The parking industry is notorious for one thing: parking fines.

Whenever you’re looking for a parking space, there is the ever-present element of distress: “can I leave my car here?” or “how long am I allowed to park for?” There’s always the prospect of getting fined – and it feels like a punishment. Could there be another way?

When looking for information, you notice that parking signs only communicate negative information such as, “no parking allowed on day x at y o’clock” or ”parking only allowed every second weekday.” You need to decode that information to figure out whether it’s appropriate to park here and now. And usually this needs to be done fast. You may not be a 100% certain if the parking is accurate, but there is no time to wonder any longer, so you park the car.

Upon returning a few hours later, you’re surprised to find a hefty fine for staying too long in the parking space, or in the worst case, the car is being towed and you can only stand helplessly by. You’re pissed, because you really tried to find allowed parking, it’s not like you wanted this to happen.

We can all relate to this story. None of us has probably ever parked with the intention of receiving a ticket, and we try to avoid it as much as we can – yet it happens. So what’s wrong with the system?

Traffic regulations are good – when they are clear

Parking can feel like a battlefield where parking enforcement officers are going around looking for added revenue. Drivers can be confused as to whether they are actually encouraged to get into situations where they are fined or if parking signs are a genuine way to try and help them navigate the city.

The problem isn’t that there are rules. Rules are necessary in controlling city traffic, and they are in place for the safety and eco-friendliness of the society. Traffic regulations are inherently a positive thing for the overall ecosystem of a city. If there weren’t punishments for breaking the rules, some people wouldn’t follow them at all.

It’s when rules are not communicated right that they cause frustration and people end up breaking them albeit unintentionally. That benefits nobody. It causes excessive inconvenience to the city, and it just makes people think negatively about parking regulations, like they are in place to spite drivers, which they of course are not.

To sum it up:

  • Rules are in place for a reason, to bring some structure to the chaos (that is, for   example, commuter traffic at peak hours on working days)
  • It’s a problem when rules are communicated poorly (and it makes people unhappy)

So, there’s a problem of negativity, punishment and just fundamental confusion when it comes to “as a car driver, what do you want me to do?” Could parking be easier? Could it be turned into a positive experience for motorists?

More rewarding and less punishing makes it easier to follow rules

Imagine yourself in this situation: you are looking for a parking space, and you see a sign with “yes, we’d be delighted if you parked here” or “around the corner is a lovely little parking space just for you.” You can leave your car happily and convinced that you are in the right. On the way out of the parking lot, you high-five the enforcement officer, and you both smile. You know you’re not at war with each other anymore.

The key difference with this scenario and the current situation, in addition to finding parking more easily, is the mindset shift of the driver from negative to positive. You no longer feel like you are in a maze trying to find parking spaces that seem to escape you like you’re Pac-Man and the dots keep disappearing when you approach them.

Given the incentive of not being stressed out, frustrated, confused and afraid of getting fined, it might actually be pleasant and motivating to follow a set of traffic rules that are communicated in an understandable way. You’re instantly more relaxed and even more importantly, you’re encouraged to park rather than discouraged.

There is actually a theory about this called operant conditioning, and its sum and substance is that conditioning with punishment and reinforcement are the keys to making something work in a desired way. Parking industry already has the punishment part locked in – now how about the reinforcement part?

Moreover, research shows that rewards are even more effective than punishments.

So, in the best case scenario, instead of being threatened with the looming punishment in the form of a ticket you could be rewarded with:

  • A ton of time saved
  • Peace of mind knowing you parked correctly (no ticket!)
  • The feeling that parking is actually not that much of a pain after all

Parking industry benefits from good cooperation between providers and drivers

Think about the things you would appreciate when you are driving in the city and want to park your car. And what are the things that frustrate you?

Now think about rewards in general. They have the benefit of rather than scaring people into following rules, making them appreciative and feeling like the rules also there to help them. Parking regulations do help residents in many ways, they just need to feel it too.

A more positive and helpful outlook on parking benefits everyone, and while some people will always continue to get parking tickets and never learn, the rest of us can start to look at parking as a good thing.

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Main photo by “Jorge Díaz” from Flickr/CC