Commentary: The perils of parking

One parking program manager on Siesta Key sets a high standard for interactions with the public

Harriet Cuthbert is ready to zoom off on Randy’s Vespa — if only he would let her do so. Contributed photo

Parking! No parking! Metered parking! Is there any subject more boring and more rife with negative overtones than parking?

I have scoured all the local publications, both in hard copy and online, and I have yet to find anything positive from anyone on the parking theme.

Merchants are disgusted because they know parking meters will keep shoppers away. Restaurant and bar owners are fed up because they realize that people who used to linger after a meal or a few drinks easily could refrain from doing so, having felt a lot of anger about the prospect of adding to their already high bills.

Tourists also do not want any more hassles as they navigate our popular areas.

And, lastly, it is my firm belief that absolutely nobodyknows how to use parking meters.

Which brings me to Randy, a manager of local parking lots, including a few on Siesta Key. Randy flits from lot to lot on his trusty Vespa, making sure all the visitors who use the parking facilities are well taken care of.

As I talked with him about his job, he was eager to help me understand the difference between his lots and the paid parking program in downtown Sarasota. Randy’s lots are privately owned, which means the owner decides how much to charge. The Sarasota City Commission approved the return of parking meters to downtown Sarasota. The city’s Parking Division is responsible for managing both the free and metered spaces in downtown Sarasota.

Nonetheless, according to Randy, the meters in both places are very similar, so once we conquer one set, we have conquered all of them.

I started our chat by asking him to describe his job. He was kind of vague about the details, but he emphasized that his main focus is to turn a negative into a positive and to give visitors a sense of comfort. This is not easy, especially when you realize that the fee for one hour in the Davidson Plaza parking lot in Siesta Village is a hefty $5! And that fee is pro-rated.

Since one has to wait in line at more than a few of the restaurants in the Village, a visitor could easily add $7.50 to his/her bill.

When I asked Randy why he chose managing parking lots as a serious career, he told me he figuratively fell into the work during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (his hometown). He was assisting someone when the owner of a private parking lot came by and immediately liked Randy’s style. That owner then asked Randy to stay on, and that is exactly what Randy did. He has not changed jobs since 1996, even though he has lived in several states.

I then asked him what he likes and dislikes about his job. He made a point of telling me there is nothingabout it that he dislikes. Among his reasons for continuing to manage parking lots is the opportunity to interact with people and help them. He also simply enjoys meeting new people.

When I asked him if all first-time meter users need help, he said the people who claim they do not are always the ones who start screaming at him, losing their patience and demanding his assistance.

Finally, I wanted to know the most important requirements for being successful in a parking meter management program.

“Patience and a gigantic sense of humor,” he answered.

Well, said, Randy!

Randy is, above all, a people person. In the eight months I have known him, in all the times I have seen him interact with people, he has never appeared to be in a bad mood or treated visitors badly. He offers them great instructions, often with a slight twinkle in his eye.

Thanks, Randy, and welcome to Siesta Key!