busy people always have time for you if you are standing in front of them, however few like to be interrupted by zoom, phone, or email.

If you take the zoom et al approach what could have been a two minute quick discussion becomes an ongoing project. It takes on an air of unnecessary formality. A quick word from Charlie and you are off to the races. If you go to all the trouble to zoom, or email, how long will that on line conversation last. I think we all know the answer.

I can see the in person conversation with Charlie now. “Did you consider……”

You: “Oh yeah, got it.” And you are off to the races.

There is a reason offices exist. Humans feed off each other. We ask questions, get answers, and do a better job because of it. It may be more ‘fun’ and convenient to work from home. But does it give you all the tools you need to do the best job you can.

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A Great Leader

I’m pulling together the October issue of PT and am humbled by the articles we have on hand. We reached out to organizations industry wide and received nearly 30 responses. The goal was to have a description of ‘leadership.’ In other words, “what makes a leader.” We gave them a choice of writing an article, or answering a series of questions. You will see the result in October.

I thought I might give it a go and see if I could describe ‘leadership’. Writing in the Harvard Business review…

W.C.H. Prentice rejects the notion of leadership as the exercise of power and force or the possession of extraordinary analytical skill. Prentice defined leadership as “the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants” and a successful leader as one who can understand people’s motivations and enlist employee participation in a way that marries individual needs and interests to the group’s purpose. Attempts to analyze leadership tend to fail because the would-be analyst misconceives his task. He usually does not study leadership at all. Instead he studies popularity, power, showmanship, or wisdom in long-range planning. Some leaders have these things, but they are not of the essence of leadership.

If you think about it, the qualities we think of when discussing a ‘great leader,’ actually are of little interest if they didn’t have a goal to reach and then didn’t reach that goal. Being able to ‘rally the troops’ is of no value if you lose the war.

If you read a list of leadership qualities, one that is most always listed is perseverance. A former boss told me that perseverance was the only important quality a person can have. Without it, you don’t see yourself through the rough times. You run when things push back, you find excuses for failure, rather than not accepting it.

We asked those who responded what historical figure they felt were examples of great leaders. The two names that came up most were Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. They both led their countries during times of great crisis. And they exemplified the definition I listed above. They accomplished a goal through the direction of human assistants. Lincoln held the North together until the South could be defeated, and Churchill was able to hold England together until the US entered the war. Each knew from early in their careers that evil was lurking nearby, and never shirked from naming it.

I wonder if the ability to select those “human assistants” isn’t a quality that might find its way into a leader. I know in my case, I have been through dozens of employees in our tiny company. Why couldn’t I understand that they wouldn’t work out. Often, I let them stay long past the time when I saw that they weren’t going to cut it. What could we have accomplished had I acted sooner? We will never know.

I’m not sure we can name great leaders until history has a chance at them. Churchill was in and out of power in England almost as many times as he changed his socks. Even when he was appointed Prime Minister at the beginning of WWII, there were many in the government who were unsure. It took a view through a long lens that would show he was the right person for the moment.

One of Lincoln’s greatest traits was the ability to work with his opponents. His ability to see value where other could not. This was seen by many at the time as a great fault. But we honor him through history.

I see a great leader as one who persevered through adversity, who left an legacy, and who succeeded in his or her goals. I have great respect for those who, as Teddy Roosevelt said:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

A great leader has been in the arena, and has known both victory and defeat.


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I got a response to my 70% Blog

My blog about 70% of onstreet revenue coming from citations brought a pretty strong response from Joe Sciulli and Clyde Wilson. I thought them important enough to bring them out into the light of day as a separate post.

From Joe:

Are people in general becoming more unhinged during these latter days? You bet: just listen to your local news for a few minutes every day.

Can conflict avoidance seminars for officers and better / clearer signs help? Maybe, but in reality, they miss the mark and don’t get at one of the main reasons for the problems related above.

Dig deeper and you’ll find the root cause lies in city government. That’s right: city government / the elected officials. Why? By adopting trendy mobility policies and shoving municipal budget goals down the throat of the parking agency, they’ve decreased the parking supply while increasing its price.

Sounds like bad economics to me.

Valid safety and traffic movement concerns aside, there simply are fewer on-street spaces today compared to ten years ago, especially in downtowns. That contention is part data and part personal experience. Prove me wrong.

Compare your on-street metered space inventory of today versus that of ten or twelve years ago. How many metered spaces have been removed for bike lanes, bus-only lanes, rental bike parking zones, restaurant seating, valet zones, authorized zones for city workers, etc. (“You know, the thing…”)

And quantifiable ticket projections based on surveyed turnover, violation and capture rates are NOT the problem. Unreasonable ticket fines in the face of a shrinking legal supply are.

Anybody who’s been in parking administration or consulting for those brave souls will tell you that “the number” comes down from on high (city hall) and ‘we’ve got to figure out a way to meet it.’ Sometimes the ways are reasonable and valid: expand coverage areas and times, and adjust meter rates and fines to incentivize compliance and the use of off-street parking. (Though we all know off-street prices have stood still over the years, right?)

But sometimes the ticket fines are not reasonable or justifiable, and ticket fines and penalties are pushed off course by that strong wind from above and they “depart controlled flight.” Clyde and other flyboys will get that reference. Translation for the ground-pounders: fines of all sorts may have a tendency to reach unreasonable and undefendable levels.

Cases in point: twenty years ago two famous cities infamously raised parking fines for the stated reasons of: 1) covering a budget deficit, and 2) building a new court house. Care to guess which ones? If you say “DC and LA”, then you’ve really been around for a while and may be joining me in retirement soon. If this was happening twenty years ago (and it WAS happening everywhere), then what’s going on these days, in your town?

