Tag Archives: municipality

Hold that Post

tpp-2016-03-hold-that-postby John V. Collins, CAPP

What hiring managers say employees and candidates should think about before using social media, even on their own time. 

I know I am getting up there in age and have to accept that technology may be starting to pass me by (if you ask my family, it passed me by a long time ago). But I have a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile, and a Facebook page. I’m sure I am not alone in not often thinking about the effects social media has in the workplace.

Social media is no longer on the cutting-edge of our world; it’s mainstream. According to a social recruiting survey conducted by Jobvite in 2014, social recruiting is now the norm, with 93 percent of recruiters using or planning to use social media to assist in their recruiting efforts. A survey by the Aberdeen Group shows that 73 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds found their last jobs through social networks, and 59 percent of recruiters rated candidates sourced from social networks as “highest quality.” These numbers should only increase over the next few years.

With such a massive amount of information at everyone’s fingertips, employers must ask themselves if it is ethical to make professional decisions about an individual based on his or her posts to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other form of social media. According to staff.com, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of recruiters say they have made successful hires through social media. Conversely, one-third of employers rejected candidates because of something they found in their social profiles. Mining social media for hiring purposes is at an all-time high.

The Sites
Facebook launched in 2004 as a social outlet and way for college students to connect with each other. Currently, an average of 1.01 billion people use the site every day. Twitter launched with its first tweet in March 2006 and boasts 320 million monthly active users. LinkedIn was the first major social media site; it was introduced in May 2003 and has more than 400 million members. Who knows what the next social media platform will be? But certainly there will be millions of people signing on when it premieres.

Almost everyone and everything has created some sort of social media account, especially on Facebook. Students, parents, grandparents, retailers, municipalities, entertainment outlets, and numerous businesses are among those with Facebook pages. The list goes on and on. The ability to connect so easily with everyone is both a positive and negative aspect of what social media provides us. Of course it was inevitable that businesses soon followed individuals and created their own social media pages as a means of reaching out to their customers—at no cost to the organizations—and that eventually these sites would be used in the process of hiring and firing employees.

According to a Reuter’s report, the online career market of just LinkedIn and Monster Worldwide is worth about $6 billion a year. Last December, Facebook announced plans for Facebook at Work, explained as a professional version of its social network; we expect that launch later this year. It’s an attempt to compete with established career sites such as LinkedIn. Facebook claims the professional version will be similar but totally separate from its current social version, so users of the new service will maintain separate profiles for each.

Your Privacy
Websites and social media sites have privacy policies, but most people do not bother to read or attempt to understand them. Those policies disclose some or all of the ways a party gathers, uses, discloses, and manages a customer or client’s data. These social media sites gather information about you, your location, your browser history, etc. and use that data to determine what advertisements to show you. Of course, this is just one way social media can affect and market to someone. If you look, you will find hundreds of examples of how information could negatively affect someone, especially a professional trying to gain or keep employment. Some of the decisions people make will amaze and astound you—especially what they choose to share with the world! Open posts allow potential or current employers and customers to know about everything you are doing. They can see if you post a picture or status update while out sick and see any negative posts about the company or co-workers, and they can tell if you are posting while at work.

The Job Search
A major change that has recently become incorporated into prospective employee searches is having hiring professionals review photos and posts on candidates’ social profiles. Public pictures of someone on a drinking binge, doing drugs, or taking part in other illegal or negative activities are never appealing to companies looking for a well-mannered and down-to-earth individual. These red flags may negatively affect how someone is viewed as a viable employee. Unfortunately, you never really know what might turn off a prospective employer, so it would be best to avoid any and all questionable material. If there are a lot of posts about parties an individual attended or how much they dislike working, etc., a hiring professional may decide there is just too much potential baggage and look into another applicant who has a cleaner profile.

Of course, no company can discriminate based on any protected group (age, religion, sexual orientation), but it is wise to remember any information that is public knowledge may still be viewed negatively and you may not even be aware that your profile was a deciding factor.

