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BART, Carpools, and Apps

I’m sort of shooting in the dark here, and probably don’t have all the facts, so if anyone knows more and sees a problem with my comments, let me know. I got this from a two minute TV newscast. You can watch it on parknews.biz.

San Francisco’s BART had a federally funded trial program using an app called SCOOP to match up carpoolers. Once you had formed a ‘pool’ you could park at a discounted rate at a BART station. The SCOOP program funding has run out, so BART has come up with a new program that allows car poolers to park in coveted close in spaces (used by permit holders).

Drivers must download a ‘new’ app, find carpoolers, fill in data on those poolers, pay for their parking, and then they are good to go. Of course the new app isn’t connected to the ‘Scoop” app which helped you match up yourself with others on the same schedule in your neighborhood.

BART says that you may still use the Scoop app to find carpoolers, but then have to manually transfer the data from Scoop to the new app.

Drivers are motivated to use the new app as the new program sets you up to use those close in, next to the station, permit spaces. The walk from the standard lot can be substantial. Fair Enough.

I wonder why BART couldn’t have used the tools provided by the Scoop App to make it easy for drivers to find carpoolers, and blended it with the new program to make it easy and seamless for drivers to set themselves up in the new program.

Listening to the half a dozen drivers that were interviewed, they seemed keen on the idea, but also expressed concern about finding other members for their ‘pool.’ Hmmmm,. Did BART talk to its customers before putting the new app and program in place?

Just Sayin…



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FOMO – Is it the First or Last Thing you Consider

David Zipper, writing over at CityLab, posits the following:

There are a handful of policy phrases that reliably trigger outrage among urban mobility wonks. “Sharrow” is one; “parking minimum” is another.  I’d like to suggest a couple more: “first in the country” and “staying ahead of our rivals.” If you hear either spoken by your mayor or governor, head for the hills (or the next community meeting). More likely than not, your elected officials are basing mobility policy decisions not on cost-benefit analysis or strategic foresight, but on a classic modern insecurity: FOMO.

ICYMI, FOMO means Fear of Missing Out.

He continues:

What does FOMO have to do with urban mobility policy? Ideally, nothing. But in reality, quite a bit—especially with state and local officials swooning over autonomous vehicle technology and eager to show it off.

Consider Arlington, Texas, where in 2017, city officials unveiled an autonomous shuttle called Milo that transports people on a fixed route through its entertainment district. During the launch, a planning official seemed more excited about the novelty of the program than its potential value to citizens, gushing, “[Milo] will go down in history as the first time that a government, a municipal government, has really offered this as a service to the general public.” No mention was made of whether the general public actually wanted the service in the first place. The link to the article is on parknews.biz.

As company after company, organization after organization jump on the ‘mobility’ bandwagon, are they doing so to “better mobility policy decisions on cost benefit analysis or strategic foresight” or FOMO. Are they asking questions like “does the general public really want this in the first place?” Can they even define what “mobility” means?

In his article, Zipper points out that some vendors are turning down requests for proposals from localities after researching the reasons the locals had for the requests in the first place. If there is a hint of FOMO, it’s a NOGO. These companies are being asked to have a six month free trial and then perhaps, there will be a purchase order. They know that if there if FOMO involved, there is probably no budget, and after the Mayor gets the headlines, it will most likely come to naught.

How many projects in your company or organization have begun with a FOMO attitude, only to shrink away when the hard work begins. It doesn’t have to be a mayor or governor that jumps on the FOMO bandwagon, it could be a city parking manager, a university transportation department, yes, even the engineering or marketing department at a technology company.

How can you tell if your project has FOMO lurking in the background? Take Zipper’s advice. Ask your customers, your users, your parkers if they want it and would use it.

I had a great FOMO idea to install an AV shuttle so people could park and then take the shuttle to local clubs and restaurants. A friend told me she tried it. No one would actually ride the shuttle. The users were never asked what they wanted.

Many decisions are made out of Fear. Some like fear of starvation, fear of flood or earthquake, of fear of war might have some basis. But FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, is a psychological and often narcissistic issue, not based on reality.

H/T Kim Fernandez – IPMI


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Road Diet

Now there’s a term I hadn’t seen. The concept is that a four-lane street or road be shrunk to two traffic lanes with the rest for bicycles, buses, turning lanes, etc. This is done at a cost of 1 to 3 million a mile.

The politicos behind this concept say that it makes the streets slower, and therefore safer. They comment that putting these streets on a diet have reduced traffic accidents and fatalities up to 40%.

