Tag Archives: TPP-2016-01

Watch It!

tpp-2016-02-watch-itBy Julius E. Rhodes, SPHR

I have have heard it said many times that if there is a choice between what you say and what you do, people will always pay attention to what you do. While I do not disagree with this statement, I would like to add another point of view on the subject.

To be sure, actions are essential to the way others form their opinions of you and about how you conduct yourself. What I have also learned, though, is that this assumes the people watching you have unbiased motives and can and will assess your actions for what they are instead of what they wish them to be or want to read into them. Of course, we all realize we don’t live in a world free of biases or full of pure intentions.

So where does this leave us? The old adage I referenced above needs to be updated to reflect the modern reality; technology has made our world much smaller and subjects our lives to much greater scrutiny on a variety of levels. Therefore, I think the new saying might more appropriately be: If there is a choice between what you say and what you do, people will pay attention to what you do but also what you say and how you say it.

Words Matter
Words matter, and now more than ever people will attempt to read into your words based on how you present them. They hear whatever interpretation they believe will best represent their intentions, not yours. Without being overly cynical, I do want to tell you there is hope for a brighter tomorrow, but it requires patience and a great deal of work.

To overcome the pitfall of having people insert their intentions into your words and actions, you need to be consistent and develop advocates who can and will carry
your message forward in the way you intended (A word of caution: I believe you will never be able to totally eliminate the challenge. There is always residual risk involved.) This is difficult and requires patience, as you will need to check in with people early and often to ensure the messages you are communicating through words and actions are being received in the manner you intended.

Ultimately, you cannot run around trying to track down everything you do to ensure what you meant syncs with how others interpret it, but you will need to identify key stakeholders who are willing to listen to you and share their unbiased point of view. The more time you invest doing this, the better off you will be down the road.

The Real World
Here is how this works out in a real-world situation many of you have faced or know about. I contend that anybody can paint a wall. However, the difference between painting a wall and painting a wall well is the prep work required to ensure a proper foundation so your efforts have the best result. Proper painting requires masking off the areas you don’t want painted, putting down drop cloths, and investing in the right tools to do the job in
the best possible way.

There is similar prep work required for your actions and words to be interpreted properly. Yes, it is time consuming, and yes, it’s not always the most enjoyable work, but doing so will make for a much better outcome and save you heartache down the road.

JULIUS E. RHODES, SPHR, is founder and principal of the mpr group and author of
BRAND: YOU Personal Branding for Success in Life and Business. He can be reached at
jrhodes@mprgroup.info or 773.548.8037.

TPP-2016-01-Lost In Translation

Pay, Park, Tweet

TPP-2016-01-Pay, Park, TweetBy Chris Blondell

Like most working people, those in the parking industry have good days and bad days. You’ve probably been in a situation where you’re having a great day, everyone’s car is parked where it should be, traffic is moving in great order, and then suddenly, a man who’s visiting from out of town has had his car ticketed or towed.
And he is not happy. He yells at you. Makes assumptions. You’re now the world’s biggest idiot. He is going to make certain that you won’t have a job tomorrow.

Those moments can ruin a day. Like most parking professionals, you know it’s important to treat the man with dignity, respect, and professionalism. And you do, and you handle it, like a pro. The customer might even thank you for being so calm and understanding.

With 74 percent of adults who are online using social networking sites, this customer—and everyone like him—can now shout their frustrations/opinions/thankfulness to hundreds or thousands of other people via social media.
If you’re in the parking business, whether it be as an authority, garage, or private lot, and you’re not using social media, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Social media provides platforms to distribute information quickly and effectively, and it’s also an invaluable tool for customer service.

One parking organization that has demonstrated how to use social media is the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). It’s one of the largest parking enforcement organizations in the country, and its five years on social media can help other parking professionals develop an idea for what can lead to success on the slippery slope of social media.

The Strength of Strategy
Realizing that there was no putting the genie back in the bottle, the PPA made the bold move to develop a social media program to achieve three objectives:

  • Humanize the organization.
  • Increase communication of programs and regulations.
  • Provide a new channel for customer service.

Spearheaded by Director of Administration Sue Cornell and endorsed by all of its leadership, including Executive Director Vince Fenerty, the PPA worked with outside consultant ChatterBlast Media to develop a sound strategy that would carry it into the digital expanse.

“We worked very closely with all of their team to ensure we knew them inside and out,” says Matthew Ray, creative director of ChatterBlast. “This led to us developing a strategy that outlined a multi-year plan for them. Like the Boy Scouts, we were prepared.”

Once vetted, the strategy was rolled out in 2011 to loads of media attention and public interest. The strategy was a thick document that covered every possible customer complaint, crisis communication, and question that could possibly arise.
“We also addressed what our creative content would be—what we would talk about with the public: educational content, public service messages, inside information. It was very thorough, and we were confident,” says Cornell.

When starting a social media strategy, there are a few important components to consider.

First is your website

  • What is its current state?
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Does it have a blog?
  • How many hits does it get?
  • What is the story you’re trying to tell?
  • Does it need to be improved?

Your website is going to be the backbone of your social media and digital efforts. Social media efforts will drive more traffic to your website, and those new visitors will be looking for an interactive experience that is mobile friendly.

Second is your audience

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • What are they already saying about your organization?
  • What should you be saying to them?

Military strategist Sun Tzu told us to know our enemy. Hopefully, your customers aren’t hostile—get to know them before they are! Before you can provide any service—whether parking or social media interaction—you must understand your audience, especially because different demographics use social media differently.

For example, college students parking in a campus garage and long-term parking travelers in an airport lot are two totally different animals. Communicating with them via social channels will require different messages, different tactics, and possibly different platforms.

Third is your platform
You’ll want to narrow the scope and find the right platforms for your organization. The PPA and ChatterBlast launched with a blog, Facebook, and Twitter and later added YouTube.

“There was a bit of anxiety around the blog initially, but now it has become one of the website’s most go-to features,” says Ray.

How to Effectively Use a Blog

“Our goal with content is to inform and educate—to answer people’s questions before they ask them. If we tend to people’s issues or at the very least, point them in the right direction, we’re being proactive. [Social media’s] purpose is to properly inform and help citizens,” says Bill Wasser of the PPA .

After identifying the audience, the message, and the platforms, the team moved on to creating and curating content. Initially, the PPA spent a lot of time listening—and not talking—slowly creating content and taking baby steps in blog creation. There were some slight missteps and course corrections along the way.

“We can’t be funny. We tried a few times. People don’t want the PPA to be funny,” explains Ray.

