Philadelphia Parking Authority showing off its softer, gentler side

The Philadelphia Parking Authority is undergoing a serious makeover – to its public image.

The quasi-government agency that everyone loves to hate announced a social media initiative yesterday with Facebook and Twitter aimed at providing better customer service and responding to complaints.

“When PPA started this it was just very, very clear that, despite what everyone thinks, PPA does want to solve the problems. They don’t want people to hate them or cursing out broken kiosks,” said Evan Urbania, of ChatterBlast Media, the firm contracted by PPA to provide social media consulting.

But is it possible to like the people who berthed a reality show about giving you tickets and towing your car?

“It’s certainly a great challenge in this city,” Urbania, a city resident, admitted. “If it’s one person at a time [whose] problem gets solved, it’s going to change the way people interact with us.”

Before you get excited about posting your nightmare, people won’t be able to simply spew hate on the Facebook page. Users can respond to things PPA posts on its wall or voice complaints in the support section, but the content will be monitored for profanity or personal attacks. For those actually trying to resolve an issue, Urbania said customers should receive a response within one business day.

Whether the customer service initiative will defuse any PPA hatred remains to be seen.

“I highly doubt people will become ‘friends’ of the PPA,” said Langhorne resident Christopher Patchet. “They might just do it as a joke.”

Push for customer service

The social media initiative comes a week after the PPA announced the promotion of Sue Cornell to customer service director, the hiring of Dr. David Hall to conduct sensitivity training, and specialized ticket dispute training for its parking enforcement officers.

The agency has also contracted with ChatterBlast Media, a Philadelphia-based social media consulting firm, to develop social media strategies, customer service initiatives and online communications plans.

One-stop shop

The social media sword works both ways. There are several anti-PPA groups already on Facebook, including Citizens vs the PPA, which is liked by more than 350 users. PPA’s official page had about 50 ‘likes’ yesterday evening.

Urbania said he expects PPA to receive some venom. “I still think you’ll see a lot of angry people expressing their concerns, but we’re trying to channel that,” he said. “I’d rather them yell at a Facebook page than an enforcement officer.”

The Facebook page provides links for customers to pay tickets, dispute violations and read about parking regulations. It will also feature information about holiday parking discounts, weather-related parking alerts and residential parking issues.