A teen was hit in an unmarked crosswalk in an area with no streetlights. I wonder if marking the crosswalk and installing streetlights might be a viable alternative.

Businesses, commuters, and residents living near streets that have been put on ‘diets’ are complaining to the point that cities are reconsidering and, in some cases, removing the lane obstructions.

Some of the proponents of ‘road diets’ are saying that they are being promoted incorrectly. They should be promoted as a way to make the streets safer, not as a way to provide protected bike lanes.

Others have said that perhaps a sledgehammer is being used when a ball peen might work just as well. That in areas where safety is a consideration, there may be less aggressive alternatives that meet the needs of pedestrians, bikers, and motorists.

Maybe instead of a full fledged diet, the roads need simply to watch a few calories here and there.


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The Chicken or the Egg

The city of New York is considering installing electric vehicle charging stations at some on street locations. If your goal is to entice folks to purchase EV’s and they live in areas where there are no garages where drivers can charge their vehicles the plan seems reasonable. You can read the story on parknews.biz.

Local politicos, however, are not jumping on board. They are concerned about removing numerous parking spaces for the charging stations (only EV’s that were being charged would be allowed to park in those spots.) The objection is that drivers of non-electric cars would be cruising looking for a parking space and they would be driving by spaces that are empty but reserved for EVs low on electrons.

Note that these charging stations would be equipped with credit card readers and drivers would be charged for the electricity.

It seems like this is a chicken/egg scenario. What comes first, the charging station or the electric car? Can’t have one without the other. It must be frustrating for EV proponents.

Only a little more than 1 percent of all vehicles sold in the US are electric. That does not count hybrid vehicles like the Prius. Why aren’t people buying EVs at a faster rate? If they were, the charging problem would, I think, take care of itself. There would be such a demand for charging stations, the supply would happen, as it did for gas powered vehicles around the turn of the last century. That’s how the market works.

Why aren’t EVs flying out of the showrooms? There must be a reason. Depending on the model, they are sexy, fun to drive, quiet, fast, cheap to maintain, what’s not to like.

There’s range anxiety. Will I make it to the next charging station before I run out of power? How about the length of time it takes to charge (4-8 hours with the charging stations like the ones recommended for New York?) They typically cost more than similar gas-powered vehicles.

There are still some unknowns. How long will the battery last before it needs to be replaced? How much will it cost to do so? I think the answer is less than maintenance on a gas-powered vehicle, but most people don’t know that.

Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps selling EVs based on the world ending in 12 years if you don’t buy one isn’t the solution. Maybe they need to sell EVs based on how they fit into the buyer’s needs and pocketbook.

Most people understand that the US has done more than most any country to lower its green house gas emissions, and that completely removing gas vehicles from the road will do little to affect the future. Unless India and China clean up their respective acts, it’s a hard sell to base an EV purchase on saving the world.

WIIFM – What’s in it for me. Fortunately or unfortunately, we live in a society that is self-centered. Either consciously or unconsciously we think about ourselves first and just how the good or service we purchase will affect our lives and those of our family.

The EV industry might want to consider why folks are buying SUVs by the millions and not small, sleek fun to drive EVs.


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Wow! – This is Fan Friggin Tastic

The school board in Jersey City, NJ, has decided to let people park on their school lots during times when the lot is unused. And they are going to make money at it. Read about it on parknews.biz.

They are teaming with Parkmobile and will test the program at two schools and if it is successful, will expand it to more locations. What’s not to like.

The school system will charge $3 a night to park (you must be out by 6AM) with most of the money going to the school district. They hope to collect half a million a year.

Consider the upside. Money for schools, cars off the streets at night, more parking for businesses and local residents.

This could be a model for businesses in cities nationwide. Why not allow cars to park in unused space on nights and weekends. I parked in a bank parking lot this week. There were signs everywhere threatening me with 5 to 10 in prison if I parked there. It was 8 pm. The bank was closed. There were dozens of empty spaces. It just seemed inviting. If they were serious, they could have put a chain across the entry. Why shouldn’t they allow people to park there and use a service like Parkmobile or PaybyPhone to collect a few bucks to cover insurance and leaving the lights on.

What about those 10 spaces next to the dry cleaners or the doctor’s office? The would be perfect for folks going to restaurants or clubs after the lot’s owner closed. The lots could also be used for on street valet companies rather than residential neighborhoods nearby.