But the public did want the PPA to be informative and educational. Educational content was wildly successful. Authenticity, transparency, and honesty proved to be popular, so blogs that spoke frankly about parking issues became the mainstay. Informational videos were created to share parking tips.

Everything was explained, and then explained again … and again. All of it was shared on social channels from the website.

“An informed customer is a happy customer. It’s one thing to post any relevant information on your site. It’s a whole other ballpark to post it on social media, where it will most certainly garner more traffic, more views, and more shares,” Wasser says.

“People very often don’t like surprises, especially if they’re in the form of a ticket, so any way you can avoid that will benefit your industry.”

Consistent content creation empowered the PPA to provide the public with real-time information and updates pertaining to parking in the city, events, and other relevant information. In short, integrating social media into standard business practices not only helped the PPA, but it also grew its digital voice significantly.

The blog serves as a hub for information, and the content varies in theme, topic, and medium. Popular content types for the PPA proved to be:

  • Blog posts.
  • Videos.
  • Infographics.

“We will continue to try new ways to tell our story and to share information. We are committed to serving the public and however we need to message them, we will,” says Wasser.

Customer Service

Social media is considered by some to be the fastest and most reliable form of communication, making it fertile ground for quick and decisive customer service. Mobile communications mean customer service is happening more and more on Twitter and Facebook.

When customers have a complaint, they’re turning to social media first. If you have a public-facing organization, they are probably talking about you right now.
If someone has parking issues, it’s possible they’ll hop onto Facebook or Twitter to air their grievances. This is your opportunity as a parking professional to jump in and provide quick, responsive customer service. You’ll have an opportunity to connect with your customers as they experience problems, have questions, or simply to share feedback.

Let’s say that a customer returns to his or her car 10 minutes before the meter has expired and received a ticket. Rather than calling customer service, being put on hold, and letting their frustrations fester, he or she can simply take a photo of the ticket, post it along with a caption, and tag your organization’s page.
You, as a parking professional, can address that issue in real time and void the unnecessary ticket. Just like that, you’ve got a happy customer thanks to social media.

The plus side here is that because this is posted on an online public forum, it’ll stay up there. This means that any curious customers can peruse your page and find instances of good customer service right there online. They’ll immediately feel a stronger sense of trust that if they reach out to you on social media, they’ll receive help.

The Angry Customer

There’s always the risk that a social media user will post some “not-so-nice” comments on your page. But rather than taking it as an insult or ignoring it, view it as an opportunity to play the nice guy.

If the issue can’t be immediately resolved, a simple “We’re sorry you’ve had this experience. How can we provide a better experience next time?” post can go a long way. It’ll douse any fires and demonstrate that you care about quality experiences for your customers. It could also potentially save a relationship with an already existing customer.

After extensive research, the team developed a social media-based customer service platform to engage the community, answer questions and concerns, and escalate critical public issues to PPA directors. The strategy called for integrating enterprise-class customer service and team-based workflow technologies with existing PPA processes.

Opportunities to Shine
If you’re in a parking industry in a city or large town, there’s bound to be an event where you can help the traffic flow smoothly. It could be a 5K race that shuts down some streets for a few hours, a sporting event, or even Fourth of July festivities.

For the PPA, the opportunity to shine on social media came in October 2015 with the pope’s visit to Philadelphia (see the December 2015 issue of The Parking Professional for more).

During the visit, there were many parking concerns due to many streets throughout the city being closed for security reasons. Plenty of people needed to know if they had to relocate their cars, where they had to move them, and, if they needed to drive, where they could do so. Because of the PPA’s social media presence, concerned parkers turned to their various social media platforms in the hopes of getting answers. The results were astounding.

The PPA demonstrated leadership and established trust with the public on social media in two ways during this event:

By being present and ready on social media when it was needed. “We were one of the first city agencies to fully embrace social media and we’re proud to be a social leader in our industry. Our partnership has allowed the Philadelphia Parking Authority to build direct connections with the citizens of Philadelphia,” says Cornell. “We now handle questions, concerns, and customer service issues quickly and digitally, as well as interact with other municipal agencies and the media.”

From the pope’s visit to everyday life in Philadelphia, the PPA leverages social media for customer service. Sometimes PPA has the answer; sometimes it doesn’t. Any organization on social media will find that, but it’s still a great customer service tool. Often, just feeling like somebody is listening is enough to make a customer happy. Timely, informed responses to customer questions or complaints on social media can only help your public image and maintain your reputation as an organization that cares about its customers.

By demonstrating a unified front with other related industries. Being part of an industry that affects people’s everyday lives, you have to collaborate with other related industries. When street closures, emergencies, parades, protests, or papal visits occur, it’s imperative to amplify your message to help the entire community. The PPA did this during the pope’s visit and, as shown through the massive increase in Twitter traffic, proved to be a trusted resource for many Philadelphia visitors and residents.

“We’ve found if the public agencies collaborate in real life, it also increases the need to tag-team issues that arise on social. It’s critical to be familiar with other municipal or local initiatives so everyone involved—whether directly or tangentially—is successful,” says ChatterBlast Media Account Manager Jessica Meeder.

Your local police department will likely be very active on social media. It is an excellent example of how a government agency can use social media to its advantage and effectively engage a customer.

When big city-wide events take place, the police are sure to be informed and will probably be tweeting about it. Forming a partnership with the department’s social media team is going to help you immensely when informing citizens about the state of parking during the day.

Improve by Listening
You have to connect with the larger digital tent poles out there. Because these people are going to be blogging, posting, and tweeting about you, it’s important that you develop a relationship so that there’s no miscommunication and no misunderstanding and your message and your services are being properly communicated.

One thing you have to understand about bloggers is that they’re the voice of and for the people. For the most part, bloggers are there to represent a niche population, and if that population has a problem with your service, one complaint could easily go viral. And that’s not something you want.

Take a look at what the PPA did in this scenario. It held a “reverse press conference.” Four of Philadelphia’s top bloggers sat down with the PPA to discuss UberX. “It’s very enlightening for us to ask the press questions instead of vice versa. It allows us to get a clear-cut perspective,” Wasser says.

By the end of the reverse press conference, both parties were better informed and had a new understanding of each other. Because the PPA listened, it now has a clearer idea of what the community needs from it, and it got it from prominent folks in the blogosphere. With that, the PPA is able to develop a stronger plan and a stronger relationship with the public.

Why Your Strategy Needs Social Media
For the most part, the parking industry hasn’t embraced social media. It needs to. Parking garages, officials, and authorities need to hop on board and create a social media strategy that’s designed to:

  • Humanize.
  • Listen.
  • Interact.
  • Improve life for everyone.

