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Parking Industry Tries To Make Your Life Easier

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Finding a parking space, probably not at the top of the list of things you like to do. Well, experts in parking think they might be able to change that. One key, they say, is for developers to think about the parking experience when they're designing malls or apartment complexes, instead of just treating it as an afterthought.

This came up in Florida this week, at the International Parking Institute's annual conference. Reporter Kenny Malone, from member station WLRN, was there.

KENNY MALONE, BYLINE: Let's go ahead and address this head-on. Most people do not have great associations with parking. Exhibit A: Joni Mitchell on parking lots.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG YELLOW TAXI")

MALONE: Exhibit B: Seinfeld on parking garages.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEINFELD")

MALONE: And Exhibit C.

I'm holding in my hand here a parking ticket from the City of Miami Beach.

That's me on parking citations. I got ticketed on South Beach last year, I recorded a voice memo. I was frustrated.

My initial reaction is (bleep). Yeah. So, bit of an uphill PR battle for the parking industry.

CASEY JONES: We have a lot of work to do, no doubt.

MALONE: Casey Jones shows me around the expo. He oversees parking at Boise State University and he also volunteers as the chairman of the International Parking Institute's board.

During my time at the conference, I heard people refer to Jones as both the spokes model for parking and a parking rock star. He certainly does have a way of making you think differently about the parking industry.

JONES: We're not a whole lot different than the hotel industry. We rent space just like a hotel would.

MALONE: It might not be obvious, but that's a bold statement and part of the key to fixing parking's image problem. Jones explains that in the past, parking was just about storing cars - you packed them in like sardines to maximize revenue. Think of past parking as a privilege - pay up or else.

But in the last decade, that paradigm has shifted. And this expo shows exactly that.

JONES: Highly doubtful that we'll find a copy machine over here in the Xerox booth.

MALONE: Jones walks us over to David Cummins, a vice president from Xerox. Cummins explains that Xerox is working on something called...

DAVID CUMMINS: Occupancy detection.

MALONE: A camera that can spot open parking spaces and then let drivers know. In fact, the Xerox team that changed computers forever by inventing the mouse 40 years ago, they're actually working on customer service-based parking projects.

CUMMINS: Yeah, I could introduce you to them. They're right there.

MALONE: All signs at the expo point towards the parking industry trying very hard to make your life easier. There's a garage that helps you find your lost car. Sensors and digital signs that can help you find open spots. And pay by phone technology - lots of pay by phone technology.

Laurens Eckelboom is with Parkmobile.

LAURENS ECKELBOOM: Change, I truly believe will start to disappear in the next 20 to 25 years.

MALONE: The conversation, at the conference at least, is about helping drivers get in and out of spaces as conveniently as possible. Lost cars, digging for change, circling for spots like a buzzard, Casey Jones says that is not good for anybody.

JONES: People carry with them these experiences, and the negative ones a lot longer than the positive ones. So I can probably remember, just as you can, that first parking ticket and it felt terrible. Well, we don't have to do that anymore. We can give customers tools so that they can make decisions. So they can avoid that all together.

MALONE: There was a kind of institutional battle cry bouncing among the attendees. Almost everywhere you go - a performing arts center, a restaurant, a trip downtown - parking will be people's first and last experience. As one parking professional put it: Success in this industry is when your customers don't even notice you at all.

For NPR News, I'm Kenny Malone in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG YELLOW TAXI")

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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