Idea! Pay by Cell companies could promote their service to small private lots and generate an income stream for that unused space. Maybe they do this already. I got the idea that Parkmobile was already being used in Jersey City and expanded their program to the local schools.

Another way to make parking attractive and easy for the parker.


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Is Rapid Transit a Train Wreck Waiting to Happen?

I’m in receipt of an article from the New York City Journal that chronicles the disaster that is the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, the entity that runs New York City buses, trains and subway. By any measure it is a disaster. Read all about it here.

In a nutshell, the story is that the management of the transit system is dysfunctional. It is  $41 billion in debt, nearly three times its annual budget, so much so that it cannot borrow to meet its obligations and update its equipment. NYC isn’t alone. The DC subway system is in a state of disrepair. Los Angeles is spending billions a mile to build an underground that will probably have similar funding problems downstream. Its hard to imagine that other systems aren’t in similar trouble, perhaps not as severe.

Why do we care? We are in the parking business, the car business.

Our betters tell us that the goal has to be to get people out of cars and into rapid transit. Fair enough. But how are we going to do that if the systems we are putting in place have reached a point where they are falling in on themselves. Remember 85% of all commuters take private vehicles to work. And that number hasn’t changed for decades.

The article in the City Journal notes that the desire of different levels of government, city and state, to acquire and retain power has led to the disaster that NYC finds itself in today. Are the leaders of New York so much different than those in DC, Los Angeles or other major cities?

One could say that the problems is mismanagement, but in reality, is it? Could it be that these systems are simply too expensive and that the riders are not willing to pay the cost of their construction and upkeep?

Air travel has flourished and the ticket price has gone down. It seems that the private sector has been able to make that happen. Is it possible that the way to make these huge enterprises that move millions of people daily succeed is the flexibility and focus of the profit motive?

In the meantime we will keep parking cars, and hopefully finding better ways to do it.


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Frustrating, but the Way of the World

I have attended some seminars on parking this past week and have an observation: The higher someone is on the corporate/organizational ladder, the more esoteric their comments become.

If you are the head of a parking operation in a small to medium sized city, or a line consultant speaking from experience about this topic or that, you pretty much simply tell your story. If you have a corner office and a lot of initials after your name, well…

For instance, I listened to a presentation from very senior staffers in major departments of transportation. The discussion was peppered with terms like “deep dive” and “Don’t play well together,” “pivot,” “stakeholders,” “rethinking,” “order out of chaos,” “thick skin,” and “don’t have a choice.”

They explained just how political many of the decisions required to move the parking system one way or the other were. That makes sense. The larger the city, the more “stakeholders” there are and the more that have to be convinced. Sometimes it takes years to change a rate by 25 cents.

I think that the more political one becomes, the more it may be necessary to temper one’s remarks with terms that could have many meanings, and let the listener put the meaning that best fits their wheelhouse.

It can be frustrating, but it’s the way of the world.


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Park Here – You will be Fined, Arrested, and Jailed

One of the members of the IPMI asked its forum for help in designing a sign to communicate its parking rules to its customers. They sent in this sign which is not finalized to be used as a place to start:

I get the feeling that I best not be parking here.. It certainly isn’t welcoming, doesn’t give the parker any kind of a warm feeling, and frankly tells me that I don’t want to park there and that you don’t want me to park there.

The First line tells me no trespassing, so how am I going to park there without trespassing.  The last line threatens me with citations or jail time. Wow!

Let me give it a try:

Welcome to the Downtown Parking Facility

To make your stay safer and more pleasant, keep the following in mind:

  • We provide the space, you provide the car. You are responsible for what happens to your property. Be sure to lock your car and keep your personal items out of sight.
  • Watch out for pedestrians, drive really slow (10 mph). Remember you will be walking here too as soon as you park your car. We want you to be safe.
  • If you have a trailer or your vehicle is longer than 20 feet, please park in our surface lot outside. This structure was designed for those of us with smaller vehicles.
  • Prove you are an excellent driver – be sure you park between the lines so you can open your doors and get out of your car with ease. We know you know where not to park.
  • Respect our Handicapped spaces, someday that could be you.
  • Save gas money. Keep idling to a minimum.
  • Be forward thinking, point your car into the space.
  • Keep your party animal under control, and your alcohol and armaments, too. If you want to party hardy, park here, and take your group outside. There’s a great park just up the road for you skaters, scooter and bike riders. This garage was designed for motor driven vehicles and skates and bikes are a no no.
  • The local constabulary will be around checking out how you are doing. Give them a smile and they will smile back. Keep the above in mind so they don’t have to go to all the trouble of writing a ticket or calling a tow truck.