Social media can be very effective to educate, inform, and interact with the public and provide great customer service. Social media is here and now, and it’s here to

Chris Blondell is content creator at ChatterBlast Media. He can be reached at chris@chatterblast.com.

TPP-2016-01-Pay, Park, Tweet

Future Thinking

TPP-2016-01-Future ThinkingBy David Kubik, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Within the Past decade, cities have become home to more than half of the global population, and the United Nations projects that the proportion of urban dwellers will reach 66 percent by 2050. Growing populations are putting a strain on the physical infrastructure of many cities, including New York City, where the need to house increasing numbers of residents is inspiring several creative efforts by local governments.

The New York Department of City Planning has already taken several bold steps to support the city’s growing population, some involving increased control and even the reduced availability of parking. In 2013, the Manhattan Core Parking text amendment passed, with outcomes that included the promotion of car sharing and reduced parking requirements in almost every Manhattan neighborhood below West 110th St. and East 96th St.. As recently as September 2015, the planning commission referred for public review the zoning for quality and affordability text amendment, which aspires to update some of the barriers to producing new affordable housing. For example, the amendment proposes that in medium- and high-density zoning districts, providing parking would be optional for new affordable housing units that are located in areas with abundant access to public transit.

In addition to facilitating the creation of much-needed housing, many of these steps have the potential to create less-congested streets and a safer pedestrian experience in some of the most highly trafficked areas of New York City. Many agree that these steps will quickly improve everyday quality of life in the city and may also provide long-term benefits, such as reduced vehicle emissions and better air quality.

Despite all of these possible advantages, the fact remains that there is substantial demand for parking in New York City. Without being required or incentivized to include parking, it seems inevitable that many new projects will move forward without providing it. While open parking lots are still permissible in many areas of New York, they are becoming increasingly desirable sites for development, further reducing the available space for parking. And even if someone sought to quickly create space for parking, every square inch counts in dense residential environments such as New York City—gone are the days in which an open asphalt parking lot makes financial sense. This context begs the question: where will the cars go?

Luxury Appeal
Automated parking is emerging as a clear leader in addressing parking demands in contemporary cities. Beyond its baseline ability to respond to the continuing demand for parking, automated parking is being recognized by building owners and developers as a differentiating amenity for tenants—particularly buyers of condominiums. In a city such as New York, concierge culture is more the rule than the exception. Food can be delivered to an individual’s exact specifications, and adjustments to a room’s temperature or lighting can be made with just a few taps to a smartphone. The option to have a resident’s car appear in a similarly convenient manner is a logical progression of this trend.

In fact, one residential tower in West Chelsea has already taken the concept of extreme vehicle convenience one step further, providing residents with an “en suite sky garage” located adjacent to their luxury residences. But for those who cannot afford a private garage several stories in the air or who would prefer that the car be fully out of sight and out of mind, automated parking has real allure.

Enabling Amenities
Even outside of the luxury residential market, automated parking provides tangible appeal. Its density is a clear benefit when compared with traditional parking arrangements, as increased density of parking allows for reallocation of existing parking use on a site, therefore freeing up floor area in existing structures. In more than one location in New York City, BKSK Architects has been asked to study how an existing above-ground parking garage can be altered and potentially moved below grade, specifically to increase available floor area above.
Automated parking systems are an obvious option in these scenarios.

The density of automated parking systems is very attractive for new building projects as well, in part because they allow more space for shared building amenities from the outset. In working on recent multifamily projects, BKSK teams have observed buyers and renters making more trade-offs in regard to private and common areas. Specifically, there seems to be increasing openness to owning or renting less-private space in exchange for greater access to common space, such as roof gardens, fitness centers, and co-working style spaces. When projects seek to include parking onsite, automated parking systems support this trend more effectively than other more traditional solutions.

Notably, the benefits of increased floor area are a driver for projects of several scales. Some buildings may seek an automated parking system with 100 or more spaces, while other smaller ones offer as few as two private spaces. In either case, the square footage conserved through a denser parking arrangement provides valuable real estate opportunities, particularly in cities with neighborhoods that already suffer from limited development opportunities. The New York Department of City Planning has started formally acknowledging this potential in the context of new projects, providing zoning floor area exemptions for automated parking of up to 40 feet above grade in some applications.

Safety and Wellness

A less immediately obvious advantage of an automated parking system is increased safety for tenants. Because cars are no longer being driven while being parked by an automated parking system, the rate of accidents caused by human error substantially drops. In addition, the cars are not powered on while being parked, which means that the parking area is subject to significantly reduced amounts of vehicle exhaust, improving both the indoor and outdoor air quality. This latter fact also means that a building’s associated mechanical systems require far less ductwork and fewer air changes, which pump exhaust air back into the open spaces surrounding the building. The simplification or decrease in size of these systems often has the advantage of reducing construction and operating costs.

The need for different systems, including the automated parking system itself, does come with some drawbacks. Unlike above-ground parking garages and lots, the storage areas of automated parking systems are most frequently located on lower floors of buildings. As a result, project teams seeking to install these systems have to proactively investigate scenarios involving extreme weather events, particularly those that result in flooding.
Careful consideration must be paid to floodplains, such as those defined by FEMA, to minimize risk of flooding.

Similarly, power outages caused by storms or other events have the potential to impede residents’ access to their cars, as automated parking systems require electricity to function. One solution that many project teams consider is connecting automated parking systems to a building’s main generator in the same way that elevators and other critical systems would be. In the case of a major power outage, a resident in a building set up that way can still retrieve his or her car.

Looking Forward
Currently, there are not many manufacturers offering automated parking systems, and only a few buildings in New York City have fully-installed systems at this time. This greatly limits any design and construction teams in their coordination processes, because site visits to existing examples are one of the best ways to ensure that a system complies with local regulations and achieves all of a project’s design goals. For example, for projects to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act they must achieve certain clearance minimums for the space where the dropping off and retrieving of vehicles occurs. Without having a fully installed automated parking system to reference in the local area, a project team has to be that much more careful in its coordination and fact-checking throughout the project.

Despite these challenges, automated parking has already proven to be a safe, convenient, pedestrian-friendly, and space-effective solution for providing parking in today’s growing cities. As the technology behind these systems continues to improve, their popularity and availability will only increase. In New York City—where the demand for parking remains high and the amount of developable space continues to decrease despite a rising need for residential space—automated parking is on its way to becoming the new normal.

David Kubik, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is an associate at BKSK Architects. He can be reached at dkubik@bksk.com.

