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January 9, 2017

Consultant’s Corner

The Parking Industry: An Unlikely Comparison
As the common phrase goes, “no one expects to get into parking.” I can’t say that I am any different than those voices. There is a parking industry and it is very much alive, real and growing. Having imbedded myself into the industry it is obvious that technology has finally begun to catch up with parking. This leveling is evident in advancements in smart meter technology, pay-by-phone, LPR, and more. Conversely, I entered parking by way of academia and possibly the furthest thing from parking aside for paying at a meter each time I drove onto campus. Needless to say, the learning curve was steep and longwinded.

When I initially mentioned to family and friends that I was going to enter the parking industry to say there were a few looks of confusion would be an understatement. Not only was there slight confusion but there was an overall lack of knowledge as to what the industry entailed. Up until that point, my intentions had been to enter an area that performed research and analysis. However, I was introduced to parking through a mutual acquaintance that ultimately led me to a position as an Associate at Dixon Resources Unlimited. This position provided me with a great opportunity that I felt I could truly wrap my interests around. This article explains the similarities that I have witnessed between the parking industry and the academia world.

For so long, parking was just parking to me. I always had an idea of where I could find parking on a busy summer day in my beach town growing up or that going into the city for a game or event meant the increased likelihood that I would be paying more for parking versus another day. What I failed to ever realize was the sheer impact that parking has on commerce and downtown businesses, the ability for a city to expand and grow or the ability for visitors and commuters to efficiently locate accessible parking. Based on what I know now, the previous few examples are just scratching the surface of impacts that parking has on society.

However, through this gained experience and time in the parking world and I have been able to draw on a number of similarities between both the business of parking and academia. Much of this is related to the fact I approach parking from the consulting side but the unique nature of the work I assume correlates closely with my previous work. Many of the projects that I assume deal with agencies and the completion of comprehensive parking studies. Often, these studies include the analysis of existing parking data previously collected by the agency as well as generating new data through the use of public intercept surveys, on and off-street collection of vehicle occupancy and turnover data, as well as in-depth interviews of stakeholders and focus groups.

Much like these comprehensive parking studies, my focus in the world of academics dealt with quantitative methodology using data collection and analysis. In simpler terms, the study of sociology using statistics and numbers or focus groups and interviews. For example, what are Millennial’s perceptions of education as an avenue to life course success? In the social sciences, research tends to follow a consistent path the majority of the time which actually parallels that of a comprehensive parking study in a familiar way.

Most research begins with an issue or question that the researcher hopes to prove one way or the other which would most closely relate to an agency recognizing an issue or potential problem that they would like to address through the formation of a parking study. Once this issue or problem has been communicated to firm X, that firm now aims to identify any existing data related to the agency and/or any parking studies previously conducted for the agency. Using this information, the firm may then format a proposed methodology structured to field observations and data collection efforts. This step correlates to the formation of a hypothesis, methodology and research design undertaken in the sciences. As the progression of the study continues, the subsequent step is very much identical between both parking and the sciences, operationalizing the research design and methodology through data collection in the form of surveys, focus groups, experiments, and observations. With the data collected both parties can analyze their data and format conclusions and recommendations on the initial issue, problem or question.

The stark difference I have witnessed between the parking industry and the sciences is what occurs when the study is completed. The comprehensive parking studies’ recommendations have the likely potential of being acted upon by the agency in the form of implementing parking and transportation related changes throughout the agencies system. As gratifying as finding a hypothesis significant or uncovering a correlation between one variable and another, helping a city enact physical change through their operations carries with it a personal sense of gratification. This may be perhaps one of the most enlightening aspects of the parking industry that I have had an opportunity to experience in thus far.

As I continue to acquire knowledge and experience across the wide-range focuses that comprise the parking and transportation industry, the goal is to expand those enlightening moments in creating change and variation. The industry has entered a pivotal period where the advancements in technology are creating smart parking systems, increasing efficiency and access, and helping transform cities parking and transportation operations to the now. I am just glad I got into the parking industry when I did.

Read the entire article here.

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