Parking can be a real hassle. We want to make it easier.

Anyone who comes to downtown Portland to shop during the holidays, to be part of the creative economy on First Friday, to see a concert or to go to one of Portland’s restaurants for a great meal knows how difficult it can be to find a convenient place to park.

We also want to be innovators, who provide a service that people want and need by doing something new and better with existing resources. That, in a nutshell, is what our business is about.

Our innovation was in recognizing that, despite a parking shortage at peak times, literally thousands of empty parking spaces exist all over downtown Portland. These spaces belong to businesses and are reserved for their employees, the vast majority of whom don’t work in the evenings, overnight or during the weekend.

Unified Parking Partners worked with these businesses to make the parking spaces available to the general public. We presented them with a model that would guarantee that the reserved spaces would remain available for workers during the workday, but which could also generate modest revenue for them in the off-hours.

We knew we had a solid business plan that would:

 Meet the needs of the public for more convenient parking.

Benefit local retailers and restaurants by making their businesses more accessible.

Help keep major employers in downtown Portland by giving them a new revenue stream.

Reduce the parking pressure that leads to the construction of more parking garages.

Allow us to create a new business that now employs 170 people.

We started Unified Parking Partners just 26 months ago, and we’ve been blessed by a level of growth that exceeded our expectations.

In addition to valet service we operate for several local hotels, and more traditional parking services, the heart of our model is the unattended “pay and display” parking lots that have made 2,000 additional downtown parking spaces available to the public.

Similar to the city of Portland’s relatively new system of kiosks that replace parking meters, our “pay and display” system prints parking slips for display on the dashboard of the car. Parkers are free to purchase as much or as little time as they want.

In July, we had nearly 26,000 individual purchases for “pay and display” parking in Portland. In fewer than 2 percent of transactions, the customers exceeded their time limits (a rate of violation that mirrors that of the city of Portland’s own Parking Division). Unlike the city, as a private business we do not have the authority to issue enforceable parking tickets for violations.

We are a business, and if we are not paid a fair price for the service we provide, we won’t be one for long. Enforcement is a necessary part of any parking business.

We have only two tools available to us in these circumstances: tow the vehicle to an off-site location or attach a boot to the wheel. We’ve opted to rely on the boot because we’re able to respond in person within minutes after a customer calls to have a boot removed, which is safer, more convenient and less expensive for them than the hassle of getting towed to a lot in another part of town.

From Day One, we have provided thorough signage at each of the lots we operate to make clear the penalties for expired parking, which is a big part of why we have such a low rate of late-parking enforcement.

A constant in any reputable startup, whether it’s struggling or thriving, is adapting quickly to circumstances on the ground and correcting for any false assumptions that went into your plan. We never stop looking for ways to improve our operations and provide better service to our customers. Technology, innovation and customer convenience are central to our business.

That’s why we recently adopted a smartphone app that reminds customers when their parking time is set to expire and that also gives them the option of purchasing more time, right from their phone.

We will continue to listen to suggestions and look for ways to improve. This community is our home, and we want to build a business that is trusted and respected.

We want all of our customers to have positive experiences when they visit Portland’s downtown. And we want to continue to improve the level of customer service we deliver.