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What Is and What May Be in Airport Parking Revenue Control Technology

Joe Wenzl

Parking is an essential element in today's transportation market, requiring the combined efficiencies of controlled vehicle throughput, security and revenue control to coalesce into a unified and synchronous system. Commercial complexes, especially airports, generate vast amounts of transaction activity that produce a significant revenue stream comprising mainly cash and credit card receipts.
The ultimate Nirvana is achieving a 100% collection rate with each and every fee being properly computed with the actual "in" and "out" times of the vehicle, and with each and every transaction being properly accounted for with the least amount of manual intervention. Leading-edge technology is being applied at several sites today that strive to reach that Nirvana.
The age-old question in any parking operation is: "Is this vehicle and ticket (or other ID) exiting the same vehicle and ticket that entered?"
Technologies employed at sites including the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (JFK, La Guardia and Newark), Phoenix and Seattle strive to ensure that that question is always answered in the affirmative.
The conventional method of gaining entry is typically through the issuance of a magnetic stripe ticket, an access card or an AVI tag. Information is collected for each customer as they enter the facility and uploaded to the Facility Management System Host. A second method of identification is accomplished through the use of license plate recognition (LPR) cameras and optical character recognition (OCR).
The LPR in the lane creates and sends additional information to the System Host that relates the ticket number (or other primary ID), the license plate number and image, and the vehicle image in the system's database. While the customer's vehicle is in the facility, the operator has full access to view current license plates and vehicle images, as well as "correct" plates where the OCR confidence may be below a required threshold.
Upon exiting the facility, the "lane traversal history" of the vehicle is acquired from the system's database by both the license plate number and the primary ID. As the vehicle approaches the exit lane, the plate number is read by the LPR in the lane, and the traversal information based on the number is returned from the Host System's database. A preliminary fee is computed, and the system waits for the customer to present their primary ID.
When that is verified, the traversal information based on that data is retrieved from the Host System's database. Should the traversal histories match, the operator may be assured to a high probability that the exiting customer's fee is being properly calculated, collected and audited. If it does not match, the operator may apply their local business rules to rectify the situation and collect the proper fee.
The above scenario is accomplished on a platform consisting of an enterprise-proven operating system and relational database, multi-processor servers, and high-speed network switching devices that take industry standard TCP/IP protocol down to the lane device level. A browser-based user interface allows an authorized operator to access the system from any PC workstation on the network or from any workstation outside the network with an Internet connection and the proper security to connect through the system's firewall. A separate web-based reporting mechanism allows the operator to retrieve archived system data in the same manner and with the same security constraints.
Use of this system architecture opens the door to other opportunities for the parking control manufacturer to think "out of the box" in providing innovative methods for the operator to maximize their bottom line, through either cost savings, revenue enhancement or customer satisfaction.
The parking reservation system is a reality today. It allows a customer to "reserve" a space within the parking facility at a pre-determined date and time. Pre-payment may be made by the patron and reconciled as a post-transaction event, getting them into and out of the parking facility fast and efficiently.
While typically accomplished through accessing a web site, new technology is making its way into the market from the on-street parking segment. Customers may access their cell phone or PDA directing them to the best available parking location and registering their parking stay. The parking fee is conveniently computed and reported on their monthly phone bill.
Customers whose vehicles are equipped with a GPS could utilize systems within parking lots that track the vehicle to a specific space. Their in-time and out-time is reported through a cell phone service and validated through the GPS. Alas, GPS is only two dimensional; there still is no known technology that detects what level you are at in a garage!
The leading-edge technology that has been discussed within the preceding paragraphs strives to instill a collective sense of total consciousness among all who manage parking operations and revenue collection. The likely outcome is that technology will continue to "one-up" itself, and its application will continue to outperform its predecessor.

Contact Joe Wenzl, Director of Airport Development for Federal APD Inc., at jwenzl@federalapd.com



Sidebar:

Some Leading-Edge Technology at Use in Airport Parking Today:

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) audio communications is an up-and-coming method of providing two-way audio communications between the customer and the operator. Conventional intercom systems employ separate copper or fiber runs in parallel with the TCP/IP network. VoIP is intercom communications that leverage the same IP network backbone and switching network as the data communications, saving installation time and reducing cost of ownership.
Visual two-way communications certainly is nothing new; Ma Bell first proposed "Picture Phones" in the 1960s. Today's broadband Internet allows for real-time imaging to be presented to the viewer. This same technology may be applied within the high-speed parking network, allowing for real-time imaging between the customer and a central attendant. This adds a certain comfort level for customers who are accustomed to face-to-face interaction, but who may not have that luxury especially in systems that utilize unattended pay stations and exit ticket readers.
Real-Time Vehicle Tracking (RTVT) uses additional LPR cameras (or other detection technologies) throughout the facility to determine the flow and destination of vehicles. Just as level-count systems track the number of physical vehicle traversals into and out of a parking area, RTVT takes this concept several steps forward and personalizes the vehicle. Depending on the concentration of tracking cameras, the operator is able to determine the parking location of the vehicle and potentially serve as an individual space-count system. As a security measure, pattern-recognition software at the System Host operating from the RTVT input data may be used to detect suspicious activity and instantly report status to the operator.
Embedded web servers installed at the device open up a whole new dimension to the parking control industry. This essentially makes the lane device a unique, IP-addressable server on the local network, at the very least, and over the entire Internet, at its broadest application. The possibilities are endless - virtual groups of devices managed by application service providers (ASPs); "smart" devices that notify a central maintenance entity automatically if they detect a potential problem; "smart" devices that automatically check for firmware updates and download them automatically -- it goes on and on. With the proper built-in firewall and security, embedded web servers present an exciting opportunity.
Master time synchronized through a national standard is deployed at several sites and uses an IP connection to the national standard entity to retrieve the current time. While this feature in and of itself may not be earth-shattering, when used in a
universal application, it takes on new meaning. With a fully coupled system from the operator's central offices on down through each and every lane device deployed within each facility, an enterprise master time system ensures that in-times, out-times, shift start and end times, and report times all correlate down to the millisecond, maximizing accuracy and audit effectiveness.

Article Abstract from April, 2005




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