Online Contacts
Everyone should keep in mind that being friends with co-workers or the company/organization on Facebook may not be a wise idea. Companies can still keep a virtual eye on people they’ve already hired. While your employer may not be actively looking into your so-called private life, that doesn’t mean it completely ignores you.

There are a multitude of stories on social media in which individuals posted negative comments about going to work or how they scammed the boss for a day off, all the while forgetting that their boss is also a follower on Twitter (most Twitter streams are unlocked and open to the world, followers and non-followers) or friend on Facebook. When the boss saw this material, the poster was reprimanded or even left unemployed.Whether or not you believe these are proper means of communication or decorum, it happens. Karma has a funny way of evening things out.

I am responsible for a number of human resources issues at my organization, including interviewing potential candidates for open positions. I often find myself searching the names of applicants via the Internet and have, on several occasions, decided not to interview a candidate based on what I have seen on social media sites. If two equally qualified candidates apply for a position, social media findings could be the deciding factor on the offer of employment. I do not propose to be a judge of moral or social conduct, but I know the image my company is trying to convey. It’s clear whether a person may be a viable candidate or a proper fit for our organization. Knowing in advance that someone has a perpetual bad attitude at work, is frequently hungover from drinking binges, or engages in other negative behavior can easily sway a hiring manager’s opinion.

Last year, my company received more than 300 employment applications, and I interviewed nearly 200 candidates in the process of hiring 52 new employees. After working in this position about a month and realizing the daunting task of handling a vast amount of interviews, I incorporated a few interview forms to assist in the hiring process and to keep it consistent among all managers. After tweaking the forms a few times, I incorporated a social media review area and began using this tool to further vet potential employees.

Of course, there are a vast number of reasons an individual may not be deemed a proper employment candidate for our organization and not called in for an interview; however, once an applicant is determined to be a potential candidate or is interviewed, a search on the social media sites is performed. So far, on eight separate occurrences, information was gathered that questioned the overall character and decision-making abilities of a potential employee. At that point, we made the decision to not pursue employment any further. If this information was gathered after an interview was already conducted, management discussed and then made the decision to either not offer employment or to bring the candidate in for a second interview to discuss. Of course, social media is not the deciding factor in hiring, but it along with all of the other information that is provided should be enough to make an educated decision.

Whether you feel this is an invasion of privacy or not, it would be wise to accept the practice of using social media as a hiring tool. It does and will continue to exist. In addition, all employers should review their policies governing employee communications, especially the use of social media during work and non-work times. This will ensure compliance with the National Labor Relations Board and set the proper standard expected of everyone in the organization. I know it is not a fair world, but we owe it to ourselves and our employers to make good, wholesome decisions in how we represent ourselves and who represents our company—after all, the world may make a decision based on that perception!

Social media is a strong tool for communication and networking but must be used properly. If you are interested, please follow me on Twitter @JohnVCollins and friend me on Facebook. If I can catch up to the technology, I may even respond back!

JOHN V. COLLINS, CAPP, is operations manager with Transport U, LLC. He can be reached at jcollins@transportu.net.

TPP-2016-03 Hold that Post



Rethinking Transit

tpp-2016-03-rethinking-transitby Steven Higashide

What’s next for the commuter parking benefit?

LATE LAST YEAR, Congress finally permanently addressed a longstanding imbalance in the federal tax code that allowed commuters to exclude up to $250 per month from their income toward the cost of parking associated with their trip to work, but only $130 per month for mass transit. From now on, parking and transit receive equal treatment with an exclusion of up to $255 per month (indexed to cost-of-living inflation) for both. While this brings a bit of essential fairness to the system, it should be just the first step toward rethinking our wasteful commuter benefits policy, which dates back to the 1980s.

In our 2014 report “Subsidizing Congestion,” TransitCenter and the Frontier Group found the federal commuter parking subsidy:

  • Costs American taxpayers billions of dollars per year.
  • Puts hundreds of thousands of additional cars on the road, primarily in our most congested urban neighborhoods.
  • Disproportionately benefits high-income workers, even though it was intended as middle-class tax relief.

