Saeed keeps garage humming

Posted on Sun, 11/01/2015 - 11:30am

By Lori Ziesmer

Ali SaeedWhen I was looking to purchase my condominium, selecting a building with an indoor parking garage was high on my priority list. I sign my car up for 6:50 a.m. every weekday and 8 a.m. on Saturday. Not once in all the years that I have been doing this has my car not been waiting in the loading/unloading area when I show up at the garage. More amazing is the fact that my car is 99% of the time in the same spot when I arrive.

I started thinking how difficult it must be to manage and execute all the comings and goings in a 500-plus capacity parking garage, and I approached Ali Saeed, facility manager for SP Plus Corp., to learn more about his industry and the inner workings at the Malibu East garage. (SP Plus has a contract to manage the garage for the Association.)

For 11 years Ali has worked for SP Plus (Standard Parking, Central Parking and USA Parking merged in December 2013 to form SP Plus, the largest parking management organization in North America). He studied management at Northern Illinois University and knew some people in the parking industry who referred him for his first job. Ali started as a hiker at the 900 N. Lake Shore Drive building, learning all he could in his two years at the garage. He was then promoted to hiker/manager at 253 E. Delaware, a 150-car garage where he stayed for five years. Ali says this was a busy but small garage where every car had to be brought up and down by elevator.

His next assignment was at the SP Hub, where he oversaw the 70 automated locations in the City. These are self-park garages where you pay when you leave and a gate goes up so you can exit. Ali was the evening manager. He dealt with issues ranging from credit card machines jamming to people breaking down the gate to exit. He stayed in that position one year before moving on to 2800 N. Lake Shore Drive, a residential building with 470 valet spots, which he describes as a similar operation to Malibu East. His company lost the contract at that building after he was there only 10 months.

Ali was selected to become our garage manager almost three years ago. He said it was a blessing, and the greatest thing that could have happened to him, being selected to manage our 508-car capacity garage and getting to work with such a talented and hardworking team. The average tenure of his nine-man staff is six years, with the longest-tenured team member being on site since 1999. The garage team has three hikers in the morning, three in the evening, one overnight and two part-time. The talented team includes Shariq Abbas, Daniel Bacerra, Bruce Davis, Azmir Hilcisin, Ross Redelsperger, Woubeshet Tilahun, William Watson, Nure Yusuf and Yonan Zaya, the longest-tenured member.

I asked Ali about my car always being in the loading/unloading area when I come down in the morning and was told this process usually works like a finely oiled machine. Cars are brought down starting at 11 p.m. for those residents leaving between 3:30 and 4 a.m. The cars are staged near the garage exit, followed by cars leaving between 4 and 6 a.m. Later-departing cars are brought down and lined up on the ramp and the first floor. As the early cars leave, the cars further back in line are brought down to the loading/unloading area and restaged. The process works if people leave close to the time they signed up for. If your car is blocked when you come down, it is not the hikers’ fault. The person who signed up ahead of you has not come down and left on time.

There is a lot of walking for the overnight hiker, as he has to constantly go up the stairs or ramp to get the next car to be staged in sequence. On weekends, residents typically don’t leave until around 10 a.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. on Sundays, so the staging process is much simpler.

The garage typically slows down after 10 a.m. during the week, and the first-shift hikers are able to take a break. This slow period usually lasts until around 2 p.m. Cars trickle in and out but at a much slower pace. Evening rush starts around 5 p.m., but on Fridays the rush begins as early as 4 p.m. The hikers usually have downtime until the rush begins. The evening shift is the busiest of the three. The plus for the hikers is that they are almost constantly busy.

The overnight shift has only one garage employee. He stages all the cars and then must remain close to the garage lobby for security reasons and in case anyone needs assistance. The downside of this shift is that on Saturday nights the garage can be very busy, with guests leaving well after midnight, and the complete load falls on one person.

The daily flow of cars is pretty predictable, but with so many cars in the garage, it can take a new hiker many months to learn all of the cars and the residents associated with them. Ali often stays around the garage lobby in the morning so he can assist residents if all the hikers are busy. Besides wrapping up any paperwork, he attends to other garage issues, such as removing assigned car decals and checking the hikers’ time cards.

Ali advises all valet parkers to walk around their vehicle, checking for any damage, before exiting the garage. If any damage is noticed, it should be reported then and a claim form completed before the resident exits the garage. Claims will not be honored if the damage is reported later.

If a resident is planning a party, a guest list is appreciated a few days before the event so the hikers can plan for the extra cars coming in. If this is not possible, the staff would still like to know in advance how many cars are expected.

If you are a self-parker, you should blow your horn on the ramps and around every corner in the garage and keep your headlights on. The speed limit inside the garage is 5 mph. These simple steps will help with the flow of traffic and there will be less chance of an accident happening.

Ali mentioned that the garage offers two services that many of us may not be aware of. These services include courtesy jump-starts and tire inflating, two more reasons that our garage is a valuable amenity. The garage also has GoJaks, which can be used to move cars around in case of lockouts, or when drivers forget to leave their keys in the vehicle.

Ali’s advice for anyone contemplating going into the parking industry would be to have a lot of patience and enjoy being around people.

On a personal note, Ali was born in Pakistan but left when he was two years old. He went back to visit this year and met some of his relatives. Ali’s childhood was spent in Schaumburg. He has been married for 15 years and has three children, daughters 12 and nine, and a son seven. He currently lives in Bartlett, and drives 35 miles twice a day to work at Malibu East. If you have not had the pleasure of speaking with Ali, he works late on Thursday evenings. Stop by and get acquainted with this great guy.