PT the Auditor
The Case of the Undeserved Discounted Airport Parking Fees
This month, our fearless hound is taking a seasonal sabbatical. We asked Larry Donoghue to grace our pages with his experience, knowledge, and wit. He agreed. Editor
I recently came across the way a businessman, who traveled a lot, found out a way to get a deep discount on his numerous, large airport parking fees. Many weeks in the year, he would go to the airport on a Sunday evening and fly out to his destination and return on Friday evening.
After parking his car at the airport, the businessman would use his cellphone to call his wife to tell her exactly where he had parked his car. She was a Flight Attendant based at that airport.
On a Thursday, when his wife was either going out on a flight or returning from a flight, she would go to where his car was parked and relocate it within the parking facility. The wife would then use her cellphone to tell her husband where she parked tile car.
On the businessman-husband’s return to the airport Friday evening, he would go to his car and drive out to the exit plaza. At the cashier booth, he would tell the cashier, “I lost my ticket.” The cashier would then ask him when he had entered the parking facility. He would reply, “Last night, about 7 p.m.”
After checking his license plate number, the cashier would check the license plate inventory (LPI) to see when his vehicle had first entered the facility.
Because it had been relocated from its first parking spot, that date had been dropped by the LPI at about 2 a.m. Friday during the inventory process, when that parking space was either vacant or had a vehicle with a different plate number on it.
The inventory process did pick up the vehicle in its relocated parking space and marked its first date of record as about 2 a.m. Friday.
The fee computer would end up charging the businessman for only Thursday and Friday – rather than five full days. In that way, he got a 60% discount on his airport parking. That savings helped pay a good part of the couple’s Friday night restaurant tabs.
They also pulled this same ploy when they went on vacation. However, the confederate who relocated their vehicle was a neighbor who got in on the scam, and the husband was the one who would relocate the neighbor’s car when it was the neighbor’s turn to go on vacation.
The Case of the Barrier Gate’s Displaced Shear Pin
While conducting an operational audit of the public parking facilities at a large-hub East Coast airport, we encountered an interesting type of cashier fraud.
My then-Partner Harold Schulke and I were checking out the brand-new revenue control equipment that was in the two exit lanes in the remote economy parking lot. On the first day, we didn’t notice anything wrong. However, on the second day, my partner noticed that the shear pin in one of the exit barrier gates was not in its proper position.
First, for the benefit of newcomers to the parking industry, I must explain what a shear pin is. Manufacturers of revenue control equipment install “shear pins” so that the barrier gate mechanisms won’t be damaged when a patron fraudulently tries to raise the barrier gate arm and thereby get out of the facility without paying the proper parking fee.
The shear pin is made of smoothly machined steel. It’s about 1¼-inches long. It is less than ¼-inch in diameter at the top and is tapered -- wider at the top than at the bottom. The shear pin is inserted into a hole in the metal clamping device that holds the wooden barrier gate arm in place.
The gate arm is then rotated until the shear pin is lined up with a hole drilled in the centerline of the shaft that makes the gate arm rotate up and down. At that point, the shear pin in pressed into the hole. Then it is set in place, using a lightweight hammer and nail set, by striking a few light blows on the nail set.
When excessive force is applied to the barrier gate arm by someone bent on getting out ·without paying, the shear pin is sheared off but has served its purpose by preventing damage to the gate’s mechanism. Shear pins are inexpensive, costing less than $1 apiece.
Now back to what my partner, Harold, had noticed. The shear pin was not in its proper position. It had been dislodged and driven upward from the bottom with some tool and was about ¼-inch higher than it had been the day before.
It was very apparent, because yesterday, the upper exposed portion of the shear pin was painted a bright yellow, as was the rest of the equipment. Today, under the ¼-inch yellow was ¼-inch of exposed shiny steel. That made it very easy for Harold to spot its being out of place. The pin was only “finger-tight” in the hole.
It was readily apparent that the shear pin had been dislodged recently by one of the employees and could easily be extracted from the hole. That being done, the employee could rotate the gate arm to an upright position and leave it in the upright position. Then, as patrons would drive up to the cashier booth to pay for their parking, the cashiers could take the patrons’ tickets and mentally calculate their parking fees.
With the gate arm already raised, it wasn’t necessary for the cashiers to ring up a transaction to open the cash drawer. (When the cash drawer is closed after a transaction, the closing of the drawer is what makes the gate arm rise.) The cashiers could just collect the fees and merely wave the patrons out, with a cheery “Have a nice day.”
All of these parking fees would be confiscated by the cashiers. After having collected about 10 or 15 parking fees in this manner, the gate arm would be rotated down to it proper closed position, and the shear pin would be put back in place finger-tight. The cashiers would then process the subsequent transactions in the proper manner.
The reason the cashiers could perpetrate this fraud was because they were in a remote parking lot. No supervisor was stationed in the lot. The supervisor would visit the remote lot only to make cash pickups, or come over in case of a problem with a patron. Once the supervisor made a trip to the lot and had left, he or she wouldn’t be back for at least an hour, unless a call was made for the supervisor.
Recommendations: To protect your parking operations from this type of employee fraud, go to each of your facilities about once a week. Look at each of the barrier Gates and check to see that all the shear pins are securely seated in place and are not just “finger-tight.” Also, you might spray-paint the exposed portion of the shear pins, so that if they are dislodged, it would be easier to detect if they were not securely seated.
Reach Larry Donoghue, Senior Parking Auditor and Consultant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from January, 2013