Getting the Most Out Of Pay & Display
Multi-space, pay-and-display parking terminals can be more reliable than other types of on street revenue collection. It is just one of the reasons that an increasing number of cities are making the switch. As with any piece of equipment, however, some forethought before installation and some TLC afterwards will pay dividends.
When it comes to locating pay-and-display terminals, the most influential factor is probably the distance drivers have to walk to pay for parking. One machine is generally recommended for every 8 - 10 vehicles for on-street parallel parking. On an average block, this means one terminal halfway along each side of the street. For off-street parking lots, depending on the physical layout, one machine for every 20 -25 spaces would be typical.
While a small number of operators opt for autonomous, battery-powered machines and fewer still go for direct connect power operated units, almost 90% of the pay-and-display terminals for example, are solar powered. A compact solar panel tops each machine, keeping the integral battery charged-up.
Solar conditions vary considerably according to location, even differing between towns and cities on similar latitudes and/or longitudes. Although this has an impact on the performance of solar panels, it does not make them unsuitable for Northern climates. The Toronto Parking Authority, for instance, uses solar power to successfully operate over 2,000 pay-and-display machines.
The optimum output for parking terminal solar panels is between 5 and 10-watts. Because of the way that output is calculated, a 10-watt panel is more than twice as powerful as a 5 watt. However, anything larger than 10 watts can lead to maintenance problems, due the unwieldy size of the panel.
Solar panels are mounted at an angle, allowing rainfall to clean them. However, they should be checked regularly for dirt, particularly between October and March, when days are shorter. A regular wipe-over will prevent dust and other debris acting as filters and reducing their performance. While reports from Canada indicate that solar machines work fine with a 5" snow topping, that should also be cleared regularly for optimum performance.
A 26 Ah battery is recommended to optimize solar machine capabilities but because its recharging characteristics do not remain constant throughout the unit's life - capacity reduces over time - battery life recommendations must be respected. Terminals fitted with a sealed lead acid battery will obviate Health and Safety considerations, as will selecting a unit in which the power store is raised-up inside the machine, reducing the risk of a strain when it is removed. A raised battery will also suffer less from grounding effects and be significantly easier to access when it snows.
To optimize parking revenues, multi-space, pay-and-display terminals can be centrally monitored. They are then linked, via a wireless network, to a PC in a parking manager's office. A modem in each terminal transmits real-time messages, through a fully hosted server, to the PC.
Management then receives warnings and alarms immediately whenever a terminal needs a service or maintenance call, e.g. notification that the ticket supply is running low or a cash box needs emptying. Messages are also sent if there is a malfunction or a machine is interfered with in some way. Terminals can then be visited and fixed before they go into "out-of-service" mode. Similarly, "just-in-time" cash collections can be implemented to reduce revenue-handling costs.
A number of other commonsense measures will also keep pay-and-display terminals operating efficiently. Adopting a zero tolerance approach towards graffiti and vandalism discourages repeat performances. If kids and vandals see that their activities are not having any affect on operations, they soon move on. The use of good quality, manufacturer-approved ticket stocks will increase printer head life and reduce jams. Switching to cheaper supplies really is a false economy, as any savings are rapidly lost when maintenance staff is constantly responding to avoidable call-outs. Card readers and bill acceptors should be cleaned with alcohol pads, about once a month, depending on usage.
Regular preventative maintenance is essential to keep multi-space meters in good working order. Again, the frequency will depend on the number of tickets issued on a daily basis. It is recommended that service checks be carried-out on the following components, on average, every six months:
- Block and printer
- Card reader and extension cable (when fitted)
- Position of the inside door and coin inlet (where appropriate)
- Coin detection and blocking mechanisms
Following these guidelines will ensure optimum performance from a multi-space, solar powered, pay-and-display installation that will help boost parking revenues effortlessly for the next 10 years, at least.
Michael Kavur is Vice President & Business Manager of Parkeon in North America.