What's the first impression that your tenants have of your building? Is it the impressive foyer, with its marble floors, granite counters, and visible security officers? Is it the always-clean glass entry doors with logo-embossed doormats? In many cases, it's the parking garage that provides first impressions to your building tenants and guests.
As a building owner or manager, your focus is on tenant relations and the space occupied by those tenants. It's easy to overlook parking structures and focus only on whether parking is available. In many cases, management and maintenance of the structure are outsourced to a professional parking operator. If this is your situation, you should regularly walk through the structure with the parking manager to ensure that your tenants' first impressions of your building are positive, and to make sure the parking facility is receiving basic maintenance. For facilities that charge a fee for parking, it's also important to understand some basic revenue-control procedures so you can ensure that they are being practiced.
Here's a list of 10 items - ranging from things to do in your office to hands-on inspection to auditing - that will help you determine if your parking operator or manager is taking the necessary steps to run a safe, efficient parking facility.
1. Review the parking-management agreement.
The agreement should clearly define which expenses are to be reimbursed to the parking operator; those expenses should be limited to direct operating expenses incurred at your location. The operator's charges for off-site supervision, bookkeeping, and other expenses allocated among your parking facility and other parking facilities managed by the parking operator should not be reimbursable and paid for by the operator under the management fee.
The agreement should call for the operator to submit an annual budget, usually 3 months prior to the beginning of the fiscal year. Any expenses exceeding a specific line item should not be exceeded without written approval from the owner.
2. Review the parking operator's monthly reporting package.
The monthly statement to the owner includes a breakdown of facility revenues (monthly parking, transient or visitor parking, validated parking, and miscellaneous revenues) and a detailed breakdown of all reimbursable expenses (labor, labor related, liability insurance, and other). Back-up should be provided for all expenses, including payroll registers and copies of all invoices. The monthly statement should also include a budget variance report, which shows variances in revenues and expenses for the month and year to date.
An accounts receivable report should also be submitted by the operator on a monthly basis. Often, the tenants who are behind on their office rents are behind on their monthly parking payments, too. You may want the parking operator to be more aggressive in collecting these accounts. One option is to deactivate the key cards until payment has been received.
3. Check the entry and exit lanes.
Entry and exit lanes are key control points for your operation. Every vehicle entering or exiting the facility should have a valid access card or ticket—without exception. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some facilities have special bypass switches installed, or they leave the equipment unlocked so the cashier can allow entry or exit without a valid transaction. Checking for locked equipment cabinets is fairly easy. If equipment cabinets are found to be unlocked, the issue should be discussed with the parking facility manager. Access to equipment-cabinet keys should be limited to only the parking manager or supervisor. If access to the equipment is required afterhours, a spare key can be placed in a security bag and logged on each shift report. If it's used, the security bag will be opened and the reason can be investigated.
Another potential hole in the revenue-control system occurs when the ticket dispenser can issue more than one ticket per vehicle. A simple check can be done by pressing the ticket dispenser button multiple times after the initial ticket issue. Multiple ticket issues result in lost tickets and allow low-value revenue tickets to be swapped for high-value revenue tickets, allowing the cashier to pocket the difference.
A common way for tickets to be issued without a vehicle is to place a piece of metal in the lane to simulate a vehicle. Loop detectors are typically embedded in the lanes to detect the metal in the vehicle. Substituting a piece of metal for a vehicle tricks the system into thinking a vehicle is present and allows tickets to be issued or processed through the exit lane. Be on the lookout for metal objects (such as metal folding chairs) near the entry and exit lanes.
Substituting a piece of metal for a vehicle tricks the system into thinking a vehicle is present and allows tickets to be issued or processed through the exit lane: Note the metal plate resting on the gate in this photo. If you see an issue like this in your own parking facility, it should be addressed with the garage manager. COURTESY OF WALKER PARKING CONSULTANTS
A basic inspection of the facility should be done on a routine basis. Look for litter throughout the facility, and check for excessive oil spots, full trash cans, and odors. A good time to check is first thing in the morning - you can see how the garage looks before cars fill the spaces. It's important to check more than just the parking areas: Unless they're checked on a regular basis, stairwells and elevator cabs have a tendency to collect dust, trash, odors, and burned-out light bulbs. This messiness can contribute to a perception of poor security on the part of the customers/tenants who park in the facility. Keeping a garage clean all the time is difficult, but necessary. Some people may avoid the garage altogether if they can find a cleaner alternative nearby.