We estimate that roughly 42 million Americans (less than one-third of the workforce) take advantage of the parking subsidy, resulting in more than $7 billion in foregone tax revenue every year. That’s a huge sum at a time when the federal government has struggled to fund transportation projects. It’s equivalent to 13 percent of all spending from the Highway Trust Fund, which historically relies on user fees such as the gas tax but is today propped up through transfers from the Federal Reserve’s surplus fund.

This $7.3 billion in foregone tax revenue has a huge opportunity cost. The same amount of money could pay for several new light rail and rapid-bus projects every year, giving workers (and everyone else) more ways to get around. It could go to road safety (the U.S. spent $828 million on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2014), rail (Amtrak’s budget was $1.4 billion in 2014), or any number of worthy transportation efforts.

More Traffic
Parking professionals know that price sends a strong signal to drivers and has a significant effect on consumer behavior. Intuitively, a discount on the price of parking will increase people’s willingness to drive to work, which is exactly the outcome policymakers should avoid. Instead, as our analysis shows, by subsidizing parking, taxpayers are essentially buying themselves more traffic in urban downtowns—the same places where smart city leaders are trying to reduce congestion.

That’s because as far as the parking subsidy is concerned, the relevant dollar amount is a parking space’s fair-market value, defined by the IRS as “the amount an employee would have to pay a third party in an arm’slength transaction to buy or lease the benefit.”

By this logic, parking in most of the country has no market value; in most suburban, exurban, and rural communities, parking is ubiquitous and free. On the other hand, parking in urban downtown neighborhoods has a high market value, as shown by the fees charged by commercial lots in cities such as Washington, D.C. ($270 per month) and Philadelphia ($313 per month), according to Colliers International’s 2012 Parking Rate Survey.

We simulated the effects of the parking subsidy with and without parity with the transit commuter benefit on several suburban-urban commutes (see graphic). The results suggest a small but meaningful effect on the kind of transportation commuters choose to take. Between Edison, N.J., and New York City, for example, we estimate that the parking subsidy increases vehicle commutes by 0.9 percent.

By contrast, the transit subsidy discourages driving to work. Before the recent change that made the two subsidies equal, we estimated that the transit provision reduced vehicle commutes in the Edison-New York market by 0.5 percent. The higher transit benefit should reduce vehicle commutes in that market by 0.9 percent; in other words, it will cancel out the parking benefit’s impact on vehicle commutes. Just because this is the case in Edison, however, does not mean it will be for the rest of the country. In markets where transit is less accessible than in the dense suburbs of northern New Jersey, the increase in the transit benefit won’t completely counteract the impact of the parking benefit.

Looking at the country as a whole, we estimate that the parking subsidy adds about 820,000 drivers to the road while pulling 32,000 would-be riders away from transit. If these additional car commuters drive the distance a typical American does, they are responsible for an increase in driving of about 4.6 billion miles per year. While this figure is just 0.15 percent of annual American vehicle miles traveled, it has a disproportionate effect on congestion because it’s concentrated in urban areas. In other words, while the $7 billion in tax revenue foregone due to the parking benefit could be well-spent on transportation projects, simply abolishing the benefit and giving the money back to taxpayers would also improve traffic.

Uneven Effects
Commuter benefits were partially justified as a benefit for the working class, but the parking and transit subsidies actually provide larger benefits for high-income workers. With parking, a household making $300,000 a year reaps a benefit more than three times larger than a household making $17,500 due to the fact that the wealthier household pays a higher marginal rate in income tax. The most expensive transit trips tend to be on commuter trains and buses that cater to suburban residents, who are thus likelier to use the full value of the transit benefit. Workers who travel to Grand Central Station from the wealthy New York suburb of Bronxville, for example, can now pay the entire cost of their monthly Metro North pass with pre-tax dollars. Workers who live in New York City can do the same, but a monthly New York City Transit pass is only $116.50, meaning nearly $140 of the benefit is useless to them.

