Words to the Wise when Considering A New Non-Attended Parking System
By Pierre Koudelka
As we know, parking access and revenue control systems have changed dramatically this century. The day of the old TD-249 Ticket Spitter, as it was called, which issued a time-dated stamped ticket, is gone. It served the industry well for 50 years. Those old mechanical devices could work right-side-up and upside-down. In some ways, this spoiled us.
PARC systems today do so much more. They may even lower labor costs, but in many ways, they are more fragile and may require more of us as owners and managers to operate.
Technology has taken over. Even though many still believe that parking lags behind technologically, it really doesn’t. Modern revenue control systems are very sophisticated. This provides the owners, municipalities and universities with tremendous advantages, but there is a down-side that is often overlooked until it’s too late in the game.
If you decide to purchase sophisticated parking equipment, you need sophisticated people to handle it.
I had a nice Midwest client, a very large organization, and they did a great job at researching what they wanted. They involved different department heads and many employees in their buying discussions.
They really seemed to do everything right – except they underestimated the sophistication of the equipment they were about to buy and install. (This has happened countless times, because it’s so easy to overlook.)
This also was somewhat complicated by politics, as is usually the case. As with many large organizations, much of the responsibility of running parking fell among several different departments with different philosophies and responsibilities.
And no one wanted to impose new directives on the others. They really thought they could get by with the old rules and existing employees when, in fact, they couldn’t.
Although discussed in previous meetings before purchasing, they ran into three basic challenges after purchasing:
1- Many employees were unable to handle the technological changes.
2- With greater accuracy and monetary control, transaction speed sometimes goes down.
3- Some give and take, as to existing procedures, may have to be made to accommodate the automated system.
If you’re going from a basic parking system or from one with little revenue control to an automated system, then you must understand that the price you pay for greater accuracy and control could be transaction time lost.
Greater accuracy will definitely improve profitably, help in accounting for all transaction types, even lessen manpower requirements, but with enhanced control, transaction times may increase somewhat.
The system itself may be faster, but you’re now relying on the patrons more. Drivers often stop too far from the pay-on-foot (POF) machine. They then have to read instructions, insert their credit card, coins sometimes fall to the pavement, dollar bills need to be un-crinkled before insertion and so on.
Depending on the individual parker, this can take time.
A human cashier in the lane can accommodate many more of these exceptions than a computer. A cashier can even let folks in without payment if they have to, but an automated system can’t make such exceptions.
Everyone has to accommodate the requirements of the new system. Understand this upfront, as you may have to add additional entrances or exits or paystations to accommodate the desired traffic flow for the new system – painful as that may sound.
A qualified parking consultant understands traffic flow and can assist you in calculating these requirements ahead of the game, so you don’t have any surprises.
The simple fact is that POF stations at exits are slower than cashiers at exits. I try to stay away from them for a host of reasons, but sometimes you have to use them, depending on the client’s goals.
If your facility caters to repeat clients and they become familiar with the system, through-put is marginally faster, but cashiers are hard to beat. The fastest exiting times are achieved with a central pay concept, which can be three or four times faster at the point of exit than even a cashier exit – something to consider.
If your design is lacking, you can always buy more POF stations to accommodate parkers, as they do throughout Europe, but owners here are generally reluctant to spend more, even though it has been proven that having more POF stations throughout the facility accommodates patrons better and faster.
Much to my clients’ credit, over the years they developed a system consisting of a complex set of procedures to accommodate the countless different types of patrons that used their facilities. Special rate structures were used, for example, as well as selective times of entry/exit and special coupons and discounts.
All of which seemed to work, but required considerable visual on-the-spot decision-making and countless forms to be filled out by “lane captains.” Therein lay the problems and the errors.
So automation was a good way to go, but new software can’t always accommodate all your old needs, and once it’s in place, all patrons and employees have to follow specific instructions for the system to work. If these guidelines are not followed to a T, programs go amiss, and time and accuracy are lost. So be prepared to change past procedures for new ones going forward with automation.
As for your current employees, understand that they have to be computer literate. You won’t be able to hire just anyone to be a cashier or lane captain if you go with automation.
Proper training at all levels is a must. It’s usually called out in the specifications on new system installations, but our industry suffers from people turnover, so continual training is a must. Unfortunately, I have seldom seen such a philosophy applied. This results in the parking system software being underutilized.
This is a problem. You have to verify that your operators use the system to its fullest. Shortcuts are not acceptable. If you have concerns or questions about how things should operate, call the manufacturer.
Years ago, I conducted a random survey among manufacturers, and the feedback indicated that 50% of parking facilities operate at only 25% of their software capability. That’s a bad number, considering what you paid for all those bells and whistles that aren’t being used properly.
All this sounds like common sense, and it may be. But all I can say is that these are simple issues to overlook, so the reality is that these omissions happen more times than you might think, and it can cost you and your staff plenty of anguish if not handled properly early on, so don’t let it happen to you.
So, some words to the wise, that despite all the other pressures involved in purchasing a new PARC system, keep in mind that you:
1- Be ready to change your long-standing internal procedures to accommodate the automation.
2- Re-assess the capabilities of all employees who will be involved.
3- Be prepared to reassign employees before things run amok.
4- Have a manager up-to-speed with computers, as well as his or her immediate subordinates.
5- Give them proper training, and keep training over the long haul.
6- Continually review the operation to make sure all system features are being used to their fullest extent.
Pierre Koudelka has 45 years of parking experience globally as a leading manufacturer and parking consultant. Contact him at