An Interview with Ed Trammell, Planning and Project Manager, Lexington and Fayette County Parking Authority (LEXPARK)
Photo courtesy of LEXPARK
COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on businesses across the world, as well as entire industries – including parking. Parking operations have been challenged with finding creative ways to solve problems, whether it be permit refunds, staff workloads, or just a lack of people parking.
We recently spoke with Ed Trammell, CAPP, Planning and Project Manager for LEXPARK in Lexington, KY, about how his organization has been managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading to learn about LEXPARK’s initial response, ways that they are helping their staff stay productive, and how they have been able to support and earn favor from the Lexington community.
What were some of the initial measures taken by your operation?
It was pretty amazing how quickly everything ground to a halt, and being so closely tied to downtown Lexington, we recognized from the first day that we needed to be as proactive as possible with help for our local businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, and visitors coming downtown.
Within the first day we started working with local coffee shops and restaurants, providing them with signage in front of their locations that designated on-street parking in those spaces as curbside pickup spaces. As the days progressed, it became clear that usage was going to dramatically drop in both our garages and on-street spaces, and we quickly rolled out a policy to temporarily suspend paid meter parking for on-street spaces, while still enforcing a 2-hour limit. We wanted to avoid the possibility of people just parking their cars for the day, which would prohibit others from using the spaces.
We feel these temporary policies have been a success. The local restaurant owners have been really excited that we’ve offered to help because these are really tough times for them, and they really appreciated that we’re trying to do what we can to make it easier for them to continue to serve their customers.
What other changes has LEXPARK implemented over the last several weeks?
I’m sure much like a lot of other operators and organizations out there, you learn something every day. One thing that quickly appeared on our radar was the realization that there are a lot of people living in apartments downtown that park on the street during the evening. With the current shelter in place practices, some of these folks were having a hard time because their vehicles were parked in on-street spaces, but they were also self-quarantining. If we’ve noticed someone who’s having an issue with citations because they’re not able to move their vehicle in time, we’ve been able to work with them and relocate them into our garages free of charge, as we definitely have the capacity at this time. They’ve been really appreciative, and it feels good to be able to help them because they’re already stressed, and a parking citation only adds to that anxiety. We’ve worked with them to get their vehicles in the garages until all this passes and things can get back to normal.
As far as our staff, we’ve been really blessed to have a Board of Commissioners and an Executive Director – everyone knows Gary [Means] – that are really proactive. Our Board of Commissioners have always placed a high value on retaining our staff, listening to their needs, and knowing what’s happening with them. We’ve done really well so far. We haven’t had to lay anyone off or cut anyone’s hours thus far. We have approached it as, okay, we’re not collecting meter revenue and we’re not writing citations like we were, but we can channel that energy into other projects. There are a lot of projects that we discuss when things are really busy, and then they sort of fall on the back burner. This is a good time to revisit those. We’ve had a lot of maintenance items in the garages that we discussed with our management team, and we have created a working list of projects that we know can keep everyone busy with.
I think personally for me, if you have things to do and you don’t have a lot of downtime, you tend to be in a little better frame of mind and you don’t think about all of the other things going on around you. We’ve tried to also curb their fears a little and let them know that we’re there for them and we’re going to keep everyone working and do our best to keep their lives as normal as possible.
"The local restaurant owners have been really excited that we’ve offered to help because these are really tough times for them, and they really appreciated that we’re trying to do what we can to make it easier for them to continue to serve their customers."
Are there any ways you have been able to take advantage of additional downtime?
In terms of maintenance, there’s a lot of painting, cleaning, and things like that. Even deeper cleaning projects in the garages that are much easier to tackle since garage occupancies are so low at this time.
One thing that we noticed early on is with such a huge and immediate revenue hit, it was important to explore any available measures to try to save money. We first thought of our garages and the enormous electric bills that accompany them. We closed off the upper levels of the garages and had our staff go through and remove bulbs to keep the lighting at a minimum. We’re still keeping enough light keep things safe, but every small measure taken can help cut down on the electricity usage and help the bottom line.