This disparate impact occurs with many tax exclusions, of course, but it’s particularly strange for commuting subsidies given that Congress originally justified the provision as a middle-class tax benefit. We reviewed the Congressional Record dating back to the 1970s, when the IRS was considering treating parking as a taxable fringe benefit—part of a broader reaction to companies that were offering more fringe benefits to workers as a way to reduce their tax burden. Congress responded with dismay, passing several measures to delay enforcement of the IRS regulations. As Rep. Barber Conable of New York said in 1978, “This practice on the part of the IRS is potentially a way of raising substantial additional taxes, not at the expense of the wealthy, but at the expense of the working-class American.” Notably absent from the Record was any mention of the parking provision’s impact on actual transportation policy.

Lawmakers evidently did not anticipate or care about the subsidy’s potential to increase traffic. In 1984, the parking exemption was officially codified. Soon after, the IRS ruled that employers could also exclude a much smaller amount—$15 per month—for public transportation. (A New York subway token was 90 cents so transit commuters there paid about $19 per month.) Legislators beefed up the transit benefit in the 1990s, this time with a transportation policy justification of encouraging public transit and reducing automobile traffic. But the transit benefit remained less than half the size of the parking benefit until 2009, when the federal stimulus bill temporarily set the benefits equal to each other. This provision expired and was renewed several times. And then, late in 2015, Congress finally acted to create permanent parity between the benefits.

Data and Reform
Rather than see this recent change as the final chapter in the story of commuter benefits, we think it must be the beginning of a more comprehensive effort to reform transportation and tax policy. Simply put, employer-provided parking should be taxed as a fringe benefit. Employers who provide free parking or subsidize parking in congested urban areas are in fact providing a valuable benefit to their workers. Furthermore, unlike the transit benefit, there is no plausible policy justification for providing a benefit specifically for parking.

Other countries have found relatively straightforward ways to tax employer-provided parking. In Austria, employees who receive free parking from their employers have roughly $20 per month added to their wages for tax purposes. This requirement applies only in zones where on-street parking is restricted. (Though given the much higher cost of parking and owning a car in Austria, it seems the Austrian tax code also severely underestimates the value of free parking to employees.) Australia also taxes employee parking as a fringe benefit; the tax is levied on the employer (not the worker), and the value is determined by the lowest fee available for commercial parking within 0.6 miles of the workplace.

Newer, better data are also needed. Compared to spending programs, federal tax exemptions are rarely evaluated by the government, so there is little data about their impact on federal budgets and consumer behavior. What evaluation does exist tends to focus on the cost of the exemptions rather than their effect on society. This is certainly true of the parking benefit. In the course of conducting our research, we also confronted a lack of data about parking more broadly. This gap needs to be addressed by federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and Government Accountability Office.

For future evaluations, the federal government might consider following the example of local governments, which often use parking pricing and policy as a way to achieve policy goals that include promoting environmental sustainability or reducing congestion in important commercial areas. For example, Cambridge, Mass., requires developers of commercial projects with five or more parking spaces to provide at least three transportation demand management strategies (such as bicycle parking, incentives for transit use, and market-rate automobile parking). Many other municipalities—such as Arlington, Va.; Boulder, Colo.; and Seattle, Wash.—have similar provisions aimed at discouraging automobile commuting and encouraging
the use of other kinds of transportation.

The current federal parking subsidy counteracts these ongoing local efforts and distorts the commuting choices that workers across the country make every day. While a few commercial lot operators may benefit from the additional traffic, the parking subsidy arguably hurts others by worsening traffic, which dissuades people from coming downtown for shopping and entertainment. Transit parity is a clear sign of progress, but with billions of dollars at stake, it’s ultimately just a first step toward a more equitable and thoughtful transportation policy.

