The economic crash and recession has affected everyone’s lives, and it’s no secret that the travel industry has been hit particularly hard. While many sectors of the travel business have been receiving government support, whether in the form of giant subsidies like the airlines receive or marketing from local government to promote tourism, one important sector has not been completely ignored, but has been actively under siege: offsite travel parking businesses. Whether cruise port or airport parking, parking businesses across the country have been facing obstacles whose size and number the industry has never seen before.

One of those obstacles, one more easily dealt with but still of concern, has been the privatization of parking management at many cruise ports and airports. Parking authorities and management are notoriously plagued with waste, inefficiency and corruption, so much so that they’ve bankrupted cities on more than one occasion (I’m looking at you Scranton). As many municipalities have been gripped by crushing budget shortfalls, they’ve finally been paying attention to their under-utilized and mismanaged parking programs. One relatively easy solution to these problems has been to lease or contract out their parking services to a large private parking firm such as Standard Parking. These private management firms will typically pay a lump sum to lease the parking infrastructure from the city for years or even decades at a time, giving the city a big short term windfall, such as what Chicago did with their entire parking system. When they take over a parking facility, these companies frequently invest in infrastructure improvement as well as upgrading facilities with the latest parking technologies and management systems, dramatically improving service and efficiency and putting far more competitive pressure on offsite travel parking businesses.

Now this in and of itself is not a bad thing. Competition is good for the market, as it means better service and prices that more accurately reflect the level of service that you’re getting. And frankly, there are offsite parking businesses that are not well run and have only been able to survive because their county-owned competition was even worse; these businesses being forced to meet basic business standards or go under is a good thing for travelers and the parking business as a whole. Where this becomes a problem is when local governments try to interfere with the market and use their ability to control and abuse the laws and ordnances governing the business to drive out the private competition. A great example of this is Port Canaveral, Florida. I’ve written about the Port Authority there and their downright repugnant attempts to kill the local parking businesses there on a number of occasions (and about one incredibly unsavory illegal business “owner” that they allowed to operate under their noses for years with no license). And the situation there, while extreme, is far from unique. Across the country, local governments have been using their authority to unfairly bludgeon offsite travel parking businesses.

For instance, earlier this month the Indianapolis airport finally gave up their fight to keep any parking businesses from opening near the airport. You see, back in 2008 the Indianapolis International Airport moved to a new location, while at the same time not approving any permits for new parking facilities to be built near it. This move had forced a number of off-site parking facilities to close, as they no longer were close enough. It was rather shocking, as I lived in Indiana until the end of 2008 and flew out of Indianapolis frequently, and always parked in one of the close to half dozen parking facilities there. When I started working in the parking business a few years later and was looking to contact Indianapolis parking facilities, I was shocked to find that that there was only one left. That was because the Airport Authority has been wasting money in court for years fighting the development of new off-site parking, a battle which they finally gave up earlier this month after three failed appeals and more than $55,000 wasted, and more than $250,000 in legal fees spent by the business they were fighting. And all so they could maintain a government created monopoly.

And these are just a couple examples. In part two of this story, we’ll look at some of the other ways local governments have been putting the squeeze on the travel parking business and the motivations behind those moves, and how they have had a chilling effect on the investment side of travel parking, changing what was once viewed one of the most stable industries to invest in to one which now faces unprecedented amounts of uncertainty. All this and more in part two of The Big Squeeze.

One of the most exciting new technologies that has been steadily gaining steam is 3D printing. Much like the advent of file sharing music and video files, it is a technology poised to completely upend the manufacturing industry as well as countless others as new uses for the technology are being discovered; NASA even recently did experiments with 3D printed pizzas! And with companies like Staples planning to offer cheap and accessible 3D printing, we will soon see people from all walks of life using the technology in innovative ways. One of those innovations occurred just this month, and already has been making waves: the first functioning 3D printable gun.

The design and first working model was made by a Texas law Student who was inspired by early anarchist writings to make the design and distribute it for free online. Within a couple days of announcing this, the design was downloaded more than 100,000 times before the U.S. State Department intervened and demanded the designs be taken down while they examined their legality. While they have yet to issue a decision, it seems highly likely that the schematics violate the U.S. ban on undetectable firearms as well as international arms laws. The crux of the issue lies in the fact that the printed firearms are undetectable to most metal detectors and have no serial number or other traceable information, making them the perfect weapon for criminals. This concern was only exacerbated when within a week, a modified version of the schematics that made the guns sturdier and more accurate was revealed (though thankfully not posted online) as well as the production of the first 3D printed bullets.