TPP-2016-01-Future Thinking

Careful Considerations

TPP-2016-01-Careful ConsiderationBy Pierre Koudelka

I wrote an article last year about parking equipment and new applications in which I said, “Our system of specifying, purchasing, and managing, for whatever reason, is far too accepting of the status quo” (See the January 2015 issue of The Parking Professional). Since then, lots of parking folks have asked me what I meant. So I felt this might be a good topic for a new article on what to be aware of and how best to purchase parking equipment (PARCS).

Outdated Specifications
For those of you who feel PARCS specifications within an RFP guarantees you get what you requested, please think again. The simple fact is that most specifications written today are general in nature in order to encompass the offerings of just about every manufacturer, in my opinion. Bidders have a great deal of leeway in what they provide. Specifications do a fair job at outlining the number of gates and dispensers/verifiers at entrances or exits, cashier booths, or pay-on-foot machines in foyers. That is easy. But these specifications do little to explain the true operating functionally of the internal system, the central computer parameters, the networks, and the quality guidelines of the installation—in fact, those details are seldom specified. Why?

Have you ever seen an RFP outline quality standards for the equipment, life expectancy requirements, or estimated maintenance cost over the system life? Not really. How can anyone truly make an informed buying decision without these facts?

Specification writers are in a catch-22: If they are too specific, they may exclude someone and risk legal actions. Past suits have caused many to generalize, and more than that, specifications simply have not kept up with technology. Many are canned, often disjointed, or worse, copied and pasted in a mélange of several opposing manufacturers’ offerings that, when combined, make little sense and ask for things that are impossible to produce as written. So to be fair and avoid those issues, many RFPs generalize on what the system is to do.

Sometimes, they are too specific. The problem is that the equipment available from a large number of manufacturers varies tremendously in capability and quality and very few writers are able to capture that aspect in writing RFPs. The result is that ­feature-filled manufacturers have to pare down, and products that lack features become accepted. All this boils down to a judgment call at the end of the day. It may be a well-thought-out call, but it still often comes down to price, location of the nearest service outlet, and delivery time, and presumably, the one that complies with most of those wishes wins the contract. So here’s my first piece of advice: Always get an experienced consulting firm to sort it out—that goes for the individual the manufacturer assigns to your account as well.

I have experienced too many badly written RFPs that come from people with no parking experience, and everybody suffers: the owner, the installer, the manufacturer, and the writer. It results in countless questions back and forth, substantial delays, re-bids, having inappropriate systems installed, and sometimes, regrettably, legal action, although these are seldom publicized. Most bidders try to do the best they can interpreting specs, but interpretation can vary greatly. Without a good set of metrics to compare to and follow, buying decisions can be arbitrary. It’s that simple.

Truth be told, even the projects that seem to go well are sometimes over-specified as well and the facility winds up using only a small portion of the resulting system despite the best efforts of the spec writer. This is because, as human beings, we tend to only use features that are fast, familiar, and easy to master. All the rest of the techno-babble that’s specified and paid for seldom gets used. I would say, with a few exceptions, only 30 percent of any system is actually used. Surprised? It’s analogous to the thousands of features within Microsoft—how many do you really use, assuming you’re not an IT expert?

Lesson two: Don’t pay for over spec’d items if they aren’t going to be used. Also, take the time to ensure all those features will be used as they were intended.


There are several steps to follow to ensure your RFP process goes smoothly and that you end up with the system you were shopping for in the first place. Here are 11 points to think about when you start:

Do your own due diligence. Don’t leave it all up to someone else. Check the supplier’s financials. Check and visit references. Most importantly, visit the manufacturer’s facility whenever possible. Obviously not everyone can do that, but you should if your project is large enough. A thousand-dollar airfare is a small price to pay to ensure satisfaction. The minute I walk into a manufacturer’s facility, I can tell if the resulting product will be good or bad, and so can you. Check the quality stations. Is the facility automated or not? Is it clean or dirty? Is there a lot of product on the floor?

Think big picture. Don’t just look for features your project needs today when selecting a vendor. Look to the future. Investigate the supplier’s entire software library, as your requirements will change down the road. You must make sure the supplier has the required software/hardware to accommodate your needs in the future, even if all those functions aren’t needed today. Too many clients find themselves in a pickle three or four years down the road with a system that can’t easily be added to or improved. Above all, make sure that the feature or device you are being sold has been proven to work. This is especially important with startups.

Try it. Don’t be afraid to ask the manufacturer for free software demo samples you can take home to play with for a week or so to let your people experience the inner workings of the system before you buy anything. Why would a reliable supplier say no? Plus, this will help involve staff in the decision process, which is always a smart move.
I would be very suspicious of any supplier who’s reluctant to provide free demo software for a time period. After all you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. You test-drive a new car—why not test-drive new software as well? Remember when trying out software that an important feature is its ease of use. The only software that will be used is the software that is easy to use.

Ditch source code. The antiquated notion that you must request source code to protect your company in case the firm you are dealing with goes under is a total waste of time and money and should be stricken from all specifications. In my 40+ years in the industry, I have seldom seen anyone use such codes after the fact. Third parties trying to work on these codes find it too hard and expensive.

Distrust the yes man. Understand up front that bidders are likely to say their companies and products can meet the demands outlined in an RFP. And depending on their individual perspective, they probably can somehow. But most specs, due to their general nature, are open to individual interpretations. The trick is to not accept a mere “yes” answer but to take time to assess the user-friendliness of the feature the supplier intends to provide. For someone to simply say, “Yes, I can give you this or that report specified” is no longer acceptable. The “yes” has to be explained in detail. As the purchaser, you need to know if that report can be generated by either a single keystroke or will take dozens of keystrokes and the manual merging of other reports and so on before you get your required report. Understand that if the system isn’t user-friendly, that function you paid for will likely never be used. That’s simple human nature. Specifications today do not measure or define user-friendliness.

Consider staff. Owners often underestimate the complexity and sophistication of the parking systems they are purchasing. Existing staff may not be qualified to run the new operation. Examine and quantify staff competence before buying. It’s becoming an IT world, and you need savvy people to run all these computers and networks. Minimum wage knowledge and a little training doesn’t do it anymore. System problems are often people problems. It’s easy to blame the system for staff misunderstandings.

Remember that you get what you pay for. All systems are definitely not equal, and to think they are does your operation a great disservice. Don’t buy a parking system off a cut sheet, say-so, or brochure. Go look at the equipment. Lift the hood and look inside. Try and appreciate the quality differences that affect price. There are many differences specifications never begin to cover. You’re guaranteed to see differences if you actually look for them. Does the manufacturer use brass/nylon bushing or ball bearings? Are parts sheet metal or machined? What is the quality of their service support? Will the equipment rust prematurely? Even the way it’s wired together can tell you a lot. Is it neat? Look at the PC boards. Are the chips surface mounted or not? All this tells you where the manufacturer is in the evolutionary scale of assembly. I used to count the number of direct DRIVE rollers in a ticket transport unit to get a feel for its quality. The more, the better if you don’t want jams. And if there is a ticket jam, can it be removed easily?

