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The Parking Professional: What is your current position with the City of Los Angeles?
Dan Mitchell: I am the Senior Transportation Engineer in charge of the Meter Operations Division for the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). I began with the Department back in 1996, but have been in Meter Operations for the last five years, devoting much of my time to implementing new parking technology.
TPP: Briefly tell us about your operations.
DM: Our division is responsible for the planning, maintenance, and operations of approximately 40,000 on- and off-street metered parking spaces dispersed throughout the 500 square miles of the City of Los Angeles. We are a team of 30 technicians, six engineers and a clerk typist. Separate divisions are responsible for the meter enforcement and the security and collection of approximately $35 million annually.
TPP: Everyone has a unique story about how they really got into parking/transportation. What's yours?
DM: The first ten years of my career with LADOT were in traffic signal operations, where I rose through the ranks to lead the City's traffic management center, known as ATSAC. Long recognized as one of the world leaders in innovative traffic management, ATSAC provided me exposure to the latest in traffic management technology. In 2005, new LADOT management recognized that the City had fallen behind in parking technology, and I was given the opportunity to bring my vision and experience to help push L.A. forward toward becoming a leader in parking management, as it is in traffic management.
TPP: What's your biggest challenge right now in your day-to-day operations?
DM: Our biggest challenge has been the lack of accurate and timely information needed to manage 40,000 parking spaces spread over such a large area. Historically, technicians haven't known where to find meter problems, collectors haven't known where to find rapidly filling meters, traffic officers haven't known where to find violations, and not to mention customers haven't known where to find parking. Getting the right information to the right people is the key to the efficient and responsive routing of field staff and to analyzing and setting parking policies to support our ever-changing business needs.
TPP: How are you working to overcome this challenge?
DM: We are utilizing the power of wireless communication and the Internet to deliver real-time information from parking meters, pay stations, and parking sensors directly to field staff through smart phones, handheld computers, and in-vehicle laptops. These are quickly becoming powerful tools to improve productivity and timeliness. Management gains a bird's eye view of all this activity through management systems in our new Parking Management Center.
TPP: People associate Los Angeles with traffic, how does parking relate to the city's Transportation Demand Management projects?
DM: While L.A.'s traffic is as famous as its movie stars, people often forget that every trip begins and ends at a parking space. When parking is underpriced (or free!), it encourages single-occupancy travel, which adds to clogged roadways. Proper parking pricing encourages people to leave their cars at home and choose more efficient mode choices, such as carpooling, transit, and bicycling. When we look specifically at on-street parking that is underpriced, the resulting search for cheap, hard-to-find parking generates unnecessary traffic and pollution in business districts. In partnership with federal, state, and county transportation agencies, next fall LADOT will be implementing Downtown ExpressPark™, an innovative demonstration project that seeks to address this on-street problem through demand-based pricing and real-time parking guidance. Parking sensors installed in nearly 6,000 Downtown parking spaces, combined with the latest in parking meter technology, will feed data to an intelligent parking management system. This system will use actual demand to assist LADOT in establishing rates and policies that effectively encourage turnover and maintain availability throughout the day. The guidance system will deliver real-time parking information right to the customer through their phone, in-vehicle navigation system, and dynamic on-street signs. The goal is to make parking easy to find and pay for, while reducing traffic congestion and pollution and encouraging efficient travel.
TPP: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
DM: I think the biggest misconception is that parking meters are all about taking people's money. In reality, metered parking is all about managing a scarce resource - the real estate dedicated to parking. Through effective management, high-demand spaces can be used many times over, allowing more people access to convenient parking and bringing more customers to local businesses. Generating revenue is a byproduct of parking management, and when properly reinvested, can further enhance business development.