LPI at Airport Parking, or the Lack of it
April, 2003I am simply amazed. When the editor of my favorite magazine asked me to do a piece on airports, I realized that of the airports I have audited (both on and off airport) fully two thirds do not do a nightly license plate inventory. They may do one once a week. And most of the rest only check the inventory when they have a "lost ticket." Beyond that, it's the information on the ticket handed to the cashier that generates the fee.
Certainly, the "big" airport locations like LAX and ORD and PHX and SEA do license plate inventory. But what of the rest? Let's review the bidding....
License plate inventory is a system where the license number of a vehicle is taken on entry to a parking facility (or at 3 a.m. by walking the lot with a handheld device). The data is stored in a computer database and when the vehicle leaves, the license plate data is keyed in and compared with the entry time on the ticket presented. If all checks out, the fee is computed.
Now, why would you want to go to all this trouble and expense? Let's assume that the charge at an airport parking facility is $10 a day. Now check out these three scenarios.
1. Let's talk about lost tickets. Since virtually all vehicles at airports are more than one day, the problem is what to do when there is a lost ticket. The driver simply tells the attendant that he lost his ticket but arrived three hours ago to see off a friend. The attendant says, "Sorry, but I must charge you for an entire day for your lost ticket." The driver signs and says, "OK, I understand." Of course he's been in the lot for two weeks and owes $140, but pays his $10 and leaves. The facility just lost $130.
2. What about swapped tickets? The stories about van drivers who sell "today" tickets to parkers they pick up is legend, as are stories about baggage handlers, and other employees who use all sorts of interesting tricks to get tickets that are "today" so they can sell them to parkers, or to cashiers.
3. The round-robin swapperooo. Charlie goes to the airport and parks his car. He stays two weeks. On the day of his arrival, his wife goes to the airport, pulls a ticket and finds his car. She uses her key to his car and puts the "today" ticket in his car. She then leaves and tells the attendant that she has lost her ticket. She is charged for one day. The husband is also charged for one day on his ticket. The facility just lost $120.
You can see that the numbers are big, big enough to make a difference and turn normally law-abiding citizens into thieves. If each of the problems mentioned above happened only once a day the losses would be over $100K a year. The fix: license plate inventory, or LPI.
You can read all about the technology elsewhere in PT, but suffice it to say, it exists, and it's not all that expensive. Certainly you could pay for it very quickly based on the scenarios above.
Of course, you have to use it. Virtually all of the airport facilities I audited have the technology in place. They just don't use it. They override it, or tell me it's too much trouble, or it slows down exits, or that it doesn't work. My investigations have told me otherwise.
These are facilities that are being mismanaged either through simple lack of interest, knowledge or perhaps the cashier's big car payment that must be met every month.
It's easy to see how important inventory is to facilities where there is typically more than a one-day stay. Airports are the obvious choice, but what about hotels. A quick inventory, even a "walk around with a clipboard" each night would give the cashier a lot of ammunition when someone comes up with a "lost ticket."
Speaking of hotels, I stayed at a dog-friendly hotel recently for two nights. I pulled a ticket on entry, and when I back to my doghouse I realized that I had three tickets in my paw and never paid a cent to park. I didn't do this intentionally, but that's just how it worked out.
The first day, we entered at 4 p.m. or so but had an early meeting and left at 6:30 a.m. There was no one at the cashier booth so my driver just drove us right out. (The gate was open.) We returned about noon and left at 3 p.m. I had inadvertently left my ticket in my room with the kibble. I told the cashier that I had left my ticket in my room and he said OK, what was my room number -- I told him and he opened the gate. (He didn't check any list or call anyone, just opened the gate.) That was ticket No. 2. The next morning, we had an early appointment and again left before 6:30. Once again no one there and I just drove out.
That little scenario cost the hotel $15 (parking is cheap in this particular town). Now, remember, I wasn't trying to cheat; it just worked out that way. There are other issues with this hotel's parking operation that I will discuss in later editions of PT.
How do you solve this problem? Easy. First, don't open the gates. Put in an intercom to the front desk and when a person drives up, have them call the front desk and then either open the gate from there (and keep track) or have a bellman go out and collect the ticket and any money due.
Second, make the cashier responsible for getting a ticket from every car. If there is truly a lost ticket, ensure that a lost ticket form with contact information is filled out by the cashier, including a phone number so you can follow up. You shouldn't have that many lost tickets. If there is more than a 1 to 2 percent lost ticket rate, you should review your cashier roster and ensure they are following proper procedures and haven't become a silent partner in your venture.