Ask about installation. What of the quality of installation of the parking equipment? I have never seen a specification define installations very well. It’s assumed that the contractor will do the work under the prevailing codes, I guess. Let me tell you, I have seen many a poor installation after the fact in which the contractor made up for an initial low bid on the equipment by cutting back in the installation. Very cheap switches, underrated wires, bad loops, cheap or improper connectors (especially when it comes to fiber), no expansion provision on conduit, equipment installed but not level, inadequate power, and the list goes on. These inconsistencies cause system problems that are sometimes hard to find after the fact and result in downtime and a shorter equipment lifespan.

Ask about lifetime costs. The industry has been remiss in its ability to either understand or analyze quality and longevity of equipment or systems. I have never seen a specification that documented service or maintenance costs over the life of that particular equipment. What is the life expectancy of the equipment? You would think that would be a key factor in the buying decision process, but it seldom comes up. That’s in part because it requires far more effort and no one wants their comparative analysis of suppliers to be potentially wrong, or those recommending often have a short-term outlook because of contractual obligations. The industry must do better. When spending millions, you need facts, not fiction.

Remember, price can be deceiving when specifications are general. The simple fact is that those systems that seemed inexpensive up front will more than likely cost you far more than the highest priced bidder in the long run, sometimes by a considerable amount. Owners should be made aware of this fact. Recommendations for inexpensive solutions are often driven by ulterior motives or length of contracts, so you always need to understand where and why the recommendation is being made. You always get what you pay for.

Never stop looking for ways to improve your operation. Consider adding more conveniences for your patrons and simplifying the managerial process with new technology. There are countless ways to increase profits that are not called out in original RFPs. Dozens of innovations come out every few months. I simply don’t see these experts doing a great job of follow-up with their clients every two or three years to make recommendations on improvements that would benefit the client.

Keeping Up
We seem to be very slow at accepting new innovations in North America. It may be our conservative nature, possibly complacency; maybe it’s our purchasing process itself or a sense of needlessly upsetting the apple cart when an owner seems content, or maybe the fees for suggestions simply aren’t there after the fact. However perfect you may think your operation is, you can always increase revenues and customer satisfaction by 10 or 15 percent—that’s been my experience. Stay informed by attending trade shows and continually asking your facility manager for new suggestions. No car park should remain stagnant. Improvements should happen regularly or you’re really falling behind.

This may seem a harsh criticism of the way things are done, but the RFP process has regrettably not changed in quite some time, but technology has. Any newcomer to the industry should be aware of these 11 points to save themselves a ton of heartache. Granted, some installations go along perfectly to everyone’s satisfaction, but many more projects have had issues that could have been resolved up front had some of these suggestions been followed. There are many other safeguards one can take, but we will leave those for another time.

Good luck in your buying decisions going forward, but never leave it entirely to luck or to others.

Pierre Koudelka has 45 years of parking experience globally as a leading manufacturer, parking consultant, and author. He can be reached at jean.pierre.koudelka@gmail.com.

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Why Cash May Still be King

TPP-2016-01-Why Cash May Still be KingBy Bryan Alexander

The data breaches that hit the parking industry in 2014 offered a stark reminder that parking is just as vulnerable to credit card fraud as any other industry. Worldwide, credit card fraud has reached $14 billion a year, and while the hit experienced by the parking industry was relatively minor, for the companies that were affected—and their customers— the impact was painful.

This is just one of the reasons some parking patrons still prefer to pay with cash. Many have faced the difficulty of having their personal data compromised and having to deal with the time-consuming and stressful aftermath. For those drivers, cash can be a more attractive option for transactions that are quick and simple.  Others may prefer to pay with cash because they’ve maxed out credit cards or don’t want to add to existing balances. These are some reasons why being able to accept cash represents good customer service.

Parking management trends have moved away from cash payment in recent years. During the past two decades, many owners have moved to automate their parking facilities. These fully-automated parking structures are more convenient for parkers in many ways because it’s quicker and less complicated to enter and exit parking areas. Automated access and revenue control systems also make it much easier for owners and operators to manage their parking assets. The associated hardware and software tools record valuable utilization and revenue data that can be used to make parking operations more efficient and profitable.

Automation can reduce the risk of theft because there aren’t staff at exit booths handling cash (who might either be robbed by others or, sadly, tempted by easy access to so many dollar bills in-hand). This is a vitally important issue for parking owners and operators. It’s estimated that as much as 20 percent of cash parking revenues collected by collection booth attendants may not make it into the cash register; crime and employee safety are real concerns. For all these reasons, the advent of parking’s technology age has enhanced parking operations in recent years.

I think many owners have taken automation a step too far by going entirely cash-free. They require parkers to either pay in advance on a monthly basis or pay for daily transactions with credit cards. Parking owners who only accept credit card payments for parking unnecessarily turn away parkers who wish to use cash—and their competition is reaping the benefits. In an industry in which profit margins are often low and every dollar counts, parking owners can’t afford to cede business to their competitors who do accept cash.

Unlike credit card payments that carry a processing fee of 2.5 to 3 percent, there are no outright fees associated with cash payments. What about the cost of PCI compliance? Or the potential liability owners will have to take on if they aren’t compliant? And now with the introduction of EMV standards, parking owners and operators are taking on an added layer of liability if they don’t fully embrace the new standards. Being able to accept cash payment for parking can moderate these risks and save owners money.

History and New Technology

It’s easy to see why many parking owners turned to credit card payment exclusively when they automated their municipal facilities, beginning in the 1990s. At the time, cash payment equipment was large and couldn’t easily be integrated into standard access and revenue control equipment. Also, traditional cash equipment didn’t recycle bills as change, so cash boxes had to be emptied frequently. Not only was this costly and inconvenient, but it increased the risk of theft.

Fortunately, cash payment equipment has improved dramatically in recent years. Today, it can easily be integrated into standard access and revenue control equipment, and it’s much faster. In fact, the typical cash transaction can usually be completed just as quickly as a credit card transaction.

Cash recycling has also reached the parking industry and can easily be integrated into existing access and revenue control equipment. This makes cash recycling technology something worth investigating for both retrofits of existing parking facilities and inclusion in new ones.

