Companies Partner to Bring Parking System to Philadelphia Sports Complex
By Mary Ann Sircely
Imagine the vision required to transform an enormous paper- and cash-based parking system into a comprehensive digital network featuring the latest technology for real-time management.
Recently, Richard N. Best Associates (RNB) collaborated with 3M Parking and ZipPark Inc. to overhaul the event parking system at the Philadelphia Sports Complex, managed by SP+.
The project team integrated technologically diverse platforms into a singular wireless backbone to maximize revenue control, streamline management and enhance the customer experience. Now finishing its first stages of implementation, the project is a story of how technology, teamwork and ingenuity can succeed in tackling such a large-scale project.
The Philadelphia Sports Complex encompasses a giant footprint. It includes three world-class venues with a combined capacity of more than 132,000 seats and 17,000 parking spaces. These venues host 300-plus events, 8 million visitors and 5.5 million vehicle trips each year. Possibly the largest sports and entertainment complex in North America, it also is the only facility to serve four major sports teams.
For decades, parking managers had relied on a cash-based system, with a team of cashiers, supervisors and couriers handling a mix of cash and dozens of types of prepaid passes. Credit cards weren’t accepted, and duplicate passes were difficult to track.
Facility owners – a joint venture between Spectrum Arena LP and Phillies Ballpark LP – and the operator, SP+, envisioned advancing to technology that would speed transactions and improve the accuracy and efficiency of reconciling, all while better serving customers.
The team of RNB, 3M and ZipPark submitted the winning proposal to install a sophisticated revenue control system. Now, all transactions are performed on handheld computers in the lane, in conjunction with a video surveillance system, all of which feeds into a centralized dashboard to provide real-time data analysis and increase security.
RNB coordinated the project and performed the complete installation. 3M supplied the ScanNet facility management system, ramp controllers for vehicle counts and system interface responsibility. ZipPark designed the software and outfitted the event system, featuring Motorola MC75 handheld computers allowing attendants to accept credit cards in all entry lanes, while also accounting for prepaid passes and event passes from websites such as New Era, Tickets.com, and Click and Park.
The new user-friendly, intuitive interface seamlessly allows the administrator to observe every detail across multiple lots, even with simultaneous events, variable rate structures and dozens of categories of pre-paid passes.
The sophisticated CCTV system now verifies decisions made at the booth. If a cashier performs a transaction for a non-paying vehicle, such as a taxi or an emergency vehicle, it appears on the dashboard immediately for management to review.
Tying together the various systems, RNB designed custom interface control units to house and connect wiring between the diverse equipment within weather-resistant boxes attached to the sides of the booths.
“An uncoordinated installation would have this stuff all over the booths, literally hundreds of connections susceptible to weather or physical damage,” said Don Vennell, RNB Account Executive. Instead, the wiring and equipment are neatly contained and readily accessible for maintenance and repair.
Carl Sgamboti, Chief Operating Officer at ZipPark, explained that the initial setup presented “72 different types of prepaid passes.
“When a customer used a prepaid pass, the cashier simply accepted it, because there was no way to determine at entry whether the pass was valid. Then they would retain a tear-off stub or write down the number in a log.
“This had to occur in 42 lanes across 13 lots, with a line of fans anxious to get to the game,” Sgamboti said. “After the event, they needed to reconcile and audit 72 different piles of passes on manual spreadsheets. If there was a discrepancy, they needed to figure out why.”
Now, passes are downloaded to the handheld computers and updated in real-time, so that even customers who purchase parking upon arrival at the ticket office can use their pass minutes later to enter a lot.
At the heart of the new system is a Command Center with dashboard that controls, monitors and manages all data in real-time.
“The exciting thing is the amount of information that is now at their fingertips,” said Barry Lazowski, ZipPark’s President. “The system we put in place combines an array of different technologies – loops in the lane that do the counting, handhelds to record every single type of transaction, video cameras in all lanes.”
“They can now accurately count every vehicle coming in and compare with transactions in the handhelds,” Vennell added. “On a busy day, there will be vehicles for multiple events filling the 17,000 parking spaces, with all transactions being done through the handhelds, and followed on the dashboard in real-time.”
In addition, reconciling at the end of the day is now a breeze. The auditing process is “a lot quicker and a lot more accurate,” said Dave McFadden, SP+ Senior Operations Manager for the sports complex. Instead of requiring staff to reconcile stacks of ticket stubs and manual vehicle counts by hand, “all they have to do is go to the handheld and log out a report.”
Lazowski said he expected cashiers to take to the handhelds quickly. “The learning curve is so easy – you can train people in a short period of time, and they’re off and running.” This is important, he added, because “the parking industry has a high employee turnover rate, so a system that requires little training for proficiency is a major benefit to parking operators.”
“The initial goals were to improve controls and customer service. Those two things have already happened,” said Chris Sherman, Senior Vice President of SP+. “We have faster ingress, multiple payment options and a control room that’s able to see what’s going on and track exceptions in real-time.”
Regarding implementation of sales via cash, credit card and prepaid barcode, “all three are working well,” Sherman said, “and the credit card processing times have exceeded expectations.”
As the project moves forward, Sherman said that improvements will continue to be made.
For instance, to further speed operations, enhance customer service and reduce operational costs, SP+ will give fans the opportunity to use an EZPass or order an AVI credential.
“We have a captured audience and we can get to that fan base,” Sherman said. “Our next step is having a marketing plan go out to each team’s fan base and get them to register.”
Mary Ann Sircely, Publicist for Richard N. Best Associates,
can be reached at email@example.com.
Photos by William Thomas Cain/Cain Images
Article Abstract from August, 2014