Apr 6, 2008

Parking system "improvement"

Yesterday Mike and I went to see Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Navy Pier, which we do three times every year. That gives us time to have made comparisons over time.

Before you get impressed by my intellectual choice of entertainment, let me confess that I almost always snooze through a good part of the first act of a Shakespeare play. We saw a more experimental play the night before in which a character very similar to John Kerry talked about theater’s great ability to induce sleep. So I’m not alone in the gauche experience. Mike’s a very alert and knowledgeable Shakespeare fan, so I try to not feel too bad about the waste of ticket money on someone who can’t quite get into it.

Parking at Navy Pier on a Saturday is a challenge. Shakespeare Theater subscribers are guaranteed parking, so as you drive up to the guys waving you away from the parking entrance, you just shout “Shakespeare,” and they let you through. It’s the secret password.

We won’t even talk about the fact that we were routed to a different garage door from the usual and never saw our Shakespeare garage location, as we wound up and up past full parking aisles as curtain time drew even closer.

Personally, I hate Navy Pier. Mostly carnival, it attracts crowds that fill the high empty spaces above with echoing sounds of chaos. My nerves don’t do well under those conditions. The theater is a complete contrast – it’s rather like a place where you’d see a play.

After one’s entertainment, whether carnival of Shakespeare, leaving a big parking lot always takes some time because of the lines before the cashiers. Someone pondered the problem at Navy Pier and came up with an excruciatingly poor “improvement.” Some company made a lot of money for installing it, and the inconvenience in total system cost must be huge, if anyone measured it.

How does it work? First, you take a ticket when you enter the garage. Same as anywhere else. Then signs everywhere tell you to take the ticket with you because you’re going to have to pay inside before you leave. Of course, lots of people never notice the signs and leave their tickets in their cars. What happens if they don’t comply and they become a defect? Do they have to stay forever?

If you did notice the signs, you take your ticket and promptly stop thinking about the process. As you leave, you may become aware of the fact that long lines of people are standing in front of automated kiosks clustered by the doors to the parking lot. Approximately half the machines are not working. The other half have confusing instructions that take perplexed users longer to use than the designers estimated. Is it a benefit to have a long line of people clustered in front of the exits to the parking lots instead of a long line of cars at the exits from the parking lots to the street? Not for the customer.

As I waited in the kiosk line, irritably, I sent Mike off to see if there were any shorter ones. Sure enough, he came back and reported that if we walked about a quarter mile, there was a machine nobody knew about. It probably didn’t take any less time, but at least we were in motion.

So we passed the big obstacle and found our car. Now we might have expected leaving to be simple, except nothing ever is. When we get up to the exit, we see that the line of cars is about as long as it ever was. Also, you can pay by credit card right there, which I had done inside, so why didn’t I get that information before? There wasn’t a need to stop at the kiosk after all. And as we approach the end of the process, where we insert our paid-up card, we see that there is a parking attendant there. She is pushing a button to let each car through, because the card reader is malfunctioning. So much for saving on personnel costs.

So where was the big benefit, either to Navy Pier or to the customer? You go figure it out. For myself, I’ve got to stop expecting people to have actually thought through systems, because it makes me crazy when they haven’t.

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