Luckily, people have taken notice. Homeland Security issued a nationwide alert about the firearms, warning that metal detectors would be insufficient to detect them and that in the long run it would be impossible to keep the files from spreading online (even as we speak, they are being hosted and downloaded on file sharing sites all over the world). Senators and congressmen at the state and federal level immediately proposed bills explicitly banning the firearms and their production, and unlike most gun control legislation these have little to no opposition; in fact, it’s expected that the NRA will take a stand against them. On top of all of that, the technology is still prohibitively expensive as 3D printers are not widely available yet, and most companies that offer such services either outright refuse to make printable firearms or charge prices far in excess of buying a regular firearm.

While this new innovation is alarming, we have plenty of time before it manifests as a real threat, and it seems that everyone from  government to private industry wants to address this long before that time comes. Still, better safe than sorry, so I’d recommend sending an email or making a phone call to your local congressman or senator to let them know that you want to see this threat taken care before it goes from possibility to reality.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there must be something in the water down in Florida. I was reminded of this when speaking with a facility cruise parking facility manager down in Port Canaveral, who was talking with me about the trials and tribulations parking operators have been put through over the past year by the Canaveral Port Authority. As some may recall, I detailed some of the Canaveral Port Authority’s blunders and mismanagement in this blog back in November. While the level of crazy seems to have peaked back then, things have far from calmed down, even with former Port Authority CEO and apparent anti-free-marketeer Stan Payne recently being fired.

Case in point, while the Port Commission backed away from the onerous fees they wanted to enact on the local parking operators, they still decided to stop issuing new permits for off-site parking facilities. This derailed the plans of a number of facilities that had been planning to open at Port Canaveral, and with them went dozens of new jobs. But for the Port Authority, this was apparently a small price to pay for the opportunity to squash any new potential competition. This move was particularly costly for Florida’s Premiere Parking company, which was in the process of opening a facility when the new permit policy forced them to close. Ironically, they had been opening a facility to replace the one run by Jose “Jay” Nieves (whose outrageous antics I have discussed before) that had been operating illegally for years with no business permit and beyond shady business practices right under Port Authority’s nose. And it wasn’t even the Port Authority that shut him down, he packed up and ran after Jeff Deal of Orlando‘s WFTV Channel 9 filed a story where he documented Nieves joyriding in a car parked at their facility. But of course when a legitimate business wants to open in the same spot, the Port Authority was all too happy to shut it down.

Besides their ongoing war against the local parking businesses, which is mostly out of the public eye, the Port Authority also managed to snag itself some spectacularly bad publicity just recently that made national headlines. As many of you probably recall, Florida youth Trayvon Martin was murdered last year by George Zimmerman under the supposed justification of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Trayvon was targeted by Zimmerman because in his paranoid mind a black teenager in a hoodie in a nice neighborhood could only be up to no good and was probably a criminal just waiting to strike, and so he confronted him with his firearm. While many details are still disputed, what is known for sure is that George Zimmerman shot and killed a teenager who had nothing but a Snapple and some Skittles in his pockets and whose only crime was being a black kid in the “wrong neighborhood”. The whole story reeks of paranoia, racism and classism. So where does Port Canaveral come in, since Trayvon’s murder happened in Sanford? Well earlier this April,  it was discovered Sergeant Ron King of the Port Canaveral Police Department had been distributing targets during firearm trainings he was running for other officers of a person wearing a hoodie with skittles and an ice tea in the pockets. For the few of you reading this that are sociopaths/investment bankers, normal human beings feel using Trayvon targets for Florida Police training is wrong and insensitive to the point of malice on about a dozen levels.

Now in the Port Authority’s defense, interim CEO Jim Walsh immediately denounced Ron King’s actions. “We are offended by this. We are outraged that one of our officers would have this conduct,” said Walsh. “It is not tolerable. It is not acceptable.” While this incident calls into question the screening process used by the Port Canaveral Police Department, the Port Authority and Police Departments responses were swift and appropriate; and frankly, given the history of institutional and overt racism that has been ever-present in Florida politics and government, you can’t say the PCPD is doing worse than average for the Sunshine State. That said, being the best polished turd of the bunch still makes you a turd. The PCPD fired Sgt. King, with Walsh commenting, “Whether it was his stupidity or his hatred, (this is) not acceptable.”

