by Christine Parisi, ATS Business Development Manager and Observer of All Things Parking
I moved to the Northern, VA area just over four years ago. Since then I’ve relocated four times, each move placing me a little closer to Washington DC and a little farther from my country lifestyle and dirt roads. I certainly did not imagine myself living alongside Interstate 495, commonly referred to as “The Beltway”, the 64-mile highway that encircles Washington DC. Nor did I foresee taking my broadcast background and working for a traffic and parking technology company.
Nevertheless, I continue to be extremely intrigued by the vast amount of traffic and parking information I encounter daily in both my work life and my commute. So, I figure if I’m living in it, why not talk about it?
Murphy’s Law of Parking
Parking sucks for drivers, or “parkers” if you will. I find it extremely unlikely that anyone would disagree with this statement unless you are from my small town in Pennsylvania and have entire cornfields of parking options. From the moment we leave “X” with the intention of driving to “Y”, we want to know the perfect parking space is waiting at “Z”. Am I wrong? Parking a car can be a lot like Murphy’s Law – if anything can go wrong, it often will.
Here’s an example: several weeks ago, my roommate and I were headed to the movies in the bustling Tysons Corner area. Not anticipating any traffic (apparently I haven’t lived here long enough) we left a little later than we should have, and arrived at the theater with only ten minutes to spare. (Mind you, it takes us over ten minutes just to get snacks!)
When we pulled into the parking garage, the signage overhead displayed plenty of available spaces. Perfect…not! In truth, we wouldn’t be parking for a while. Parking traffic was so backed up within the garage that we had to put the car in park and wait for a solid five minutes. Words cannot accurately describe the cacophony of echoing, honking and beeping as frustrated shoppers and “late to the movie” goers sat, helpless in the dark garage, trying to avoid fender benders and resorting to foul language. I personally could not avoid the last one. It was a parking garage disaster.
When the congestion finally subsided, I told my roommate to ignore the parking space signage and just drive. In other words, my backseat driver voice said, “forget the technology”. I noticed at least six vehicles parked incorrectly, causing the sensors or loops to miscalculate occupancy, and this particular garage has over 1000 spaces so I’m sure this wasn’t the only issue causing the inaccurate counts. Every upgrade, every fancy new sign, they all bring new challenges we can only try to learn from and improve.
Bad Counting Makes for Bad Parking Experiences
That particular evening is only one of the many times I have talked myself out of a parking garage anxiety attack. Without accurate availability counts, we are failing our customers and ourselves and creating frustration. Sure, we could rely on error-prone loops and cameras or go back to the inadequate method of having someone walk the grounds taking a physical inventory, or we can fix parking once and for all. There are far too many overpopulated cities and people like myself who actually enjoy driving for us to rely on manual counts. AND, we have the right technology now, so why not use it?
If we want to make the overall parking experience better, we need to start by perfecting a basic skill: just like when we were children we need to count—accurately. If the data output doesn’t match the true data input, clearly we messed up somewhere. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be the one in charge of digging up all of the millions of concrete spaces, starting from scratch to fix the problem by installing yet another parking counting system. We need to ask ourselves why we work in this industry and remove those dollar signs floating around in our heads and think about The Customer. Start over and start counting accurately because parking shouldn’t be better, it has to be better. Or else I’m going to get out of the car in the next garage and walk.
How many drivers actually trust the numbers we see on parking signage? Think of yourself, for example. Do you trust your occupancy data 99.9%? Or could it be the inadequacies of your loops or cameras, the mistakes made during manual inventory, or the fault of drivers— because strong-willed game fans in a hurry with seats on the 50-yard line are going to park wherever their hearts desire. (At least my father would, and does when we go to a PSU game.) I think it’s a little bit of all three, and that’s where it gets interesting. How do those of us in the parking industry make it better for the driver and the parking operator’s pocket?