STEVEN HIGASHIDE is senior program analyst for TransitCenter. He can be reached
at shigashide@transitcenter.org.

TPP-2016-03 Rethinking Transit

The Same, Only Different

tpp-2016-03-the-same-only-differentby Clement Gibson, CAPP, and Adam Isen, CAPP

How two cities approach meter modernization in different ways to get similar great results.

Motor sports may not be the only thing Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis, Ind., have in common. Meter modernization has been happening in Charlotte since 2006, while Indy hit the tracks in 2011, setting and accomplishing its goals quickly. The two cities are very different in many ways, and their approaches to meter modernization differed as well, but in the end, upgrading and updating systems led to more efficient and effective on-street parking for both. Here’s how they each approached their challenges and changes.

Pay Stations
Charlotte is very customer-focused. As new technologies became available, Charlotte’s on-street program jumped at the chance to offer its customers a credit card option to pay for parking. Pay stations were appealing because they could offer the additional payment option along with an opportunity to remove meter poles and meter heads from the streetscape, which was especially attractive on some of the city’s core uptown streets.

To ensure the public was ready to embrace the credit card payment option and use a more complicated payment process, in 2004 the city installed six pay stations covering 37 parking spaces for three months in the technology-savvy area of uptown. While there was a slight learning curve, it was short-lived. Motorists read the signs posted to assist, followed the pay station screen prompts, and pulled out their credit cards.

The data gathered supported the decision to invest in this product. The city absorbed the credit card fees rather than passing them on to the public and budgeted to cover the operating costs. During the trial, the city also paid close attention to
whether motorists preferred pay-by-space to pay-anddisplay (they did). As a courtesy, printed receipts are available to motorists today, though drivers still don’t need to return to their cars and display them while parked. Ultimately, managers of the on-street parking program decided to:

  • Purchase 45 pay stations covering 428 on-street spaces.
  • Offer credit card and coin-only payment options to reduce dollar bill-related maintenance.
  • Require the highest level of PCI compliance.
  • Use solar power in all possible locations.

The pay stations have been a success. Having access to real-time data serves the program well for audit purposes and for getting motorists answers to their payment questions.

Smart Meters
What could possibly be next for a municipality such as Charlotte? After nearly 15 years, the city’s original coin-only meters reached end of life, and maintenance calls and revenue losses were noticeable. The city needed new meters and began a search for new equipment.

The parking industry is amazing. Already available for municipalities still limping along with coin-only equipment is the credit card-enabled, single-head meter. The city’s interest was piqued. But first things first. As with the pay stations, customer acceptance of the newer technology is critical. Another trial was in the offing, so managers decided to:

  • Test two smart meter products for three months on a street that was highly used with no rush-hour restrictions.
  • Look for functionality and operational effectiveness. Both tested meters performed well.
  • Conduct public outreach to gauge customer satisfaction. Drivers filled out an online survey designed to better understand motorists’ payment preferences and experience. Sixty-three percent of responders wanted meters that accept both credit cards and coins. Ninety-five percent said the credit card feature was easy to use. Feedback from the public and Park It! staff was gathered. As a result of the positive experience, the city decided to move forward with the purchase of smart meters, if it could find the funding.

As it turned out, the city found the funding, but it had to be spent quickly—before the end of the fiscal year—or the funding source would evaporate. To move quickly on the purchase, the city utilized an existing contract between a city in California and one of the tested smart-meter companies without competitively bidding, in accordance with the previously bid or “piggybacking” exception authorized by state statutes (N.C. G.S. 143-129(g)).

The city may have entered into a contract for new meters, but as the old adage says, good things come to all who wait. And it was a waiting game, as the city was in the process of rebidding its on-street parking program. The decision was made to wait for installation when a new contract was in place. The city was ready, but the installation of on-street meters can’t happen in the middle of winter until a window of good weather appears. Finally, in February 2015, the city installed 600 new credit card-enabled, single-head meters.

