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System Solves Valet Delivery Problems

By John Van Horn

This thing solves so many problems. What a great customer service tool. Jeff Buttikofer, CFO of Realtech, owner of Century City Medical Center and the associated Doctors Hospital building, actually gushed ... well, a little.
He was talking about a new parking reporting system installed in the garage located 20 stories beneath him in the upscale Century City area of Los Angeles.
Each day, his operator, Ampco System, parks nearly 1,000 daily parkers and quite a large portion of their nearly 1,012 card holders in the 732-space garage. You can imagine there are issues. The garage is 100% valet for dailies and valet assist for monthlies.
Buttikofer is sensitive to his tenants. Almost all are doctors and have little time for issues involving their patients. Parking is always atop the complaint list. "It took 30 minutes to get my car." "I'm changing doctors because of the parking mess downstairs."
He needed help. His equipment vendor was Secom International. They set out to design a system to speed up the valets and also have a record of retrieval time so Buttikofer could have answers for his tenants.
The system works like this:
Drivers get a multi-part ticket at a TD on entry. They then drive to the valet staging area, where their car is accepted by the valet. The valet parks the car on a lower level, notes on the ticket that goes with the keys where the car is located, and takes the keys and ticket to the dispatcher. The dispatcher scans the car "in" and puts the keys and ticket in the rack.
When drivers return to the garage, they dip their ticket into a reader that immediately notifies the dispatcher that they are in the garage and waiting for their car. They can then pay at a POF or a cashier. If they don't dip their ticket, when they pay, the dispatcher is automatically notified.
The dispatcher sees the ticket number come up on the screen, finds the key, logs the ticket out and gives the key to the valet. Drivers then receive their cars and use their ticket as an exit receipt. If they didn't pay at the POF or cashier, they can pay on exit with a credit card.
The system records all these times and allows Buttikofer to see how long it takes to return the car from the time the driver requested it until the car leaves the facility. He knows averages, highs and lows, and can look at individual tickets.
"It's not too hard to see if there is anything happening out of line," he says. "When I get a '30-minute' complaint, I simply ask the complainer for the approximate exit time and print out a bracket around that time. Almost always there is nothing in the range of the complaint. Our average, by the way, is four minutes, and that includes the time it takes the driver to get up to the exit gate. I then send the report to the tenant. That's usually the last I hear of it. And I can do all this from my computer on my desk."
"One of the biggest problems in these types of valet operations," says Garage Manager Mario Burga, "is communicating between the cashier upstairs and the valet dispatcher, and when you have a pay-on-foot, it's even more difficult. There can easily be a mix-up; numbers are transposed. It can be chaotic. This system makes it so easy to track and retrieve cars. The ticket number appears on the screen, and we move. It's simple."
The system also tracks contract parkers, with the many different marketing programs in play at the center. There are staff who have multiple cars and are allowed only one in at a time, people who have regular parking, and those companies that have some cars that are tracked as dailies.
"Some want to be billed only for the time in the garage," says Office Manager Maria Solorzano. "We set up the cards so the system tracks them and we can print an invoice monthly of the ins and outs and charge them at the daily rate. This works great for visiting doctors to the hospital. They don't have to worry about anything, and we bill them at the end of the month."
Validations? Solorzano creates them in her office as they are ordered. The coupons are given to the parkers, and they insert them in the POF before they put in their tickets.
Realtech elected to use AVI devices that are attached to the underside of the car's license plate. "They are great; people forget they are there. We've had only one problem - David [Wilstein], my boss. His is erratic. It's Murphy's law: The boss' card doesn't work. I would rather it be his than a tenant, although I do get a lot of flak." (PT understands that Wilstein's card is now working perfectly.)
Secom International President Ted Burton has spent a lot of time at this location. "A lot of issues needed to be solved on-site. It helps the manufacturer to learn the problems firsthand and the need for an immediate solution. When I see cars backing up the street and the problem can be solved with software, we move quickly."
This high-volume location operates under extremely tight controls. The positive posting system ensures that no card is "on" unless it has been paid and automatically voids late payers. A myriad of reports provide management information both for the operator and the owner.
The IP-based communications system allows the owner to monitor his garage from anywhere there is a computer and an Internet connection.
From a management point of view, the productivity of the valets can be quickly monitored and adjusted as necessary. The owner can immediately get reports to satisfy his tenants.
"We closed the circle with this system," says Buttikofer. "We have the flexibility to handle virtually any marketing issue and the reports that answer our questions."

JVH can be reached at editor@parkingtoday.com - Secom at www.secomintl.com

Article Abstract from March, 2006




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