Regarding our office staff, we’ve been working to create a list of tasks our staff can work on from home, like cleaning up duplicate account information and erroneous information that has a tendency to appear over time in folders and files. If we can find things for them to do from home, that makes it safer. One current project is related to our Transit Center Garage, which we recently switched to a gateless operation utilizing Fixed LPR, Luke Pay Stations, and Enforcement through T2 Systems. The size of the facility makes enforcement a challenge, and we’ve been working closely with T2 to create a “citation” letter that can be mailed to visitors that parked in the facility, but did not pay. We’re excited to launch this phase of the project, and it also lends itself well as a remote, “work from home” task.
We’ve also been working hard to practice social distancing in the workplace by finding extra break areas for our staff, so we don’t have folks in the same room together.
What has been the short-term impact on your operation – positive or negative?
With revenues only being about 10% of what they were before, it’s been really sobering. It’s not easy to just say, for example, “we’re not going to enforce payment at the meters”. But as an organization, we’ve always worked to do all that we can to help promote Downtown Lexington and its merchants and businesses. Some of these things, while they were painful to do, I think in the long run will pay great dividends because of our engagement with and support for the community.
It’s tough also when everything suddenly grinds to a halt. How do you retune to keep everyone busy? For us, it was by immediately engaging the staff and creating tasks that we know will help improve efficiency, and also provide a better customer experience when things get back to normal. While the adjustments have been on the fly at times, I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping the organization running as efficiently as possible considering what we’re going through right now.
Sometimes it’s a challenge because as I’m sure you know, if you make a small policy change on a particular issue, you inevitably hear from others asking, “why can’t you do this, or why can’t you do that?” When we first started rolling out the idea of the curbside spaces, some areas that are just outside of what would be considered the downtown core reached out to us. We were really quick to let everyone know through a press release that anyone interested in having a curbside space created should contact us and we’ll be happy to work with them. I think there’s been a lot of, for lack of a better term, love, on social media from folks that really appreciated that we did that. They’re working hard to keep their doors open, and every little bit helps.
"While the adjustments have been on the fly at times, I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping the organization running as efficiently as possible considering what we’re going through right now."
How will this crisis change how you do business in the long run?
That’s something we just started discussing. What do we do as this passes? And when will things start to return to normal? Just yesterday, we met with our management team to begin planning for how we will begin to phase things in again. I don’t think this is going to be a simple flip of the switch – it’s going to be a gradual thing – and in terms of revenue, how can we start to conservatively project where we think we’re going to be as the year progresses?
The one thing that I’ll say is our board has always been really good at planning for moments such as this. They’ve always been very serious about being proactive and planning for the future, while also being watchful stewards of our yearly budget. Because of that, we’ve been really fortunate that even though we’re going through this current downturn, we’re still addressing items such as safety repairs within the garages. We have a garage that needs some structural beam repairs, and since the parking decks are currently pretty empty, we’re going to go ahead and get that work taken care of.
We’ve got a lot that we can continue to do, and there were a lot of projects we had slated to address this year, but we’re taking it very cautiously. We have a lot of capital asset repairs within our facilities that we were going to do. I just mentioned we’re going to proceed with the ones that are most critical, but we plan to sit down and reevaluate in 60 to 90 days where we are on things and where things are in the world around us as we plan for the future. I think like many others, our challenge will be to remain cautious and careful with our budget, but we’re lucky to be surrounded by a lot of people who help us make really wise decisions.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other operations during this time?
We tried to – and we’re continuing to try to – stay as calm as possible through this and not make any kneejerk reactions. We really want to make sure that our staff realize that they shouldn’t be worried, they shouldn’t panic, and we’re there with them. We’ve tried to work as hard as we can to just keep the wheels turning, for lack of a better term. I think it’s something that as time has gone on, we’ve discovered that there are still a lot of things to be done, and if we address them now, we’ll come out of this even better. By having our staff continue to brainstorm ideas, we’ve found plenty of small projects within T2 that we can have our staff address remotely from home, and that will make life much easier in the office once things begin to return to normal.