There have been plenty of times when valets gave cars away to the wrong person. Usually when this happens, the recipient of the errant car keys does not realize the mistake, because it's a rental car.
But sometimes a criminal portrays himself as the vehicle owner and gets a free car. It happened last Saturday in Newport Beach, California and blew up into a big nationally televised news story.
Valet workers are supposed to verify that they are presenting a car to the proper person by requiring a claim ticket. In reality, a lot of times this important safeguard is skipped.
As a valet worker, I did it myself plenty of times.
If somebody acted like a car was their's, and especially if they had a nice tip in their hands (a $5, $10 or $20), the last thing I wanted to do as a rookie valet was inconvenience that customer by demanding a claim ticket... because it could jeopardize that tip.
Some people would get annoyed if I said I needed the claim ticket, because a lot of times they didn't know where they put it.
And while they were fumbling around looking for it, the clock was ticking and other customers were getting impatient about the wait for their car. I didn't have all day to wait to see a claim ticket.
So sometimes I would just trust my gut and take the gamble. Then run for the next car.
Forcing valet workers to depend on tips is a weakness in the traditional valet parking business. I advocate eliminating the expectation to tip and instead building the tip amount into the parking fee. This would make it less likely somebody could bribe a valet into handing over the keys without proof of ownership.
When the valet shows up at your location, a handover code is exchanged so that the customer knows they are dealing with a real valet worker from the service.
And when the car is returned, the customer must produce the handover code. It's a requirement.
This alone is a huge upgrade over the theft potential involved with traditional valet services.
But the potential of theft is reduced in other ways too. For example, sometimes the volume of arriving cars is overwhelming at a traditional valet parking operation. It's not unusual for cars to sit with the engines running.
As the chaos of a rush was calming down, I've discovered cars we left running for 45 minutes that were sitting on the outer edges of our "ramp" waiting to go into the garage.
The chaos of a rush at a typical valet operation heightens the risk of theft.
But with an on-demand valet parking service, your car is the only car. The valet immediately takes it away. It's not going to sit somewhere, unattended with the engine running and the key inside of it.
This lower risk of vehicle theft is a very compelling advantage over a regular valet parking service.
Since on-demand valet parking services use lower cost parking facilities, there is a high likelihood of cost savings right now when using these services compared to a standard valet service. That's another advantage.
And one additional advantage of using on-demand valet parking over traditional valet parking is there appears to be a much more responsive approach to handling damage claims.
Typical valet services are experts at evading their damage claims. From what I have seen on Twitter, it appears that on-demand valet companies are motivated to create strong, consumer friendly reputations for themselves.
So I am becoming more impressed with these on-demand hybrid valet parking services. It's really looking like a smart alternative. (My main concern is their capacity to handle high demand. And I'm puzzled why I haven't seen vehicle damage assessments done at the initial handover. This is potentially good for you and bad for them.)