Cash recycling re-uses bills that have been used to pay for parking as change for other patrons. So, say a parker uses a $10 and a $5 bill to pay for parking. Those bills are stored for use as change. If the next parker pays with a $20 bill, a $5 bill that was previously paid is returned to him or her as change. This dramatically speeds up transactions. It eliminates the need for frequent collection and emptying of the equipment and can allow permit parking operators to go days—or even weeks—before having to empty equipment. It also reduces the risk of theft—after all, the less frequently staff have to empty cash boxes, the less inviting a target they are to criminals. Cash is collected in locked modules that can’t be opened until they are returned to the owner’s or operator’s counting room, dramatically reducing the risk that some may go missing.

Today’s automated cash transactions are quick, usually just as fast as credit card transactions. The best cash recycling equipment returns change from the same slot that payments are inserted into, making it much more intuitive and simple for parkers to use. In essence, cash recycling technology offers comparable ease and convenience to credit card payment, so parkers who prefer to pay with cash are no longer penalized for their choice.

Cash recycling provides an additional layer of security in this age of data theft. Hackers and other criminals are steadily becoming more sophisticated, and private data will continue to be at risk. Cash collection poses none of those risks.

The Benefits of Cash
The parking industry is in the midst of a technology revolution, and parking owners have more options than ever for making parking more user-friendly, manageable, and profitable. Today, parking-centric cash-accepting technologies are making it easier and more manageable for parking facilities to accept cash payment for parking and, as a result, helping owners be more competitive and profitable.

Bryan Alexander is industry sales manager for Crane Payment Innovations. He can be reached at bryan.alexander@cranepi.com.

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Is Big Data Coming to a Parking Facility Near You

TPP-2016-01-Is Big Data Coming to a Parking Facility Near YouBy Mike Robertson

When many industries consider big data, they envision large dollar signs. In certain industries, big data is the magic ingredient for guaranteed success into the future. But how could big data affect the parking industry?

Big Data Defined
If you are unsure what is meant by big data, here is a fairly simple explanation: Big data describes the large volume of data—both structured and unstructured—that streams into a business on a day-to-day basis. The volume of data is not what is important; it’s what an organization does with the data that matters. Big data can be analyzed for insights that lead to better operational and strategic decisions. Businesses across numerous industries are actively attempting to use big data to improve their operations, marketing, revenue security, and overall customer experience.

Big Data and Parking
Parking may not be the first industry that comes to mind when people think of big data applications. However, the parking industry produces an enormous amount of data every day that, properly analyzed, will change the way the industry operates. For starters, all of the collected data points form patterns that, in many cases, would allow parking operators and property owners to better understand how to maximize revenue and decrease operating expenses.

Here are a few examples of ways big data could improve the parking industry:
Revenue security:

  • Identification of revenue variances compared to historical performance that may indicate revenue leakage.
  • Predictive analytics based on historical data sets establishes utilization patterns that allow operators to:
  • Effectively advertise available spaces at the right time.
  • Optimize staffing.
  • Develop demand-responsive pricing based on predicted occupancy and turnover.
  • Inform parkers of alternative parking options when space is predicted to be full during a specific period (imagine planned trips such as to airports or hospitals).
  • Effectively forecast future revenues.

City-wide knowledge:

  • Parking operators will be able to better understand how pricing and special events affect their locations across a specified area within a city or region.
  • Rapid response to increasing utilization. For example, increased utilization at one garage may dictate increased pricing at other nearby garages.

Some of these points may currently be monitored by parking managers and operators, but to effectively monitor all of them would require an extensive amount of time that most parking managers do not possess. With big data analytics, the data can be collected and analyzed automatically. The systems can be programmed to alert parking operators as potential issues and opportunities arise.

Next Steps
Our industry is filled with talented people who do many things quite well. Given the appropriate information at the right time, they will make good decisions. But we must acknowledge that when people are confronted with a wide range of perhaps outwardly conflicting information, the human response is either to become paralyzed or to resort to prior behaviors or decisions.

The more data a smart machine gathers, the better the conclusion. Machines can consume remarkable amounts of data, sort it for significance, find patterns, and predict outcomes. The process is further refined by the incorporation of new data and measuring the performance of its preceding predictive activity. These systems will learn from the outcomes of preceding predictive activity and then go on to modify their algorithms to improve performance. We already collect the data every day; now we need to stop merely storing the data and turn it into useable business intelligence that allows us to make better informed decisions.

Lost In Translation – Speaking Clearly

TPP-2016-01-Lost In TranslationBy Bill Smith

Have you ever traveled abroad to someplace where people speak a different language? How did it go? Was it difficult to order a meal? Or check into a hotel? Or maybe get directions from someone on the street? When you are in a foreign country, it’s easy for your conversations to get lost in translation.Your parking customers may be having a similar experience with your marketing.

Marketers tend to talk a lot about how to reach customers. We love our shiny toys as much as the next person, so we talk about putting together pretty websites and mastering social media. When the next big thing comes down the pike, the marketing community will jump on that bandwagon, too.

The problem is when you focus too heavily on how to communicate, it’s easy to forget about what to say—or more accurately, how to say it. Parking professionals, like most people, have our own language. It’s easy to fall into jargon when we communicate. But language that’s meaningful to us—references to car counts or double-helix ramps or wayfinding—don’t necessarily mean anything to the people we want to reach. One of the most common mistakes organizations make is to get so lost in the ways their own people talk and act that they begin to believe that’s the way the rest of the world is. When you do this, you tend to talk rather than communicate. You can’t make a connection with the audiences you are trying to reach because you are speaking a different language than they are.

Speaking Clearly
How can you be sure you and your customers are speaking the same language? First, you need to understand your audience. To whom are you speaking? Customers? Potential customers? Strategic partners?

Next, figure out what’s important to them. Do they need technology that can make their operations more profitable? Or perhaps parking planning strategies to promote business development? Or do they need better design ideas? The next step in communicating effectively is understanding exactly what those needs are. And it’s not a matter of you deciding what they need and telling them; you need to see their needs through their eyes.

Finally, when you understand who you need to reach and what each of your target audience’s needs are, then you can
figure out what to say to them. But you need to speak their language, not your own. What does that mean? Well, don’t use industry jargon. Not only is it meaningless to those who work outside the industry, but it can actually undermine your efforts to connect. Don’t make your audiences have to work to understand what you are trying to say.

How does that look in the real world? If you are trying to connect with the higher-education community, use language that makes sense to a university audience. Likewise, use the same strategy if you are trying to reach airport professionals, hospital administrators, parking consultants, or municipal managers. If you want to make a connection, you need to communicate in a language they’ll understand.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easier said than done. In a sense, it’s just like when you travel overseas: English may be your first language, but if you can speak the native tongue of where you are traveling, you’ll get along much better. In a business context, it’s just as important to be bilingual. You need to be able to speak the languages of all of your constituencies and work all of the languages you can now speak into your marketing

That’s how you ensure your marketing isn’t getting lost in translation.

