Thursday, March 24, 2005

Brand Image

The image of the United States around the world has taken a bit of a battering, what with the invasion of Iraq and the perceived greed of American companies. The rejection of the Kyoto Treaty, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and wise cracks about ‘Old Europe’ have not helped on the diplomatic front. Microsoft’s resort to the nuclear option in the browser wars, the sale of Marlboro’s to any African kid who can reach the counter, and the fact that Kentucky Fried Chicken ships more cholesterol than OPEC ships oil have dented the reputation of Yankee Capitalism. In an attempt to repair the image of America, President Bush has named close confident Karen Hughes to the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. In order to foster the image of a Comfy, Caring Capitalism, we have the Central Parking Corporation of Nashville, Tennessee.

Central Parking Corporation is one of those nifty, trendy companies with a slick website. They operate throughout North America, South America and Europe. Their site contains an ‘Our Philosophy’section, a ‘Vision’ and ‘Mission Statement’ and ‘Core Values’. This outfit is a consultant’s dream. The site also has tabs labelled ‘Client’ and ‘Customer’; perhaps clients get to have lunch with the boss whilst customers get to use the call centre in Bombay, India. CPC has assembled all of this corporate capability to provide ‘parking services’ to the city of Birmingham, England. Welcome to Alum Rock Road.

Parking, and for that matter driving, are never much fun in the UK. Motorists are treated slightly worse than Evangelical Christians in Fallujah. There are speed bumps, speed cameras, constant road closings, congestion charges, and detours and diversions. There are also Traffic Wardens (aka Meter Maids or the Parking Gestapo). In an effort to demonstrate the efficiency of the American Business Model, CPC has delivered results to the City of Birmingham well beyond its vision. In one year, along a 400 yard stretch of Alum Rock Road, its zealous minions have written £334,000 worth of penalty notices. That’s about $600,000; that’s also about $14 per inch. To help with the campaign, the parking rules are a bit complex. From 9:15 am to 1 pm, you can park on one side of the street. From 1 pm to 4 pm, it’s the other side of the street. Except you can’t park more than one hour on either side of the street (including the Sunny Side of the Street).

CPC’s fundamentalist Parking Polizei have also ticketed a milk delivery truck 6 times, a bus stopped at a bus stop, and a man unloading his son’s wheelchair. If it has wheels and it stops, it gets a ticket. They have even written up a motorcycle that was disabled in an accident while the driver was being loaded into an ambulance. It is safe to assume that if the motorcycle was a Harley Davidson and the driver wore a Nazi helmet, and they tried that in Birmingham, Alabama, the Meter Maid would have been loaded into the ambulance. In order to ensure this high level of productivity, the Traffic Wardens hide in side streets, waiting for the rules to change, the hour to expire, or the Number 14 bus to come to a full stop to allow 89 year old Mrs. Mavis Willoughby to alight. At £60 a ticket, Mavis may need to consider parachute training.

The difference between a client and a customer is pretty clear in this situation. The client is the City of Birmingham, England. The customers are the poor sods who just want to run into the local Indian restaurant for a take away. Perhaps they should call Bombay for a home delivery. Ms Hughes, with CPC carrying the flag, you are in for an uphill battle.


Blogger Abby Taylor said...

What's left out of this story is that CPC (based out of my home state of Tennessee, bless our hearts) didn't mean for this debacle to happen.

Birmingham, Engand. Birmingham, Alabama.

It can get really, really confusing when the bids are going out.

2:33 AM  

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