Charlotte is striving to stay in step with the evolving parking industry. Desire often outpaces reality. Reality slows modernizing a program. Funding plays a crucial role, especially because new technology costs more upfront and then has a greater operating cost than old coin-only meters. Changes require buy-in from city leaders, too. A year has passed since the installation of the smart meters and Charlotte can now see that by using up to date equipment the on street parking program is experiencing efficiencies sooner than later. At those locations, meter revenue has increased 35 percent and maintenance calls from motorists have been effectively eliminated. For now, Charlotte has a more satisfied public.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis
In December 2010, ParkIndy LLC, a Xerox Company, entered into a long-term parking management agreement with the city of Indianapolis to manage 3,800 metered parking spaces, providing systems integration and advanced analytics, state-of-the-art technology, and business process improvements to reinvigorate the parking program. This public-private partnership modernized the parking system and made parking more convenient for the motorists and businesses of Indianapolis. The project’s goal was to implement new meter policies, including new rates (rates had been stagnant for 35 years) and hours of operation, but not before refreshing every parking meter.

After a careful cost-benefit analysis and a critical customer survey, ParkIndy opted to deploy a hybrid system of 1,400 advanced single-space meters and 325 pay boxes. The company selected sites for the various technologies based on street configuration and paid use patterns. No printers were deployed, which reduced paper waste and ensured that customers need not return to their cars to display receipts. This configuration further reduced power consumption and battery use; printers can quickly deplete batteries, especially in high traffic areas.

The Experience
Decisions concerning the layout of a multi-space meters can provide additional conveniences to the customer. Despite claims to the contrary, the use of video analytics has demonstrated that parking spaces may actually be lost in undemarcated, free-flow parking environments because drivers park in a manner that doesn’t leave enough space for other cars. This inefficiency leads to fewer available spaces during peak periods, which can exacerbate congestion. Armed with this data, ParkIndy promoted a pure pay-by-space configuration and eschewed zone classifications. We established distinct four-digit space numbers and distributed the inventory in a way that preserved the ability to add more spaces on each block in the future. Further, these configurations eliminated the need for customers to enter zone numbers when paying by phone. Motorists who walk a few blocks and find they need to add value can do so simply. They can enter their parking space in any multi-space unit. Walk up to a pay box, enter the number, and the correct rate displays, even if that rate is different from that of the block where they parked.

How many informational stickers are needed on the meter and pay box to inform customers and help them understand how to use the technology? Yes, this is a trick question. More stickers do not equate to better information. The content and design of messaging is critical. Using analytics to determine use patterns and the needs of customers, Indianapolis regularly examines the need for new instructions. The latest implementation in July 2014 offered graphical depictions and reduced the number of necessary customer button pushes by 300 percent by defaulting meters to the average-purchase value. The new overlays on the front of the pay boxes offered much more direction to customers despite having fewer words overall than the previous stickers.
Some take-aways:

  • Use simple instructions and graphical depictions.
  • Challenge the current configuration using data analytics to focus decisions on saving customers time.
  • Display important information on the unit such as meter holidays, free times, and assistance phone numbers.
  • Review system data to determine variables such as rates, special events, and restrictions.
  • Plan on updating the entire graphic by performing routine holistic reviews with the public, stakeholders, and the transactional data.

The Finish Line
It would be easy to say that both Charlotte and Indianapolis have arrived at the 21st century finish line. But doing so would be wrong. These programs recognize that there is no one correct answer to implementing parking technology—programs must be adaptable and evolve. The work of making parking and mobility easier for customers never ends, and the use of analytics can continue to improve parking for stakeholders such as drivers, merchants, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

CLEMENT GIBSON, CAPP, is the special programs manager for Charlotte’s Park It! Program. She can be reached at cgibson@ci.charlotte.nc.us.

ADAM ISEN, CAPP, is director of ParkIndy, LLC, a Xerox Company. He can be reached at adam.isen@xerox.com.