Bill Smith, APR, is principal of Smith-Phillips Strategic Communications and contributing editor of The Parking Professional. He can be reached at bsmith@smith-phillips.com or 603.491.4280.

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Going Green with LED Lighting Retrofits

TPP-2016-01-Going Green with LED Lighting Retrofits
By Jennifer I. Tougas, PhD, CAPP

If you are looking for ways to save money in your operation, take a hard look at your lighting system. Recent advances in the lighting industry allow us to save energy with more efficient fixtures, more intelligent controls, and lower maintenance needs. All of this adds up to significant cost savings and a very short return on investment.

Efficient Lighting Fixtures
There are many different lighting technologies on the market. When evaluated on lighting output, energy efficiency, initial costs, lifecycle costs, etc., each has advantages and disadvantages. Light-emitting diode (LED) technology has matured to the point where fixtures are durable in outdoor environments, light quality is excellent, lifecycle costs are very low, and initial costs are affordable. LEDs are also extremely energy efficient.

The Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking (LEEP) Campaign is a “collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Energy and industry associations to promote the use of energy efficient lighting in parking lots and structures.” Its website, leepcampaign.org, contains many technical resources and case studies available for anyone interested in learning more about energy-efficient lighting systems.

IPI has partnered with the Green Parking Council as supporters of the LEEP Campaign. See the December 2015 issue of The Parking Professional for more information about how to submit your facility for an award to be recognized at the 2016 IPI Conference & Expo, in Nashville, Tenn.

Intelligent Lighting Controls
Adequate lighting is critical to our operations for safety and security, but lighting areas where there aren’t any people is wasteful in both energy use and expense. You can manually turn lights off when there is adequate natural light or in areas that aren’t in use. Sensors that detect natural light levels can turn lights on when needed or off when levels are adequate. Sensors that detect motion can turn lights on when people are present at night. This works well for lighting systems that do not have to warm up to reach full brightness. Modern lighting fixtures are able to connect wirelessly to a network and communicate with software on a centralized computer to control lighting levels and patterns from a desktop computer. The software is also able to track energy use and maintenance needs down to individual fixtures.

Of course, with increased complexity comes increased costs. While large operations could benefit from controlling lights from a central command center, smaller operations could just as easily have a staff member flip a switch at the end of the day.

Lower Maintenance Needs and Costs
Lower maintenance costs represent a significant cost savings during the lifetime of LED fixtures. LEDs have a longer lifespan than traditional lighting systems, often lasting twice as long or longer. With fewer replacements required during the lifetime of the fixture, cost savings are realized in both reduced labor and material costs. There are green bonuses to increased product durability as well: reduced use of natural resources to manufacture the products and reduced use of landfills to dispose of the products.

WKU Case Study
Western Kentucky University upgraded the lighting at its surface parking lots about a year ago. By moving to LED fixtures, the university was able to reduce the number of lighting fixtures needed to cover the same area. The energy savings realized by converting to LED fixtures approached 50 percent. By implementing sensors, wi-fi connectivity, and central software management, we were able to realize an additional 30 percent in energy savings. The LED fixtures have a projected life three times that of the HID lamps that were replaced, which resulted in future cost avoidance as well. Overall, we’ve been very pleased with the results of the project.

Jennifer I. Tougas, PhD, CAPP, is director of parking and transportation at Western Kentucky University and a member of IPI’s Sustainability Committee. She can be reached at jennifer.tougas@wku.edu.

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Kindred Spirits

TPP-2016-01-Kindred SpiritsBy Cindy Campbell

I had the pleasure of attending many of the U.S. state and regional parking and transportation conferences this past fall. With the conference season now behind us, I got to thinking about the extent of work and planning it takes to execute a successful conference event.

The board of directors, committee chairs and members, and conference coordinators make it all look so easy. The rest of us show up on opening day ready to learn and experience all that is new and exciting in our industry, rarely giving a thought to the incredible amount of preparation it takes to provide us with a quality experience. The association volunteers and staff are responsible for so many details: negotiating a reasonable contract for a conference hotel and related services, determining appropriate educational sessions, laying out an optimal tradeshow floor, creating an educational schedule that meets the expectation of attendees, making sure all of the audio-visual requirements are set up or arranged for, determining the appropriate food selections and beverage items for a variety of occasions … the list continues on to include putting out fires—both small and large—as they invariably arise throughout the conference event. Whew.

For participants, it’s nearly invisible. But then, that’s the goal, isn’t it?

The Overall Experience
As conference attendees, our experience should not focus on how the event came together but rather what our overall experience was while we were there. We spend little to no time considering what effort, monitoring, and oversight it takes to deliver the service we received. If it all goes as planned, attendees walk away from a successful event feeling positive about the experience, blissfully unaware of all the planning and efforts that were required from so many people to make it happen.

While I just described what could be considered a typical conference attendee experience, the overall experience of our own parking customers is actually very similar in nature. Let’s face it, no one heads out of the house thinking, “Today’s the day I’m going to go out and experience some outstanding parking services!”

You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: As parking professionals, we are frequently the first service providers customers encounter as they go about their day. Like conference staff and volunteers, we complete a number of important, time-­consuming tasks that are routinely overlooked or simply assumed by the public. We make sure parking areas are well-lit, properly signed, and clean and that all equipment is functioning properly. We also assist customers with directions to their destinations, take payments, receive appeals, and help with special requests. In addition, we’re tasked to enforce regulations that are intended to make sure our parking resources are optimally utilized.

We do all of this in an effort to make our customers’ experience pleasant and safe. While they may never consciously be aware of the efforts we put forth on their behalf, we know that without these efforts, customers’ overall experience would be far less positive.

To all of the state and regional volunteers who work tirelessly to provide association members with a great experience and to all frontline parking professionals who do the same every day, we appreciate your efforts. Thanks for a job well done.

Cindy Campbell is IPI’s senior training and development specialist. She is available for onsite training and professional development for IPI members and can be reached at campbell@parking.org.

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No More Procrastination

TPP-2016-01-No More ProcrastinationBy Mark A. Vergenes

Human beings are natural procrastinators. Most people struggle with the temptation to put things off until that last minute—particularly those tasks we don’t enjoy. How many times have you claimed to “work better under pressure” or promised yourself to finish a task when you had more time to focus?

