Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ranking New Zealand Council's Parking

After attending a recent New Zealand Parking Conference this (southern) spring, I was heartened to see that some Councils are working diligently toward a new future well with a much deeper knowledge of how parking contributes to the vitality of a city or town.  They are taking on board the fast intrusion of new the technologies with the enthusiasm of a kid with that latest fishing rod - they know its god but are not quite sure how to get the best out of it.  The strides new technology is making to parking around the world are immense and permanent. It is not the same business it was 10 or even 5 years ago. 
Some Councils are progressing faster than others, and their cities and towns are benefiting from the support to their economic vitality a modern parking system can provide.  But we don’t know who these Councils are as there has been no way to measure how all Councils are doing against each other and against the major players in the market.  We can’t tell how or if a city's and town's parking resources are benchmarked against the rest and how they are actually being managed.   But we can now….sort of.
Benchmarking is not a dirty word, for obvious improvement and quality reasons.  Also since the national environment is now ranking everything such as schools and District Health Board services, it seems like a natural progression that we should rank our Council parking systems.  As Councils collectively around the country manage a staggeringly large number of car parks for their communities and take in a large amount of parking revenue, there is a very real opportunity to manage this resource in a manner that provides positive returns to the businesses, the community and the ratepayers by simply doing things better and learning off those who do it better.  So why not rank them!
 Those in the best space to understand what Councils are doing in the field of technology and modern parking methodologies are the service providers.  They will visit each Council and talk to them at events like conferences, where they can form an opinion on how disposed each Council seems to improving what they are providing.  So we surveyed them.
 The results of the survey, conducting shortly after the New Zealand Parking Association conference has been positive in that most respondents wanted the outcomes to be aimed at improvement.  I need to say that very few of the comments were negative, which is a great place for the industry to start.
 Also please note that these companies did NOT want to do this openly for obvious reasons.
 The questions had not been split between the parking operations and the parking enforcement wings of Councils as some of the smaller Councils don’t split the two specialties anyway.
The questions that were asked were to provide an opinion on how each Council appeared in,
 OPENNESS TO TRY new parking systems
  • UNDERSTAND new parking systems, methodologies and technologies
  • STAY INFORMED about new parking systems, methodologies and technologies
  • Offer VALUE for parking spend by Councils
  • Appear to be well CONTROLLED & ORGANISED
 All of these questions were asked from the perspective of someone who views most Councils and in some cases can review New Zealand’s Councils against world standards.
The results show some interesting features, namely that when the results are marked out of a possible 4, the industry average is 2.4 which means that most of the City Council portion of the parking industry is above or close to average.  We’re not sure if this is a good result or not but as time goes on, we can view the trends to see if our Councils are improving their service offer.  I suspect that if I was facing ratepayers and businesses that I would want my parking operation to be supporting economic vitality and community access with much more than an average result!
A handful of Councils have achieved above a 75% result in the opinion of the respondents.  It’s probably not a coincidence that these organisations have a very proactive and positive approach to what parking may deliver to their city, Auckland Transport recently completing its Draft Unitary Plan, Christchurch City recently completed its new Central City Parking Plan and Rotorua experimenting with solutions around its retail parking.
Honourable mentions go to Invercargill City Council who respondents say asked some good questions of the survey contributors at conference and New Plymouth City Council who are also spending time on trying to get their solutions right for the community.
Some of the responses have been interesting, when asked for some simple thoughts.  A collection of those are below,
 1. What best describes the biggest issue you have with Councils parking teams?
  • Operations oriented (as in council centric) rather than customer oriented.
  • The linking of vehicle sensing technologies with customer parking payment solutions. The 2 do not need to be linked.
  • Budget. The old adage "you get what you pay for" very much applies here. Also, an inability or unwillingness to hold suppliers accountable for poor product/service supplied.
  • Lack of understanding when it comes to technology.
  • Difficult to access a decision maker, and council officers pretend they are decision makers.
  • No issues.
  • They do not understand how technology can manage utilisation. Only pay lip service to this.
  • Wasteful procurement methods.
  • Tender process too long.
  • Lack of general computer knowledge.
 2. What is the biggest change you would like Councils to make to improve their parking value offer to their city or town?
  • Raise the price of parking and use time variable price parking so that there is always some proportion (say15%) available parking.
  • A more aggressive approach to encouraging the uptake of Smartphone solutions for payment of parking by customers.
  • Directed enforcement will provide the opportunity to achieve optimal compliance/turnover. Increase the infringement fees too - they simply are not a deterrence.
  • Use the data from technology to improve the customer experience, determined planning.
  • Think like business people instead of just bums on seats.
  • Make on-street parking more affordable with shorter time limits then utilise major car parks for longer term use.  On-street short stay, off-street long stay.
  • Focus on utilisation not revenue. Abolish the tender system and let cities chose providers as the private sector would.
  • Improve their procurement practices to stop wasting money.
  • More openness to new technologies.
  • Internal training improved.

Parking is always an emotional topic when it actually doesn’t need to be.  It is generally simple economics, supply v demand.  As an industry it has had a ‘state-control like’ price structure for decades, which is why many people do not respect the industry – they don’t see the value in it like it was a market priced litre of fuel.  It is also touched on the periphery by many and varied people, occupations and activities that don’t understand how scientific it has actually now become. 
It is clear that the Council parking industry in New Zealand needs to improve, as measured by the respondents to this survey, but the average is not bad.  We suspect that the ratepayers and communities of New Zealand would also see improvement as a necessary step for vote ratepayer funds.   We hope the Councils take this information as a positive opportunity.
Parking is not going to get any less important over the next 30 years and with some Councils looking to maintain their current vehicle loads and to mode change the growth from now and into the future from petrol to electric.  It is clear we need to better understand how to control and manage that contribution that Council parking makes to each city.

Kevin Warwood