Hopefully, Port Canaveral’s capacity for craziness is waning rather than waxing, at least for the sake of the local economy to say nothing of parking facilities and all of their employees. I know that many of the facility owners and managers are anxious or worried about what the Port Authority’s next move will be, and many of them feel like their business’ future as well as their own is in the hands of the Port Authority and is therefore very uncertain. Only time will tell whether those concerns prove to be true (they’re certainly valid given the past rollercoaster of a year there.); who the Port Commission chooses as their next CEO will be a big indicator of what is to come. Hopefully whoever is chosen will. want to foster the local business community instead of fighting it, but whatever the character of the eventual CEO pick, you can be sure it’ll be covered by It’s Just Parking.

 

This handy little infographic is from T.W. White &Sons out of the UK. Although the statistics given are for the UK, the driving tips remain useful to anyone behind the wheel and the trends it points out are just as true in the US if not more so.

Parking Guide Infographic

Parking Guide Infographic – An infographic by T W White & Sons

Link  —  Posted: April 23, 2013 in Parking
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It all started with a $20 parking ticket given to Toledo lawyer Jeffrey Zilba while he was parked in front of the Ottawa County courthouse in Port Clinton, OH in the summer of 2011. Since the legality of his parking was ambiguous (and being a professional arguer for a living), Mr. Zilba wanted to challenge the ticket, as many of us have unfortunately been forced to do at one point or another. That was when he realized that the ticket had no phone number and no way of challenging it given on the ticket. Failure to pay the $20 ticket would result in a misdemeanor, meaning that the only option for someone receiving one was to either pay the fine and admit guilt or become guilty of a crime. Not only was this unacceptable to Mr. Zilbas, but he saw it as a violation of his right to due process as guaranteed under both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. So Mr. Zilbas paid the ticket to avoid the misdemeanor and decided to start a suit against the city.

And that’s when things started to spin out of control. The suit dragged on for more than a year and a half, finally ending with a ruling in favor of Mr. Zilbas. The city was ordered to decriminalize their parking tickets and provide a way to challenge them, as well as paying damages to Mr. Zilbas. Those damages? $45,000 worth of lawyers fees! The money to pay the settlement was approved by the Port Clinton city council, which has also started the process of changing their ticketing ordnances. The money to pay for this case will unfortunately come from the city’s general fund, which will cause the delay or abandonment of some of the projects slated for the city this year.

So where does the blame lie? Well, despite what seems like some pretty high lawyer fees and what must be heaping helpings of determination or stubbornness, Mr. Zilbas is not the one at fault; his rights were infringed on, and he had a legitimate case. The blame and responsibility really lies with the city. They enacted the unconstitutional ticket policy in the first place, and also failed to resolve this case out of court when it would have been much cheaper for taxpayers and saved a lot of time as well. When it gets down to it, it was, as always, the combination of a lack of oversight and attention to the city’s parking program and not wanting to give up some of the cash cow that is parking fees, even if those fees are being levied unfairly and without a way to challenge them. It’s a small tyranny, but it’s still a tyranny when meter maids are made into judge and jury for Port Clinton citizens.

Upward Facing Airport Dog

Posted: April 15, 2013 in Parking

An interesting new trend at airports. At one point I was involved in an attempt to start an airport gym business with a Hansen’s Beverage Co. executive, but it never got off the ground. I wonder if this will do any better? Let’s find out! Would you use a yoga center or gym at the airport? Comment and let us know!

Taxes have been a big dispute in this country, particularly during the past few years of recession. While we’d all like to pay less taxes, the combination of federal and state level austerity combined with some of the lowest tax rates in our history (because apparently a lot of politicians somehow think that two negative hits to their budget will somehow equal a surplus) has left many local governments struggling to find new ways to generate revenue and get themselves back in the black, and for many cities this has meant ramping up parking fees and parking enforcement, using them as a hidden tax. The problem with this is that many municipalities had already been heavily relying on parking to shore up their budget, and the financial burden it creates is saddled almost entirely by low-income citizens.

The pressure to generate more and more revenue through parking puts an undue strain on both parking enforcers, who are still seeing budget cuts, furlough days and pay freezes on top of dealing with irate parkers who blame them for city ordnances, and average citizens who find that they’re having to pay more and more just to run errands, go shopping or just to go to work thanks to less and les free parking and skyrocketing meter rates and parking fines. And on top of all of that, all too often the money garnered through these more draconian parking policies isn’t being used to improve the parking situation for parkers or for long overdue infrastructure improvements that more and more parking garage and facilities are desperately in need of.

