City and Airport - One Operation Helps Another
John Van Horn
It's a "Tale of Two Cities" or, rather, of two parking operations in one city. And Dickens' opening line about the "best of times, the worst of times" doesn't really fit. Two senior managers seem to have created the best of parking times in their respective "communities."
Dan Brame is in charge of parking at Portland International Airport (PDX), and Ellis McCoy runs parking for the city of Portland, OR. Two different venues, two different applications, but in an oblique way one has helped the other in bringing new ways to park to the "City of Roses."
Brame has overseen installation of a pay-on-foot system at the airport. It went "live" in January, and by any measure, it has been a grand success. After only three months in operation, nearly 85% of the airport's patrons are using the POF system (rather than paying on exit).
"It is the attention to details," says Brame. "We planned everything right down to the type size on the signage, the bollards to protect folks when they are paying, to the way our staff can provide help to parking customers who are having difficulty."
Brame worked for consultant Kimley Horn for about 15 years, and was involved in POF installations in Seattle and at other airports around the country.
"I believe in data, rather than opinion," he says. "We looked at the successes and issues with other airport operations when they converted to POF. We took surveys from existing customers. When we made the change, we had the information to make good decisions."
The major problem with many other installations, Brame says, is that they take away the customer service staff too soon. "We put one or two of our staff in front of the POF machines to help people through the initial learning curve. And they are still there after three months. It gives patrons a good feeling and gives us great PR. Our staff does a good job, just in being there and being friendly.
"We let the patron take a stab at it themselves, but if they seem to have problems, we offer assistance. When we don't have someone at the payment area, our office staff can keep tabs on it through CCTV. Every POF machine is monitored, and if someone presses the "help" button, a camera comes online and an intercom opens. The staffer in the office not only can hear the patron, but can see them and help walk them through their problem. You can't have enough customer service during this type of changeover."
Brame installed signage everywhere -- at the entrance, on pillars, on the ramps -- to remind people to take their parking tickets with them. But it still wasn't enough.
"Our surveys told us that 15% of all parkers didn't see the signage. So we added a little twist. [During peak traffic hours] we put one of our staff at the entry lane with a hand held sign to remind [parkers] to take their tickets. It has worked well. I expect we will be over 90% usage by summer."
Brame's attention to detail also goes to future planning. "See that plate on the floor? It's a location for a future machine. I call it the 'in case Brame made a mistake' conduit." There are items like that throughout the garage. Brame is focused on his current installation, but concerned about the future.
To sell the project to the airport senior management, Brame took them to Schipol in Amsterdam. It took only a few minutes to convince them. "Once they saw how well POF worked there, we were ready to proceed."
The Portland airport immediately reduced its number of exit cashiers to two (and at most times to only one, says Brame). Patrons can pay at the POF using cash or credit card, or if they forget, they can use credit cards to pay at exit, unattended. At the exit reader, they put in the ticket, then the credit card, and receive the card and a receipt back and are on their way. Credit card usage is more than 60% and climbing after only 90 days in operation.
Dan Brame gives some of the credit for the success at PDX to the city's Parking Operations Manager. Ellis McCoy has been actively changing the way people pay for parking in the city by installing nearly 1,200 pay-and-display machines throughout the city. Brame thinks this process enabled people to get used to automated fee collection so the transition at PDX became smoother. McCoy can only agree.
Over the past three years, McCoy has phased in P and D equipment throughout the city. "It's a process, like any other. When you take on a project to change people's habits, it takes time, and you learn as you go."
The initial installation of 1,100 meters was a success and is working well, McCoy says. However, that didn't stop him from looking to a different brand for the second phase of the installation. Sixty new machines have been installed in other areas. "I think it's a good move to have multiple vendors in a project of this size," McCoy says. "We can experience the benefits of each type of machine, and the vendors themselves can learn what works and what doesn't."
About 60% of the revenue collected at the P and D machines comes from credit card transactions. "About 30% of our transactions are by credit card," he says. "Unlike the airport, most of our transactions are small. People seem reluctant to use a credit card for small transactions, although that is changing."
The P and F machines make it easy for parkers to comply with regulations, McCoy notes. "They can select the amount of time they need, and because they can read right on the ticket the time they must return, compliance is higher than with standard single-space meters."
In Portland, parkers must display the ticket on the curbside of the vehicle. A sticker comes with the ticket to attach it to inside of the window. Portland's enforcement officers walk through the areas, checking for violators.
"The system greatly reduces arguments between enforcement officers both on the street and in court," McCoy says. "The ticket says what time the vehicle has to be moved, and the ticket has the time and date it was purchased written right on it. Abuse of our enforcement officers has been greatly reduced."
McCoy is also proud of the city's new SmartMeter Parking Card. "The program has been in place for over two years and its great for the city and for our parking customers. We will soon be using the same smart card for our six garages and surface lots too. We are also exploring the business case for using one smart card, "City Card" that would include buses and light rail. It's convenient for the parkers and serves as a great marketing tool for us."
Portland seems to be a great example where one type of parking program built on another -- P and D in the city, POF at the airport. McCoy and Brame don't discuss whether they planned it that way in the beginning.
Industry wags say that the success the city of Portland has seen with its multi-space on-street meters may be partly due to City Center Parking converting all its off-street facilities to pay and display years ago, thus training parkers in Portland on the advantages of multi-space meters.
It is certainly true that one process does build on another, in this tale of two parking operations.
Scheidt and Bachmann POF equipment was installed at the airport, Parkeon and Cale P and D machines in the city.
Article Abstract from May, 2005