OK, it might be a little folksy, but you get the idea. Signs like this attract attention, the one above is usually ignored. (remember the speed limit sign at the mall that says ” 7 MPH.”) I understand your lawyer won’t like this but have her write what she wants and put it in fine print at the bottom. They love fine print.


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Why can’t they affect parking behavior in Boston?

“You can’t park illegally. I mean, you get a ticket, there’s something wrong there, and I’m asking people to just, y’know, respect the rules of the road,” Walsh told the Herald. “No parking in front of fire hydrants, no parking in front of handicap ramps — those are the main tickets we give. There are some expired meters as well. A ticket is not something we give out just randomly across the city of Boston — you only get a ticket if there’s an infraction there. And we’re also looking at how do we cut down on traffic and congestion. Y’know, all of that — those issues.

That quote pretty much sums up the attitude of the city of Boston, and perhaps many cities across the fruited plain. We are not here to provide convenient parking and good service, we are here to enforce rules. And by golly, we are going to do that.

Boston writes 1.3 million citations a year and collects upwards of $65 million in fines, and according to the article quoted in parknews.biz, the number of citations written is going down slightly, but the revenue is going up – yep, they are raising fees. And we all know where those fees are going. Right smack dab into the general fund.

The article quotes a number of people who receive citation after citation and pay hundreds a year in fines. They seem like regular people, why are they getting so many tickets. Why has the city of Boston been unable to change their behavior?

Could it have something to do with the mayor’s attitude. Have they discussed the reasons they have rules about parking and what those rules mean not only to the city but also to the parkers. What kind of PR program do they have to promote parking in the city? Do they explain the need for the rules and what they men to the preservation of this most critical municipal asset?

I think we all know the answer to that.


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JVH vs Tony – Part Deux

My comments on the city of Portland and Tony Jordan and a parking deck expansion brought a storm of comments on Twitter but little here until Tony responded to my blog last night. You can read his comments attached to my blog below.

Tony is a bright guy and his words do tug at one’s heart strings. I stand corrected that it didn’t take him four hours to get to our offices, but only two. And I’m happy that his vacation was enhanced by the experience. But most of us see commuting as a way to get from point A to point B. and as Astrid has pointed out elsewhere, time is important.

I appreciate that Tony bills himself as a parking capitalist. But on one hand he says he would leave parking up to the developers in an area and on the other, he says he would rather not see the parking be built.

I agree with Tony 100% that the city should get out of the parking business and leave it to private enterprise. No, he should not be paying taxes to build parking spaces. I missed that little factoid when I read the original article. However, I don’t agree that the city should be taxing parking as a ‘congestion charge’. He claims not to be ‘against parking’ but wishes it to be taxed out of existence.

My experience has been when the government dips its toe into a situation, the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head. In the UK, congestion pricing went into effect in London and congestion went down. Then within a few years, it was back to nearly the same place it was before, so they instituted a new type of tax on vehicles based on the amount of pollution they caused. What’s next when that fails. People who can afford a Range Rover or a Rolls can afford to pay the tax, and the less well heeled in our society get shafted.

As for my comment that he is ‘anti-parking’ and therefore ‘anti-car’, I base that on the presentation he and his team from the city of Portland made at PIE two years ago. I listened carefully and determined that the goal of this group, Tony included, was to rid the planet, at least around Portland, of the privately owned vehicle. I agree that parking reform is important, and a Shoupista approach is one way to tackle it. But only one way.

The problem is that Don Shoup has a three-legged stool – Market pricing, return money to the neighborhoods, do away with parking minimums. Most cities don’t have the courage to do all three and end up with a hodgepodge that one consultant told me “we consultants have to go in and fix.”

I feel Tony’s frustration that with all the bike lanes and light rail and buses, people still want to drive. And I have thought a lot about that. Yes some of the youth is moving into the central city and therefore don’t own cars, but at some point they do move to the burbs and need to get back into the city to work, play, shop, etc. The taste of the freedom to do that exactly when and where they want is related to the privately owned vehicle. Once they have a taste of that, its hard to go back to the train and bus schedule.

If somehow we could make the trains, buses, and bikes a convenient as cars, who knows. I have some comments on how to ‘re imagine’ our cities but that is for another day.

All the best Tony, keep up the good work in Portland.


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