While it may be possible to crunch out a report at the last minute or even throw together a major family get-together in a few days, saving and financial planning is one of those things that is a process. You need to work on it steadily over the course of years. Every month you put off developing and contributing to your own financial plan, your chances of success get smaller and smaller.

The truth is if you’re relatively young and you’ve already developed a financial plan to get you through to retirement, you’re the exception. But if don’t have a solid financial plan in place, now is the time to start.

Why Plan?
You need to make accommodations for several significant life events. During the course of your life, you’ll probably experience a series of major expenses that can’t be covered without a thoughtful savings and investment plan. These may include homes, cars, college, medical expenses, retirement, and the death of one of your family’s breadwinners.

Most people understand how to budget for expenses such as homes and cars. When planning, people decide how much to spend and then decide how to pay for these expenses with cash, credit, or a combination of both. These expenses are budgeted into a monthly income and are protected with adequate savings.

However, when it comes to life’s other major expenses—college, medical expenses, retirement, or the death of a family breadwinner—many people procrastinate and are less prepared.

While it may seem hard to get started, many parking professionals already have access to many easy-to-­implement savings, investment, and insurance options.

Automated Retirement Plans
Whether it’s an individual retirement account (IRA), a 401(k), a pension, or another type of plan, ­company-sponsored retirement savings plans offer a couple of important benefits. One of their most important features is that they are deducted from your paycheck, automatically funding your plan. Many benefits that are deducted from your paycheck are pre-tax, which means the amount you contribute is more than the reduced amount you would otherwise keep in your take-home pay. However, all plans have a capped amount. If your capped amount is less than your actual savings needs, you should discuss additional investment and savings options with a qualified financial adviser.

Matched Contributions
Some employers will match the contributions you make dollar-for-dollar up to a certain percentage of your pay. Others may match a portion or percentage of each dollar you contribute. Regardless, it’s free money. Having your employer contribute right along with you makes your retirement account grow faster than if you were the only one putting money in. And most of these matches are made pre-tax, which significantly reduces the effect on your take-home pay.

Vesting is a way for employers to encourage you to stay with them. Basically, it means that while you have full ownership of your own contributions, you’ll only gain access to your employer’s contributions after a designated period of time. Vesting can happen two ways: A graduated vesting schedule gives you increased ownership of the employer funds over time until you’re fully vested and own 100 percent of the money. A cliff-vesting schedule withholds ownership until you’ve completed a certain number of years of service, at which point you become 100 percent vested. Once your employer’s contributions are fully vested, they’re yours and you can take them with you if you leave.


Insurance benefits vary widely from employer to employer. Evaluate each benefit to make sure it makes sense for you and your financial plans. Be sure to investigate if your employer offers short- or long-term disability, dental benefits, vision benefits, and corporate life-insurance plans. Be sure to find out out what happens to your benefits if you become ill, are hurt on the job, or are hurt when you’re not working.

It’s critical to understand if employer options are enough. Do you know how you are you going to handle life’s other major expenses—retirement, college, medical expenses, and the death of a spouse or breadwinner?

While we all fantasize that our talented children will get a full scholarship, it’s not a reliable savings plan. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by big numbers and pricey educations. Even modest savings can pack a punch if you give them enough time to grow.

Investing just $25 a week for 18 years will yield $48,000, assuming an 8 percent average annual return (and assuming no taxes). Investing your savings wisely may allow you to maximize your savings. If you didn’t start saving the week your child was born, don’t give up hope. Even a little savings helps. Talk to your financial adviser and you’ll be able to develop a plan that will help your child cover at least some of his or her college costs, even if college is just around the corner.

You should also explore financing options that include federal, state, and private grants and loans. And finally, make sure you are not planning to use retirement savings to finance college expenses. Your children will have a lifetime to pay off college, but you won’t be able to easily rebuild retirement savings.

Medical Expenses

While recent changes in health care have made some people more confident about their ability to handle major medical expenses, medical expenses are still one of the most common reasons for bankruptcy. It’s critical to ensure your insurance will continue even after you begin disability, and it’s wise to check out disability insurance to help your family get through extended illnesses or rehabilitation periods. Financial planners can help you determine your needs, your ability to pay, and refer you to reputable health insurance representatives.

Death of a Breadwinner
Whether your home is a one-, two-, or even three-income family, it’s important to think through what will happen if one or more income sources pass on or are unable to work. What happens to your mortgage? Car payments? Who takes care of your children? Is an elderly relative relying on your income? Developing a will and ensuring your life insurance is enough to get your family through the death of a loved one is critical to your family’s financial well-being.

It’s easy to procrastinate on life insurance if you’re part of a young, healthy family. According to a July 2014, article in U.S. News and World Report, three in 10 households in the U.S. have absolutely no life insurance whatsoever. And many people with life insurance don’t have enough coverage. According to a 2014 survey by New York Life Insurance, people surveyed said they needed an average of $540,000 worth of insurance but were insured for only $220,000.

You shouldn’t rely on guesswork when making decisions that affect you and your family. Get help to work through these financial hurdles and develop a plan that addresses a wide variety of changes.

While you may already be contributing to a ­company-sponsored retirement plan, you should still map out exactly what your retirement looks like, what your income may be, and what kind of savings you need to finance your lifestyle.
People are living longer than ever before, and if you retire at 65, you may be looking at 30 years of retired living. If you’re one of the many people who underestimate how long you’ll live in retirement, you may find yourself running out of money.

For some people, expenses decrease in retirement. Maybe their house is paid off and children are on their own. But others find that their retirement comes with unexpectedly high price tags. You may need to continue to support family members, your home may not be worth as much as you expected, or you may incur major medical expenses for yourself, your spouse, or another family member.

Often, Social Security doesn’t cover your retirement expenses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, today’s retiree draws less than half his or her income from Social Security. The rest must come from other sources, such as personal savings and pension plans or, for some, part- or full-time employment.

Inflation may also take a bite out of your retirement savings. Remember, your dollar may buy a lot less in the future than it does today.

It’s important to know that financial planning professionals make recommendations, not decisions. You control your finances. A good planner will make recommendations based on your needs, values, goals, and time frames. You decide which recommendations to follow and then work with a financial professional to implement them.

MIRUS Financial Partners nor Cetera Adviser Networks LLC. give tax or legal advice. Opinions expressed are not intended as investment advice or to predict future performance. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representations as to its completeness or accuracy. All economic and performance information is historical and indicative of future results. Articles prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.

Mark A. Vergenes is president of MIRUS Financial Partners and chair of the Lancaster (Pa.) Parking Authority. He can be reached at mark@mirusfinancialpartners.com.

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