5. Parking facility wash-down.
Check with the parking manager to ensure that an annual or semi-annual power wash or steam cleaning is performed. These wash-downs are done to remove salt and to clean the floors. Salt is prevalent in locations along the coast and in areas with snow and ice. Vehicles collect salt or ice-melt chemicals while driving and then bring them into the parking garage. While in the garage, the snow and ice melts, resulting in a deposit of harsh chemicals that can increase concrete deterioration. The wash-down or pressure washing removes these harmful chemicals and gets rid of loose dirt and dust.
Lighting influences the perception of security and safety in a facility. While walking the garage, consider lighting quality. Is it difficult to see? Does it feel safe? Are there burned-out light bulbs (typically, it's either a bad bulb or ballast)? Poor lighting in a facility, resulting from inoperative lights, is an indication of poor management. The recommended lighting levels for parking areas are measured in footcandles. Numerous light-level readings should be taken throughout the garage using a light meter held at waist level (approximately 30-inches high) to gauge minimum and average levels to determine the Level of Service (LOS). The readings should include various points in the facility (ramps, drive aisles, parking areas, entries, exits, etc.) and should be taken between light fixtures vs. directly under a light. Garages with high lighting LOS ratings are typically perceived as more attractive to users, safer, and easier to use. Good lighting is also more inviting to patrons, reduces the risk of liability claims due to slip-and-fall injuries, and increases security levels. Replacing the lighting system with a modern, state-of-the-art system can also decrease operating costs over the long run.
7. Water damage.
Believe it or not, water is an enemy to your parking structure. Standing water can seep through the concrete and eventually contact metal rebar (the steel rods used to strengthen concrete). At some point, the rebar will begin to corrode, causing the concrete to expand and crack, which will ultimately result in the formation of a small pothole, also known as "spalling." In climates with freezing temperatures, the water can freeze and expand, which can also cause the concrete to crack over time. The structure should be constructed with sufficient slope and drains to allow water to run off and drain. Drains need routine maintenance to remain clear and open. When new, most drains have covers that can be removed, with a basket underneath to collect small debris that passes through the drain. These covers need to be opened and cleaned by garage maintenance staff; failure to provide basic maintenance may lead to drains that rust shut and require replacement, as well as to larger drainage-related problems.
Visit the garage during and after a hard rain to look for running or standing water. Standing water should be tackled with squeegees or a sump pump to move the water to a working drain. Leaking water is common where expansion joints have failed. These leaks allow water to contact more surface area of the parking structure, which leads to more areas for failure. In the long run, repairing a failed joint will be easier and less costly than a concrete repair.
This photo shows an example of concrete spalling to expose metal reinforcements. COURTESY OF WALKER PARKING CONSULTANTS
8. Internal audits.
Part of the operator's duties is to audit his/her employees. The building owner or facility manager should ask for copies of all internal audits performed on his/her parking facility.
9. Mystery shops.
Another form of quality control that should be performed by your parking operator is a "mystery shop." An employee of the parking company, or a third party hired by the operator, parks in your parking facility and pays the parking fee to the cashier. The mystery shopper then completes a form that contains the following information: the name of the cashier, the parking ticket number, entry and exit times, and the amount paid. Later, the cashier's report is checked to see if the cashier turned in the parking ticket and correctly reported the money collected.
The mystery-shopper report should also include other nonrevenue information:
Was the cashier in uniform and wearing his/her nametag?
Was the cashier courteous?
Was the parking booth clean?
Was the parking facility clean?
10. Third-party audits.
A more extensive third-party audit should be performed every 3 to 5 years by an independent accountant or consultant. The audit should include an extensive review of the parking operator's records to determine if the operator has the proper revenue controls in place and if their staff is following the established procedures. The audit should also include a thorough review of the operating expenses to determine if all expenses were incurred at your facility, were allowable under the terms of the agreement, and were within industry standards.
Although parking garages are easy to overlook, they're often the first and last parts of a facility that tenants and guests are exposed to, and should be closely monitored and regularly checked by building management. An added benefit of this proactive approach: If your parking manager knows you're conscious of and attentive to the maintenance of your facility, he/she is more likely to give it priority when it comes to his/her time and diligence.
Jon Martens is parking consultant, and Bill Francis is vice president and director of operations consulting, at Walker Parking Consultants. Walker has been developing innovative and integrated parking solutions for more than 40 years.