Credit Cards and a ‘Whoops’
September, 2007I’ve been thinking a lot about credit card usage and parking. There are a lot of benefits to having your customers use cards. It’s fast, it’s easy and, of course, you don’t have to worry about where the money goes, or do you?
If you are private, my guess is you track the money in the bank closely. You know to the penny how much is put in by each location. However, if you are public, is that really the case?
In most cities, universities and airports, the credit card clearing account usually piggybacks on the account set up by the larger organization. They have a large number of transactions and can probably negotiate a lower discount rate with the credit card company. It makes good sense.
However, it also means that the money generated by the parking operation through credit cards is mixed in with all the other credit card funds coming from fees, licenses, tax payments and the like. I just audited a city where there was no way to tell where the money in the credit card account came from.
A private operator would set up a merchant account for each garage. That way there is an exact accounting of how much money was cleared by each location and the manager can be sure that all the numbers match.
One might say “who cares.” In one case, the parking manager told me he simply gave the hospital’s accounting department an invoice each month for the amount of credit cards they ran through the parking operation and they transferred that much into his account.
“Didn’t anyone ever wonder how you came up with the number you gave them every month?” His response was expected: “No one ever asked.”
Accounting for credit card funds is important. What if someone gets their bill and forgets they parked in the garage? The bill from the credit card company says “City of Suchensuch.” It’s now five weeks later. He’s forgotten he was ever in Suchensuch and tells the credit card company to deny the charge. The bank sends a notice to the city. Now what? How does the city get its money back from the garage? Most likely they don’t. After all, they say, it’s all the same organization, just a different pocket.
Well, it’s not quite that simple. There are different bond issues and funding programs that pay for each garage. Each one needs to have its expenses (like a credit card service charge or a returned card) applied to the right place. That can’t happen if the money is lost in a huge general fund. Also, the parking operation needs to get credit for that money.
I couldn’t help noticing a minor problem with a picture in my favorite magazine last month. Check out the picture on page 48. I asked the designer to give you a hint as to the problem. Note the gate behind the occupied booth. See any problem?
Well, I do. I have been writing for more than a decade about using equipment to control parking facilities. One of the controls is keeping the gate locked. In this case, there are a number of possible reasons for that gate being unlocked.
1. The garage manager is sloppy.
2. The equipment is not working properly.
3. There is an issue with the monthly system.
4. The cashier is trying to pay off his new car.
5. We are still in an “installation” mode.
6. The service tech just left to go to the restroom.
I know which one I think is true. What do you think?