Transformation of a Parking Control System in Texas
By Garrett Coleman
Does the thought of upgrading your parking system because of lanes being shut down, traffic jams, issuing new monthly access credentials, and facing a complete database transfer raise the hair on the back of your neck?
Upgrading a garage parking system does not have to be as challenging as one might think. A well-thought-out plan and cooperation by all entities involved can make all the difference.
First, take the time to really study how the garage functions. Second, gather input from those who need to deal with the everyday operations. Third, get opinions from the clientele. After all, they will be the ones experiencing the changes.
The 601 Travis garage is a premier facility in Houston. Managed by Hines Interests, the structure, built in 1982, consists of 12 stories of parking, with a total of 2,194 spaces.
The garage offers monthly contract parking to more than 2,300 parkers, both lease tenants of the Chase Tower across the street and other customers who work in the downtown area. Some 1,656 spaces are set aside for unreserved monthly parking or visitor parking and charged on an hourly rate. A variety of validations are offered to the tenants of Chase Tower.
At times, it could be hard finding a parking spot in this facility, unless you were a monthly contract parker familiar with the layout of the garage. The original configuration added challenges and delays with throughput of traffic because of equipment layout and design. Laid out with a limited number of lanes for the visitor parker to exit, it caused traffic flow problems at times.
The access control technology of using proximity card readers caused slower entry and exit activity. The validation process was labor intensive and could not be fully automated. And, of course, the challenges that all staffed cashier booth operations cause contributed to more oversight labor cost.
The former system was a mixture of products from various manufacturers that were outdated, and age had taken a toll. Operational and financial accountability was requiring a great number of man-hours to accomplish. Repair costs were very high.
Cashiering processes could be slow, and those in the queue waiting to get out would get impatient. More options and more lanes for visitors were clearly needed.
WinPark, a parking management and consulting company and Hines subsidiary, reengineered the garage and used some of the latest technological solutions available in the parking industry today. After several studies that accounted for traffic flow, peak-time operations, manpower requirements, cost of ownership, return-on-investment, and other factors that affect daily operations, WinPark created an RFP for a totally new approach to running the garage.
Selecting the right business partners to introduce a new system takes time – comparing not just the purchase price, but more important, a reliable supplier, installer and training program. WinPark understood the challenges that it would face during the transformation. The company needed to be sure that the transition was seamless on such a facility affecting a wide range of users familiar with the old ways who would now face adapting to completely new procedures.
With all the right solutions decided, WinPark selected systems integrator Commercial Parking Solutions (CPS) to handle the transformation.
“I understood the importance of uptime in a parking garage system, and I knew I had to use a creative approach for this project to minimize any downtime,” said CPS President David Culbreth.
The upgraded system would need to address new technology for parking access and revenue control. This required custom interfacing to WinPark’s accounting software that enabled it to close all the areas for potential fraudulent abuse of garage services and, at the same time, reduce the manpower hours for accounting procedures that were then applied to the return-on-investment.
“Getting software developers working together enabled everyone involved to engineer solutions that addressed WinPark’s needs,” said Garrett Coleman, representing WPS (Worldwide Parking Solutions) North America, who wrote this article.
Implementing solutions – such as AVI access control (enabling use of Texas Toll Road AVI tags); “cloud-based” online validations (eliminating the costly process of printing validation stickers); conversion to pay-in-lane and credit card-only exit terminals (eliminating manual cashier labor costs); plus being able to operate 24/7; and lane equipment that, when compared to information gathered about competitive products clearly indicated it had the lowest cost of ownership – were all advantages of the new system.
Negotiating a guarantee of maximum cost of ownership per year for 10 years was a step that showed Hines Interests that WinPark had selected the best solution for The 601 Travis parking facility.
WinPark and CPS engineered an impressive implementation plan. CPS installed all the lane equipment next to the existing equipment so that it could keep the operations going during installation and connection to the new head-end system.
As the new system came to life side by side with the old, databases were transferred, AVI readers were tweaked to optimal readability, “cloud” validation software was deployed to tenants, and initial training was accomplished – all lending to a virtually seamless transition.
Issuing new AVI tags, as well as collecting the AVI tag information from the contract parkers with AVI tags from the Texas Toll Road system, was a continual effort during the early stages to avoid as much confusion as possible when the new system went live.
With the use of AVI technology, the garage now was able to fill and empty at a much faster rate. The new hands-free technology of AVI was reportedly well-received by the monthly parkers. For those with Texas Toll Road tags now able to use them for access to the garage near where they worked was seen as being “really cool.”
As automation takes the place of staffed cashier booths and equipment is placed around the garage to collect validations and forms of payment, it should be a given that cameras be incorporated. These help not only when remote assistance is needed through intercom calls, but also in providing credible records for holding vehicle owners liable for damage caused to parking equipment.
This transformation also required an extensive upgrade to the physical structure in the lanes. The old system was designed around each piece of equipment being mounted on a raised steel platform that had bollards welded in each corner. Conduits were exposed, and years of being bumped and refinished were obvious.
“Replacing the metal islands was something I’d never faced in the few dozen garage installations I’d overseen,” said WinPark VP and General Manager Michael Cramer. “I knew we’d need to pour new, concrete islands, but how do you do that and maintain a functioning garage? I envisioned a week of lost revenues and a lot of miffed parkers.”
CPS offered a solution that was almost impossible to believe.
With the new equipment in place, mounted on raised steel bases so they would be flush with the top of the new concrete islands, and fully prepared to operate reliably, CPS coordinated the removal of the old system, the steel platforms, the cashier booths, and then the construction of 11 concrete islands with new 6-foot steel bollards over a three-day weekend.
This required a crew of more than 20 laborers and technicians. Forming new islands, installing new bollards, securing new conduit, pulling cabling for data and intercom, and even running new electrical service to locations where equipment was added was all happening at the same time.
Contract parkers who left for home over the weekend on Friday
came to work on Monday to a complete, newly transformed garage. CPS and WinPark worked side by side for a whole week in the lanes to make sure equipment functioned properly and customers were given printed instructions on how to use their new AVI tags going forward.
This 601 Travis garage project is now the focus of interest for a number of other locations. Knowing there are ways to minimize the impact on operations and offering the contract parkers and visitors a pleasurable experience is what parking should be all about. For the owner, they now have a new system with a guaranteed long warranty and the promise to see revenue increase. This project demonstrated that taking time to prepare, selecting the right partners, and paying attention to all the details can make a garage parking system transformation go smoothly and minimize those traditional nightmares that every garage manager wants to avoid.
For more information, contact WinPark’s Michael Cramer at Michael.Cramer@hines.com; CPS’ David Culbreth at
firstname.lastname@example.org; or WPS’ Garrett Coleman at email@example.com.
Article Abstract from June, 2013