ITHACA — Frank Nagy is the recently hired director of parking for the City of Ithaca.
With more than 30 years experience in retail management, his work spanned from running a ski shop in New Hampshire at the start of his career to serving as the district manager for Republic Parking, where he opened up 31 different locations in less than three years. Nagy’s self-proclaimed claim to fame is that he can walk into an operation and in 31 days get it up and going. Nagy only started two weeks ago, but he already has changes in mind for the city’s approach to parking. We sat down with Nagy to find out more about his plans.
Ithaca Times: What do you see as your role as parking director? What are the responsibilities and where do they start and end?
Frank Nagy: I’ll be overseeing all parking, basically, here in Ithaca on-street and off-street. I’ll also be involved with the enforcement officers. I’ll oversee the enforcement officers. I’ve also been told that I’ll be taking care of the crossing guards as well as the commons cleaning crew. I’ll be helping create new parking policies and procedures. I’ll be the liaison between the mayor and the people of Ithaca, keeping him abreast of things he needs to know about parking. I’ll be working with Debbie in the Chamberlain’s Office as far as the revenue goes. I’ll also be responsible for new equipment or for the operation of the physical parking lots, as well as collection of the money from the on-street. The biggest role that came up during our interview was bringing new technology and new ways of doing things to the City of Ithaca.
IT: Can you tell me about what you see that can be changed? What are some of the biggest problems with the regulation of parking you see in the city so far?
FN: The first impression I have is you have a very, very good staff of people who are working here. People who care a lot about what they do each day. And they’ve never had a place to go or a person to talk to when they see things that aren’t being done right to be able to communicate that. So now they have that.
We spent the first week working with the garages and the employees inside the garages. We created a cashier sheet for them. We’ve already created a drop log system for them so they can control and watch and process their money. We’ve also talked about different issues and challenges in the garages. The biggest challenge they all see is at eight o’clock they shut down their gates and 25 people come flying out of the garage that have been there all day long that the city doesn’t get paid for. And they all hate that. They can’t stand watching that money go out the window.
The other big issue we’ve seen is we have pay stations we’re not utilizing. We’re not utilizing them by any stretch of the imagination that they were supposed to be utilized. I want to bring in an ambassador program to the City of Ithaca. Basically what a parking ambassador is — they are the first contact. If somebody comes to Ithaca, the first thing they’re going to have to do is park their car. Who’s the first person they’re going to see? The parking attendant inside the garage. That parking attendant inside the garage can make or break whether or not that person comes back to Ithaca. So that’s the concept that I’m going in with. Probably within the next 30 days we’ll set that program going. You’ll see a little bit change in their uniform. You’ll see a little bit of change where they’re not sitting in the booth all the time. They’ll get out inside the garage, be a presence inside the garage for whatever hours we’re open. The other key with that is they’re there to give information. They’re there to help. The downtown association has ambassadors already that they have on the street. So we’re going to take those ambassadors into the garages as well and work together to help people understand, ‘This is where the Commons is, this is where the central bank is.’ Or whatever the case may be. They’ll be able to give directions to restaurants to wherever people need to go.
The key role with that is to change that attitude. That they’re not just there to collect money. They’re there to be part of the city, and that they understand the fact that they can make or break what somebody thinks.
We’re going to take that same ambassador program and push it over to the on-street folks and change their name as well. Get them to be more communicative with the community. They’re not just there to enforce the parking. They’re not just there to write the tickets. They’re there for information. We’re going to have to market the fact that these are the people, this is what they look like, here are their uniforms if you’re lost, have a question. We’ll have to work with the Downtown Alliance, but I I think it will be a big push and a big concept.
The other big concept I’ll bring into the city that we need, especially inside the garages is a Disney concept.
It: What’s that?
FN: The whole concept is everybody and everybody can clean. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mayor walking through the garage and bending over and picking up a bottle or myself walking through the garages on a daily basis, which I do each morning and each night. Anything that’s on the ground — trash — anything that could possibly be a trip hazard, anything that needs to be cleaned up gets reported. It also works with a work order system so anybody can write a work order. Take the garages and clean them up, make them look safe. People’s perception, if they drive into a garage that’s dark and dirty — what’s their perception of that garage? We need to change that perception, that the garages are a safe place to park. That parking in Ithaca is a safe thing to do. So that’s what I call the Disney concept. I’ve done this in every city that I’ve worked in in parking. I’ve done the ambassador system in every city that I’ve worked in. It’s my two pet peeves.
IT: Is it possible for parking garages to make money rather than just lose money? Where is the line in your mind between public and private management of parking?
FN: I come from the private sector. I’ve worked 15 years in the private sector. Through the private sector I’ve worked for municipalities, so I understand where they’re coming from. My job as a private sector general manager, district manager, operations manager of course is to turn a profit. So when I heard subsidized parking garages, that doesn’t make sense to me. There’s got to be a reason, there’s got to be a way out of it. There’s got to be a way to make it happen. Will I turn that around overnight? No. it’s going to be long process. I positively think parking should take care of itself. It’s going to take some work. It’s going to take some different programs. It’s going to take some different opportunities. It’s also going to take some technology. Because the technology we have right now doesn’t allow the people to be productive. It forces them to sit in one spot. We’ve got a cashier who’s got to sit and wait for the next customer when we have a pay machine that’s just not operating with the system. They could be out and mobile. They could be doing other things. Instead they sit there all day long waiting for the next customer to come. And what kind of presence is that inside the garages? It leaves nobody walking the stairwells, it leaves nobody checking on the cars, it leaves nobody looking for people that shouldn’t be in the garages. And again, the more presence you have in the garages, the safer your garages are.
IT: Are traditional parking meters obsolete? What’s the direction for on-street parking?
FN: On-street parking meters that just take quarters are so far behind. There are so many things you can do. You can go to individual space meters which actually accept credit cards and are set up on a network where you can pay by phone to pay for the metered space. There are pay machines out there that you’ve already started with. From my understanding there’s been approval to get more pay stations. The first thing I said was that’s great, but I need to know, where do they need to go? Where are they going to be most productive? Pay and display is what you have right now, and I’d like to get away from that and get to a pay by space or pay by license plate because neither one of those will require the customer to go back to their car. With both of those systems, and even with the system you currently have, it gives you the option to pay by cash, it gives you the option to pay by credit card. It also allows you pay by phone through your iPhone. All you have to do is download a free app and you can actually pay for the location or space you’re parking at to add time. There’re also other things you can do with the meters you currently have right now. There’s a key card you can use where you put $200 dollars on the card or $100 dollars on the card — doesn’t matter what it is — and you take that card and you put it into the meter instead of using quarters. You put it in for how many quarters worth of time you want and go off, do your business. Let’s say your appointment runs shorter than you expected. You go back to the meter, you put your card back in and it gives you back the change. There’s so much technology out there. So much technology that you can be utilizing, but we’re not.
IT: Do you have a checklist for what makes good parking management?
FN: It’s not so much a checklist as using the experiences I’ve had in multiple cities. There’s lots of enhancements you can do with parking. ATM’s inside garages, something to look at for here. Wash stations inside the garages. Hook up with an oil change service so people can have their oil changed while the car is in the garage while they’re at work. There’s all kinds of enhancements you can add to the garages which would get people to want to come and park in the garage. There’s plenty of things we can do.
IT: What is your goal as director of parking?
FN: I think there’re many goals. Right now, looking at everything, the number one goal, which is going to be the biggest and the most difficult, is to make parking sustainable. That’s the biggest goal for me in my mind. The second goal is to bring technology to Ithaca. Bring better payment systems, quicker systems and making employees productive.