TPP-2016-03 The Same, Only Different

Smarter than the Average Detective

tpp-2016-03-smarter-than-the-average-detectiveby Charlie Francis


How municipal parking finance professionals can catch parking bandits with data visualization. 

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED the parking industry in the early 1970s as an entry-level accountant. I had to manually count the number of parked cars in each of Denver’s public parking lots between downtown and what is now called the LoDo (lower downtown) District as an internal control check on our parking operator. There wasn’t any technology in those lots—just the ubiquitous honor boxes. Nor could I use any technology to help count the spaces; I tallied my results on daily ledger paper using an adding machine that couldn’t even hold a number in memory. Every month, I would compare my daily counts to the parking operator’s monthly remittance as a way of ensuring the public was receiving all the revenues to which it was entitled.

Data visualization was physical, not digital. I physically had to see the cars and physically interpret the counts. Analysis was difficult—trends and patterns got lost in the noise of big data.

Counting cars in parking lots was a fun task in the summer of 1973, but during that freezing winter, I began to dream of leveraging my bachelor’s degree in a warmer location. I continued for three more years, toiling endlessly, adding columns and rows, and footing and cross-footing totals in sequential reconciliations; at least technology improved calculators to hold a number in memory!

Finally, in 1979, I moved to Florida for my first finance director position. And I was still in the parking business! Honor boxes gave way to parking meters, which were an important source of revenue from the beach parking lots of my small, barrier-island community.

Available Data
Meanwhile, calculators gave way to desktop computers. I became adept at using VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet computer program. It forever changed my way of thinking about the world—no longer were calculations sequential, but simultaneous! Four years later, Lotus 1-2-3 entered the market as a three-in-one, integrated solution that handled spreadsheet calculations, database functionality, and graphical charts—hence the name 1-2- 3. I retired VisiCalc and pasted years of daily parking meter revenue from each of the city’s beaches into Lotus 1-2-3. Once the data were loaded, I started graphing the results. I created both incremental and cumulative year-over-year graphs and incremental and cumulative month-over-month graphs. I generated the graphs citywide and for each beach and quickly became an expert at creating Lotus 1-2-3 graphs. They were good-looking graphs—well, as attractive as Lotus 1-2-3 graphs could be, running on DOS computers, back in 1983.

Something Fishy
One day, as I was admiring the handiwork of my new skill, I noticed something curious in the trends depicted in the graphs. Every year, during one week in the height of each summer season, parking meter revenues plummeted. Multiple views of the data showed me this was not a fluke. There was no logical explanation for this abnormality; the city never declared a parking holiday because parking was a mainstay of our revenue base.

The beaches were never closed. There were no neighboring events that competed for beachgoers, reducing demand. The bridges were neither closed nor down for scheduled maintenance. Nothing seemed to explain the deviation.

Then, one evening, I was reading how Sherlock Holmes wrestled with a problem in “The Sign of the Four.” He asks Watson, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

“Aha,” I said to myself, and the next day, I told the police chief he should stake out the parking lots during that one particular week. We found that Midwest-based parking lot bandits had an accomplice working at the meter manufacturer and that partner in crime obtained the new master cylinder key for our parking lots. Every year, the bandits would pay for their Florida vacation by emptying the parking meters. Caught red-handed!

Data visualization and analysis tools won’t catch parking meter thieves every day, but visualization enables finance directors to identify trends, understand the big picture from large amounts of data, and spot unusual patterns. New operational reporting and analytics tools enable finance professionals to tell better stories (the 2015 Goverment Finance Officers Association theme) and create effective personal reports that permit city councils, city managers, and department heads to see the city’s financial condition at both a high-level glance and at the granularity of the transaction level.

Finance directors are visualizing and analyzing data to better interact not only with their own information but also with their neighboring, regional, and comparison city’s data! And they are able to interact, analyze, and present information with greater velocity—more time to analyze and add value to information and less time spent collecting data. This yields productivity, efficiency, and creativity.