Examples of this are everywhere. In New York and New Jersey, the transportation authority raised rates on parkers and subway travelers yet again, and yet none of the their revenue for the next few years is budgeted for much needed upgrades to those services which have been overburdened and in need of upgrades for close to a decade. And all too often the funds being generated are being used to pay down massive debts incurred by parking authorities that were being mismanaged with next to no oversight for years if not decades, so that increased parking fees are going toward construction debts for projects that may not have even been finished or were unnecessary in the first place (cronyism is rampant in parking authorities, as I’ve pointed out before). And paying down these debts often keeps the authorities in question from embarking on projects that are actually needed and would either lessen the burden on themselves and parkers, increase revenues, or both.

At the end of the day, it’s folks like you and me that end up paying the price. Just the other day in Sacramento, a man left for work in the morning, leaving his car parked at the curb in front of his house like he usually did. When he returned home, he found that the city had put in “No Parking” signs along the street (without informing any of the street residents beforehand), including one right in front of his car, and had then ticketed him for being parked in a no parking zone; and when he tried to appeal the nearly $60 ticket, the county dismissed his appeal! Lucky for Casey Elson (our victim in this story), his local news station did some digging and was able to get the city to void the ticket. During a ride along with a parking enforcer earlier in the week, an L.A. reporter witnessed them ticket a car that had accidentally parked behind a street sweeping sign, a sign which was bent sideways and completely obscured by a low hanging branch. The enforcer reported the broken sign, but still slapped the car with a $73 ticket since there was a sign further down the block (because who doesn’t check the street signs a block away to make sure they didn’t accidentally park in a no parking zone?!).

I could go on and on, as the examples keep coming every week. And it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight, as local municipalities find themselves getting squeezed tighter and tighter. So what can we do, besides riding a bike or continuing to wait for Start Trek transporter technology? Well, at this point the best thing is to let your local government know; call your city council members, contact your local transportation authority, and when you hear or see a parking injustice, write a letter to the editor or email your local news. The reason that these parking authorities are so mismanaged and keep saddling lower income residents with more and more of these hidden taxes is because they are operating in the dark and they know that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing. That’s why a little sunlight shined on your local parking authority can lead to a little relief for yourself and other parkers and force your local government to actually tackle their budget issues instead of continually subsidizing government laziness with parking fees.

In what is sadly becoming routine for Chicagoans, the Windy City was hit with yet another $60+ million parking bill at the end of February. As some may recall, a few weeks ago I talked about the mounting parking issues in Chicago including a recent dispute with Chicago Parking Meters LLC over an alleged overbilling of $22 million to the city. Well, on February 25 the city was told to pay $57.8 million to Chicago Loop Parking LLC as part of an arbitration agreement due to a breach of the city’s contract with the LLC committed under the Richard M. Daley administration.

As bad as that sounds, the silver lining is that the $57.8 million that was decided upon in arbitration is a far cry less than the $200 million that Chicago Loop Parking LLC originally demanded. The issue goes back to the deal that Mayor Daley signed with Chicago Loop Parking in 2006 giving them a 99 year lease on all parking garages at Millennium Park, Grant Park North, Grant Park South, and East Monroe Street for $563 million. As part of the deal, the city agreed to not allow new public parking garages to be opened in a designated area surrounding the CLP properties. Yet within months of inking the deal, the Daley administration approved the Aqua tower, which included a 1,288 space parking garage, in the off-limits area and subsequently granted a license to operate the parking garage to Standard Parking.

Not surprisingly, Chicago Loop Parking initiated private arbitration (as outlined in their contract with the city) which took place last October. Originally, the LLC had demanded $200 million, breaking it down as a combination of lost revenue, increased operating expenses caused by the Aqua facility and interest. Arbitration brought that amount down to $57.8 million ($50 million for lost revenue plus $7.8 million in interest), but was also supposed to be “final and binding”. Despite that, the city is trying to appeal the decision.

While already reducing the tab by almost 75%, the settlement is still a big hit to the city budget. The city is already in a dispute with Chicago Parking Meters LLC over a $25 million bill, and recently lost a job discrimination lawsuit dating back to 1995 that cost them nearly $80 million. And how much did the city have budgeted for settling lawsuits this year? $27.3 million, barely 15% of the City of Chicago’s legal tab so far this year. Hopefully for Chicagoans, the Daley administration hasn’t left any more fiscal time bombs to further cripple the city’s budget.