So picture it: give too strong a kick in the pocket-book for somebody who’s tried and tried but couldn’t even find a legal parking space to begin with (sorry for the poor grammar, Barbara), and it might set off even the most mild-mannered parking customer.

Now that I’m no longer in the family business after 30+ years, I can say “you guys” have allowed your supply to be reduced while fines have escalated beyond the parking equilibrium price point, which effectively has put the parking customer in a bad space (pun intended), considering real-world economic and societal pressures. No wonder confrontations and assaults are up.

In the end, what we have here is a perfect storm, and maybe a ‘failure to communicate’ to city fathers – to borrow a line from a Paul Newman movie that opens with him cutting off meter poles – that it’s time to say ‘enough is enough’ and restore a bit of sanity to the curb by restoring some of the legal supply while taking a hard look at lowering some of the ticket prices.

From Clyde:

As I was reading your blog I was formulating my thoughts on what might be my reply. Then I got to your comments and realized yours were the exact same as mine. If 50 to 70% of your revenue is coming from violations at some point you should maybe think we need to reevaluate our whole operation. I am not an onstreet expert, never ran an onstreet operation and only audited a few over the years so I’ve tended to stay away from discussions of on street meter operations except to say i believe they have out lived their usefulness.

After reading this I think maybe I’ve made a mistake because someone not that close to The on street meter business may need to take a look at this from a whole different perspective. The escalation training and a change in the signs is not what’s going to solve this problem.

Ginny and I were parking in downtown somewhere  6 months ago and the 1st meter we pulled up to Had a problem, I don’t remember what the problem was but We moved to another meter and had some additional problems but decided that we had enough quarters so we paid with quarters. The only problem was the meter only took 2 of the quarters it would not take the rest and we decided just to leave. She got a ticket, contested it and lost and was told she had to pay her $40 fine. Let’s see in this particular case we had 2 meters that were not working and an appeals process that didn’t work so maybe we need to rethink at the whole operation.

Pretty smart guys, Joe and Clyde.


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To Censor or Not?

We had a bit of a set to here at PT world headquarters when I asked one of our staff to take down a social media post. It had subtly denigrated a former staffer. There was a complaint, I reacted. In hindsight I was wrong.

Censorship is anathema to a free country. Likewise its not appropriate to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, assuming there is no fire. However today the boffins who run social media have taken it on themselves to censor most anything with which they don’t agree. Yikes.

After some thought, I have come to consider this as a most cowardly approach. Rather than publish something and then let those who disagree have a chance at it, it seems that its better to not allow those thoughts to see the light of day.

Since beginning PT, I have written over four thousand posts on my blog. I doubt if I have gotten 100 responses that disagree with me. I’m certain there are more than 100 people out there that disagree, but few have the courage of a Tony Jordan, or Don Shoup, or Clyde Wilson to disagree or put their ideas out for review.

My mistake was not making this incident a learning experience, but simply censoring and asking that the piece be removed. A good editor or leader would have had the author review the piece and see how it could be adjusted to get the point across without the acrimony accompanying it. Trust me, that can be a challenge.

One of the things that made Johnny Carson so popular was that when he made fun of people, there was no anger or jealousy just below the surface. It was in fun and full or laughs. That is a skill to which we all could aspire.

Freedom is hard. We must protect it. But at the same time we need to take the feelings of others into account. Its difficult to write when angry. We need to learn how to communicate and filter that anger. At the same time, we need to be careful not to censor.


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70% of our Revenue Comes from Citations

Over on the IPMI member forum there is an interesting question posed. “What is the percentage breakdown between onstreet meter revenues and citation collections. The response was anywhere from 50/50 to 60/40 to as high as 30/70. That is, 30 percent of the revenues were from meters, 70 percent from citations. Wow!

There was also a long response about the abuse that PEOs take from the general public. To wit:

We have had them hit by vehicles, spit on, and one scofflaw picked up the enforcement bicycle and threw it into the street just in time for a car to hit it.  The treatment of our officers was so bad, as there seemed to be an incident occurring almost daily.  The officers had de-escalation training, and they removed themselves from the situation whenever it was possible.  Unfortunately, there were times that OPD had to be called for back-up.

With that said, we have been experiencing a sharp increase in the aggressiveness of these interactions recently, including an incident where a foreign substance was thrown on one of our officers.  While we are proud of the fact that we put an emphasis on de-escalation training and avoiding potential issues many situations present themselves abruptly and without warning which makes them unavoidable.

Historically, these types of aggressive interactions have been extremely isolated, but with the tension and anxiety levels continuing to rise, we are working on revising our training materials and procedures to focus on enhancing our officer safety in the field.

I’m no expert. But don’t we get what we dish out? If 70 percent, or even 50 percent of our revenue was from citations, are we asking ourselves just what are we doing wrong? What could we change in our approach to move the needle and get those numbers more in line.

I know that many enforcement operations run like mini police forces. Goals are set. PEOs must write a certain number of tickets per hour, day, week. In some cases, the enforcement units have simply given up and mail the tickets to the vehicle owner. That way there is no interaction between PEOs and the public.

I strongly recommend you read the piece by Julie Dixon’s group in the upcoming edition of Parking Today. Here’s just a hint:

Consider if the language is clear to anyone not familiar with the area. The value of a proactive education and outreach campaign should also not be overlooked, and this may include marketing materials, press releases, online information, and public meetings. The more our customers understand the regulations, the more compliance we achieve. In a perfect world, we would not issue any parking citations because everyone would comply. However, this is not the reality, and we need to invest in and train our parking enforcement personnel to become effective customer service representatives of the parking program.