Going forward, new tools will provide city finance professionals with the ability to not only detect and confirm spending inefficiencies, or unrealized revenue, but also to predict, compare, and collaborate on new transformative approaches that will guide the policy decisions for fiscally stable and structurally balanced city governments.

I ended my career in a California city still in the parking business—spearheading a multiphase request for information procurement process to optimize parking technology. The resulting off-street pay station and instreet smart meter installation provided for innovative technologies that integrate credit-card transactions and mobile pay-by-phone applications, on-demand pricing with citation payments, permit management, and builtin data visualization tools.

Best of all, license-plate-enabled readers for enforcement means no more physical daily car counts!

TPP-2016-03 Smarter than the Average Detective


tpp-2016-03-parking-authorities-and-parking-utilitiesBy Leonard T. Bier, JD, CAPP


Virtually all municipalities recognize the importance of providing on- and off-street parking for residents, visitors, shoppers, and persons employed within their cities. However, not every municipality realizes the importance of integrating all aspects of providing public parking within the framework of a parking system.

When parking functions are divided between multiple city departments, no single person is responsible for planning, managing, operating, or delivering municipal parking services to the public. The municipality often does not know the actual cost of providing public parking or the net revenue derived from parking fees.

The most efficient and effective way to provide municipal parking services is via a parking system, which means the delivery of municipal parking services to the public by a single government entity charged with the responsibility of managing, planning, and operating all aspects and functions (enforcement, collection, and repair) of on- and off-street parking services.

Parking Authorities
In 1948 New Jersey adopted N.J.S.A. 40:11A et. seq., commonly known as the parking authority law, which authorized municipal governments to create an independent parking authority. A New Jersey parking authority  has five commissioners appointed by the governing body of the municipality for staggered five-year terms or seven commissioners with two mayoral appointments and five governing body appointments. A parking authority may employ an executive director, attorney, parking consultant, engineer, accountant, auditor, financial adviser, and other professionals and staff necessary to manage and deliver parking services to the city.

State statute 40:11A-6 grants parking authorities extraordinary powers that include eminent domain (condemnation powers) and the ability to buy, sell and/or lease property as a lessee or lessor; construct mixed-use development projects and parking facilities; borrow money; issue bonds; mortgage its assets; enter into contracts; and retain earnings. Mixed-use projects owned or leased by a New Jersey parking authority are exempt from real estate taxes, and parking fees are exempt from sales tax.

Parking authorities are independent and, on occasion, raise off-street parking fees or pursue goals, objectives, or projects not supported by a majority of the municipal governing body. Parking authorities are not directly controlled by the local governing body.

Parking Utilities
A municipality may operate a parking utility, which has a number of the strengths of a parking authority: an executive officer; operating budget and debt service separate from the municipality; and the ability to generate annual surplus revenue and retain earnings.

One negative associated with a parking utility is limited independence: The chief executive usually reports through the city administrator/manager or CFO or the city manager also functions as the CEO of the utility. The local governing body retains jurisdiction over rates, fees, capital projects, operating budget, and personnel. Parking revenues in excess of annual operating expenses are generally turned over to the city’s general fund and are not usually reinvested into the parking system generating the revenue.

A parking utility does not have the power of condemnation and eminent domain, which must be exercised by the municipal governing body. A parking utility usually does not have the statutory authority to pursue mixed-use development as part of a municipal structured parking facility project.

The hands-on control exercised by the municipal governing body places a parking utility’s planning and decision-making within the political process. In municipal environments in which control of the mayor’s office and governing body are continually contested, parking can become a political issue rather than a parking planning best practice, which can affect a parking utility’s ability to pursue public parking improvements and objectives.

Whatever direction a municipal government chooses to pursue to provide public parking services, parking authorities and parking utilities are better methods for the delivery of parking functions and services than decentralized multiple city departments.

LEONARD T. BIER, JD, CAPP, is the principal of Bier Associates. He can be reached at lenbier@optonline.net or (732) 828 – 8864

TPP-2016-03 Parking Authorities and Parking Utilities