Airport Parking Fees Could Rise After State Takeover

by ISRAEL BALDERAS Bio    | Email   | Follow: @israel_balderas       by PHOTOJOURNALIST TIM MULLICAN

Story Created:            Mar 18, 2013 at 11:04 PM EDT

Story Updated:        Mar 19, 2013 at 12:33 AM EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Parking rates at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport are quite lower than other similar size airports. Those fees, in turn, help to partly fund operations.

But under a profit-sharing arrangement with U.S. Air, millions of dollars also flow to the airport’s largest tenant.

To get higher revenues, fees could go up. But for that to happen, city council oversight would also have to be removed.

“Charlotte used to be great to fly out of,” said Mooresville resident Chuck Fogle. “With this, it’s really made business travel difficult.”

Fogle says construction plans for a new hourly parking deck are lacking. Most travelers have to use the long term area, which can be a hassle on a rainy day.

“You have to walk a long distance from your car to the bus stop,” said Fogle.

For those returning back to their cars after a flight, there’s confusion about which bus to take.

“This is the fourth bus already, and its not ours yet,” said Greenville, S.C. resident Dave Overbaugh. “We’ve never seen a daily north before.”

But the parking headaches are worth it, as long as it’s cheap to park and fly, and fares don’t go up.

“I hope not,” said Overbaugh with a laugh. “It’s a whole lot cheaper to fly out.”

Currently, U.S. Air receives almost $10.5 million from the airport budget in “non airline terminal revenue.” That is money travelers spend, such as buying coffee or parking their cars.

A spokesperson for U.S. Air says they supported raising parking rates, along with other airlines. But, U.S. Air adds, “we did not initiate, drive or influence the actual rates.”

Keep in mind, the airline accounts for 90% of the airport’s 700 daily flights.

Right now, Charlotte City Council is fighting the Republican controlled General Assembly over a proposed takeover of the city’s airport.

By turning it over to a regional authority, Charlotte would have its management oversight taken away by state legislators.

“There’s clearly an issue of political accountability,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Any increase in concession costs and parking fees ultimately has to go through the city. But with a regional authority, citizens would have no one to address their concerns.

FOX Charlotte sources say airport manager Jerry Orr has researched parking rates in other markets. To raise them, Orr would have to appear before city council and make such request.

If that were to happen, council members would be the first ones getting the phone calls.

State legislators who propose a regional authority say the move would take away any politics from airport decisions.

“Today citizens can call and complain about various things that have to do with the airport,” said Foxx, “and we have to manage that.”

Republican State Senator Bob Rucho wrote the legislation that turns Charlotte-Douglas from a city managed airport to a regional authority.

Section 5 of the bill states future board members will receive free parking.

Wow, so I really didn’t think I was going to be doing a follow-up on the Richard III story, but here we are. In what seems like a scene out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the remains of an as yet unidentified medieval knight or noble were discovered this week under a parking lot at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland while construction was being done there. In addition to the 6′ tall remains (tall for medieval Europeans), an intricately carved sandstone slab, several other human burial plots and a variety of artifacts were discovered.

 

 
Famous archaeologist/adventurer Edinburgh MacJones discovering King Arthur (Editor’s Note: some or more likely all of this caption was made up by the author).

The remains are being examined by an osteo-archaeologist to glean as much data as can be had from the remains, hopefully telling us the knight’s age at time of death as well as the age of the remains themselves, cause of death (Vegas odds are in a dead heat between “horrible disease” and “something sharp and/or pointy”), and the gender. Radiocarbon dating is also being employed, and art and sculpture experts are examining the sandstone slab that was protecting the remains.Local officials were very excited about the find and any insights it may give into local history and culture, and folks at the University of Edinburgh were having a full-on geekgasm over the find, with the university’s archaeology department and the site researchers noting that many of them had unwittingly walked over the remains while studying at the University and stating that they were all  “looking forward to post excavation analyses that will tell us more about the individual buried there.” Just imagine everyone in the department doing a simultaneous freeze-frame jumping high-five with each other like a bad 80’s commercial and you’ve got the right idea.

Soon, we’ll have some answers as to who this person was and how they ended up in that grave. I can’t help but wonder what famous figures and artifacts from U.S. history are lying unknown beneath some parking lot or garage; I mean I always assumed that Jimmy Hoffa was buried under one (intentionally), but for all you know the next time you park your car you be sitting right on top of one of history’s mysteries.