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From Meters to Modern Tech: Navigating the Complex Evolution of the Parking Industry

The Parking Industry: A Complicated Success

On the outside, the parking industry has always looked like a simple business, but on the inside it is complicated. The truth is we developed an industry that worked. We are a $240B industry and guess what? The ticket spitter and the parking meter got us here!

The Impact of the Digital Age

In our new electronic, virtual world, we are losing contact with our customers and our locations.

Learning from History

I started my presentation for PIE, “On the Contrary,” by saying I was a history major. I have learned you cannot effectively move forward until you understand how you got to where you are. Call us outdated, but the reality is that everything becomes outdated.

Pride in Our Outdated Industry

I’m very proud of our outdated industry. You only get to be called outdated if what you did to get here really worked. The rate of change in the last 5 years makes it impossible to create a modern business. Moore’s law is moving so fast we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of even trying to keep up. Always moving forward, yes, but worrying about being outdated, no. We must spend the time and resources taking what is available to build sustainable processes. Build them and be committed to moving forward. Now, we are at the point where we need to develop and create the next generation of an outdated process, the next ticket spitter, parking meter, access card.

The Unchanging Basics

With all of that said, the basics never change. Our job is to sell a parking space for time, record the transaction, get the money in the bank, and make damn sure it’s accounted for. That was the job 42 years ago and it is still the basic job today. One huge difference between then and now is, literally, our proximity to our operation. We were very close to our customers and very close to the day-to-day activity at each location. Let me reiterate my “Parking Rules to Live By”: 1- Parking is an on-the-street business. If you are not on the street, you are not in the parking business. 2- Get the tickets on the cars (electronic, these days) and the money in the bank. 3- Know your numbers.

Eroding Customer Relationships

These rules are no less important today than they were 42 years ago. However, the changes in management resources today are eroding the close customer relationship and the “on-the-street” requirement. Up until just a few years ago we were using people to collect cash for transient and even monthly parking. This put us in close contact with our customers and it meant we had to be at the location, manage it and see the activity first-hand.

Technological Advancements

Technology continues to advance our industry by leaps and bounds. Credit card transactions have replaced cash, and call centers have replaced employees. More and more of our transactions are fully electronic, so more and more revenue is collected off site. Our growing need for integration is met with better equipment and powerful software to create one seamless flow of information.

The Hidden Flaws

This is all positive, with two small flaws hiding in the shadows. In our new electronic, virtual world, we are losing contact with our customers and our locations. We are no longer on the streets watching, observing, and learning first-hand how to improve our operation. If we lose sight of parking rule No. 1, we cannot learn what makes our individual locations, well, individual. Without this we cannot give our clients the customer service they expect and deserve. (I hope your customers expect stellar customer service!)

The Disconnect in New Technology

The other concern is that many of the individuals developing new technology for our industry have no knowledge of our industry. They have never spent time on an entry or exit island observing traffic flow or customers’ interactions with equipment. They haven’t calmed an angry tenant or talked to them about what is most important to them. They haven’t presented reports to management and explained the numbers. In other words, they have not been on-the-streets scuffing their shoes on the concrete and learning how to manage a parking asset.

Striving to Become Outdated Again

Our goal today is to become an outdated industry again because you can only say you made the industry better for your customers and owners if you can become outdated. My goal for this article is to encourage Mathew and other Mathews to keep moving forward, but don’t fail to look at how we got here and, certainly, do not underestimate the challenge.

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