September 11, 2022
A Collaboration by Dixon Resources Unlimited
The success of any parking operation relies upon compliance, which is why compliance is the goal of parking enforcement! We want people to follow the rules, and our job, as an industry, should be to make it as easy as possible for people to understand how to follow the rules. Parking policies are enacted for a reason, and if they are not consistently enforced, their effectiveness usually dwindles.
As an industry, we need to continue to shift toward a parking ambassador model that is focused on education and compliance.
Communities tend to figure out when and where there are gaps in parking enforcement coverage, and word can spread quickly. For someone that uses derogatory names like “Meter Maid” and “Parking Nazi,” this will probably be a tough pill to swallow: Parking enforcement is usually the most important element of a successful parking program since it encourages compliance. Although it can be disappointing to find a parking citation on your car, those citations serve a purpose in maintaining a well-functioning society.
Emphasize Customer Service
Parking enforcement should always be a customer service extension of the parking program, regardless of the location or agency. Therefore, parking enforcement officers should be focused on compliance and education. Do not forget that simple, easy-to-follow signage and clear curb markings are also important for seeking compliance.
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.
In most cases, your community members are more likely to interact with your frontline parking staff, especially parking enforcement staff, compared with any other position in your parking operation. This is why customer service training should be a priority within our parking operations. The opportunity to educate and inform could include the issuance of a warning notice to each first-time violator. A friendly and education-focused approach can enhance the perception of parking enforcement by seeking compliance. Parking enforcement seems to have become a dirty phrase in many communities. However, our industry has the opportunity to influence this perspective by training and developing our parking enforcement personnel resources.
Focus on Compliance, Not Revenue
I will never forget attending a Cindy Campbell training when she explained that there’s no toaster oven at the end of the month for the person who issued the most parking citations. This is true! And this is an important message to reinforce with our staff. Parking enforcement should not be focused on citation revenue generation, but rather on compliance. Consider this: an effective parking enforcement operation may result in a decrease in citation revenue over time since more drivers are following the rules. As an industry, we need to continue to shift toward a parking ambassador model that is focused on education and compliance.
Regardless of our customer service efforts, parking citations will be issued. This is a reality of parking management. Why do people try to get away with disregarding the rules? In some cases, drivers may start with the best intentions to park where and as directed. Then, they may get frustrated when there is not a parking space available where and when they need it. In other cases, drivers might not understand the rules and therefore break them accidentally. And, for some drivers, rules are meant to be broken.
As parking evangelists, we explain the concept of parking enforcement to communities across the country. We do not live in a utopia and, in our real world, some people do not follow the rules and ultimately should receive a parking citation. I know this from firsthand experience because, back in the old days, I was a parking enforcement officer. It did not matter how many warnings I gave, there were always egregious violations that necessitated a citation.
Educating the Customer is Vital
If vehicles are blocking a disabled access ramp or impeding the flow of traffic, these types of violations are different from expired parking meters and time limit violations because of the public safety and access implications. If a customer came running out as a notice was being written (and yes, that’s how long ago I was a PEO – I used a paper ticket book and pen), I could use my discretion because I was trained to evaluate the circumstance and surrounding situation to determine whether to give a verbal warning or issue a parking citation.
Most times, a verbal warning was sufficient since the person would then move their car immediately. This was the powerful influence of a potential citation, and why fines and penalties must be priced appropriately. I could generously offer a warning if the driver relocated the vehicle right away. In these circumstances, we achieved both goals: access was repaired, and the driver was informed of the violation. Some will question if this approach is effective.
Frankly, if this person does not recognize the value of the warning and appreciates the opportunity to change their behavior (and think twice before parking the same way again) we will catch them next time. There is always another violation around the corner, and regardless of how many citations I issued, there wasn’t a toaster oven waiting for me at the end of the month. I had to buy mine at Costco.
Consistency is Key
Beyond the safety and accessibility considerations, some parking policies are designed to influence driver behavior to achieve a parking management objective. This could include objectives like encouraging a shorter length of stay, parking in a specific zone, or participation in a permit parking program.
Without enforceable regulations in our commercial areas, prime customer parking could be nearly impossible to find due to employee parking. Spillover parking could impact residential neighborhoods near hospitals, schools, and commercial districts and make finding a parking space near adjacent homes difficult for residents. Vehicles parked in no parking zones or double parked for loading could create traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle hazards. Regardless of the intent of the policy, without consistent parking enforcement, the parking management benefits may be unrealized with low compliance.
Low compliance also makes measuring the impact of parking policies challenging. When evaluating whether to adjust policies like time limits, rates, or operating times, agencies usually prefer to make data-driven decisions. Collecting data to evaluate parking trends is useful for understanding how perception differs from reality.
Without consistent enforcement, a parking study will not capture an accurate evaluation of how parking policies influence behavior. This is why an assessment of parking enforcement coverage may be an essential initial step before conducting any parking data collection.
Ultimately, parking enforcement can and should be the backbone of a fully functional parking system. In many cases, parking is not an intuitive process, can be confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating – but it doesn’t have to be. Enforcement can be a valuable solution that utilizes proactive measures to encourage compliance, limit confusion, and provide parking programs with tools to improve the customer experience and maintain safe and accessible conditions.
Reach Julie Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org