(Above: A screen shot from “The Parking Garage” episode from the third season of the American hit TV show, “Seinfeld”, now in syndication by Sony Pictures Television. The show ranked number 33 on TV Guide’s list of the top 100 television shows of all time, one of few times someone actually found humor in losing their car in a parking garage.)
While the famed American television show, “Lost”, relied on unresolved mysteries for its drama, there is no mystery to why people lose their vehicles in parking facilities.
How Do You Lose a Car Anyway?
First, it’s easy for those of us in Mobility Management services to get tunnel vision. We can forget the parking facility is rarely a destination. Busy patrons are not focused on the process of the journey; they are thinking about what they are going to do when they finally arrive. Parking is just one step in that process. So patrons can easily miss the visual cues provided through typical wayfinding schemes after they park their car.
Second, if wayfinding schemes are deficient, even alert patrons can become disoriented and lose their cars. This happens most often in large, flat-floor garages, but can happen in any parking facility that has few memorable landmarks. The problem is also more frequent in facilities with a high transient parker mix, such as retail and medical. In the latter, the challenge can be compounded by parkers who may be ill or under severe stress due to the illness of a friend or family member.
Some Possible Solutions
So what can a parking manager do about this basic customer service issue? Here are a few ideas. . .
A beginning point is to drive the facility yourself and, if you utilize this particular facility daily, park in an unfamiliar area. Walk to the pedestrian exit point from the parking area and note the cues that would help you recall the location of your vehicle. These might include signs, stall numbering, floor color coding, for example.
If you didn’t see at least three prompts, your facility is a candidate for “lost” cars.
Redundancy in signage can help prevent this issue from arising. Let’s start with your parking space. It is a great idea if you can floor-number your parking spaces; this is an initial cost and an ongoing maintenance concern of course, but it is a terrific deterrent to “lost” cars.
Easy Fix: Numbering and Lettering
The numbers should be unique, i.e., there should only be one space #27, not a #27 on each floor. Floor coding works, too, so you could have A-27 and B-27, but many wayfinding specialists recommend something more on the order of #127 on the first floor, #227 on the second floor, and so on.
Next, consider column markings; these can be a band of color with an alphanumeric designation placed at least five to six feet off the ground so as to be visible above the average car. The color can be coded to the floor level (floor 1 is red, floor 2 is blue, etc.) as another visual key for the parker and adds a splash of color to a drab deck.
Again, column-marking numbers should be unique. Some well-marked decks coordinate the column designation with the blueprints for the structure; this had the added benefit of allowing engineers and repair persons to easily locate an area that needs to be worked on.
“Theme” Your Floors
At the point of departure from the parking plate, such as an elevator or stair, some experts recommend another splash of color to designate the floor from which the parker is departing. Commercial parking firms, such as Standard Parking, pioneered the concept of “theming” parking facility floors. A garage with a baseball theme might have a “Chicago Cubs” floor or a “Boston Red Sox” floor, for example.
Tear-Offs and Location Cards
At the point of exit from the floor, it is also a good idea to offer location reminder slips, as seen in the adjacent example. These can be cheap-to-print business cards in a card holder or in a tear-off pad mounted to the wall near the elevator, stairs or walkways. These can also contain critical information, such as an emergency telephone number for after hours deck access.
Leave a space on the card where a parker can record their location, such as “My Space (or Column) # is ______”. Some garages leave an attached pen on a wire nearby, but like the reminder slips themselves, these can become maintenance and vandalism issues.
Inside the elevator, buttons should be keyed to the floor they serve (not button “#1” if your floor is called “A”). Coordinating with the color or theme code on the floor reinforces this message. So if floor “A” is green, the button would be green. Stairwell interiors should also feature some floor color and number coding coordination as a reminder.
Once the patron exits the stair or elevator, you should post clear, concise, easy-to-read signage at each decision point. A decision point is where a patron has to make a decision on which way to go. This will help minimize “Lost Car Syndrome”.
And If They Get Lost Anyway…
Help lost customers or feel their wrath. For a terrific example of a customer frustrated by poor signage, see this TripAdvisor.com review.
You should have an easy way for patrons to call and ask for assistance and there should be a means to easily facilitate that assistance. Call boxes that actually work and a golf cart staffed by a sympathetic and patient employee can go a long way to recovering a vehicle that was “lost”.
Parking Guidance Systems: Hi-Tech Homing
Thanks to technology, there are also new ways for customers to help themselves in finding their lost vehicles. Camera-based Parking Guidance Systems (PGS), like this one here from Park Assist (a sponsor of the H2H2H Foundation), can track vehicles upon entry by license plate.
With video in place throughout the garage, the PGS logs the location of the vehicle. Forgetful customers can retrieve the location of their cars by entering their license plate number in a self-help kiosk. Park Assist calls this PGS feature “Park Finder”.
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