Parking Management’s Role in Economic Development
While it is clear that parking management skills, technology, and business practices are potentially of infinite value, the function and discipline are still largely marginalized and fairly low on most cities’ food chain. So how can those responsible for parking management and public-sector leaders better leverage the value parking management brings to the table and increase its return on investment? Several practical steps are required:
1. Integrated management/decision-making: Cities can do a much better job of aligning the people responsible for various parking-related functions enforcement/ ticketing officers, collections staff, courts officials, etc.—in overall planning and management. The integration of these staff, and simplified reporting relationships and lines of communication with the people to whom they report, streamline and therefore heighten the role of parking management in the bureaucracy.
2. Better direct linkages between parking management and related infrastructure functions: The economic, operational, and customer service benefits of parking management fall on deaf ears unless they are in front of decision-makers in other infrastructure-related public programs. Cities need to restructure to take full advantage. More direct roles, peer relationships, and bureaucratic linkages need to be made between the parking management function and those departments responsible for public works, transportation, housing, and public transit.
3. Transform parking management skills, intelligence and business processes to larger government functions: In a majority of cities today (including those surveyed in the material referenced in the accompanying sidebar), most of the information generated by the parking management function is rarely if ever shared with other departments related to infrastructure, much less those responsible for economic development and planning. The strategic value of parking and related infrastructure programs is too critical today for this trend to continue. Parking and infrastructure are central to revenue generation, public safety and citizen relations, and should be at the table in coordination of management of key agencies such as development authorities, planning/development departments, tourism/convention centers, and related entities.
Customer relations is an area that unfortunately has been largely neglected by purveyors of parking management systems and municipal employees responsible for these systems. Typically, the first encounter between the municipality and a citizen occurs upon a parking infraction and continues through the process of further notification and, finally, payment of fines and fees. During that time, the citizen is not considered a customer to whom certain civil courtesy should be extended, but rather as the perpetrator of a crime and one who must be harassed into compliance—even if, as in most cities, parking infractions are limited civil, not criminal offenses.
This attitude has led to the use of negative approaches geared toward forcing citizens into compliance with local laws and payment requests. Most people realize that finding a parking ticket on their vehicle, or finding their vehicle immobilized by a boot or towed due to overdue fines, is a disturbing and costly experience. Parking managers should understand this and better recognize the need to ease citizen discomfort.
Smaller municipalities may enter into agreements with small merchants to accept payments and hand out informative parking management brochures describing system updates and new procedures. Whatever the option or solution, the purpose of customer-service initiatives like these is to increase the public’s willingness to comply with municipal laws through a greater understanding of policies, distribution of parking revenues, and public safety improvements. Other methods to improve public response and participation include:
- Improved maintenance of signs and meters
- Use of the Internet, TV, radio, newspapers, and frequent brochures to provide public information
- Warnings to motorists who are within weeks of being booted or towed or having their license suspended
- Special payment plan programs for motorists with very high outstanding balances (a variation of this is currently running in Memphis)
- Amnesty programs that allow citizens with high volumes of tickets to pay off citation debts without paying late fees or incurring additional civil penalties (Chicago instituted such a program in late 2002, with mixed results; the city did collect more than $10 million in unpaid parking tickets, however)
SYSTEM VALIDATION AND VERIFICATION METHODS:
A comprehensive parking management solution must have validation and verification methods to promote and ensure accountability, efficiency, integrity, and accuracy. Today’s parking management operations are singularly focused on maximizing enforcement measures and place little or no emphasis on monitoring manual and automated procedures for continuous improvements. As a result, systems tend to lack the functions and features necessary to identify faults and failures relating to accountability, efficiency, integrity, and accuracy.
MEASURING THE IMPACT AND EFFICIENCY OF THE PARKING MANAGEMENT SYSTEM:
Many cities and municipalities are guilty of operating a parking management system that is separate and independent from other systems and departments and, in doing so, reducing or eliminating the opportunity to take advantage of successful business process innovations. In most cases these innovative measures generated cost savings and process efficiencies that would bring about exponential rewards to the parking management system.