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I Don't Get It!!!

Editor, Parking Today:
I don't get it!!! I am throwing down the glove and challenging what seems to be an acceptable and growing application in our industry of employing "automated pay-at-exit" (APE) machines.
APEs are those boxes finding their way to exit lanes offering patrons the ability to pay for their parking privileges at the time they exit the facility - machines that accept credit cards, transient tickets and currency to satisfy the computed parking fee without the benefit of an exit cashier.
It all sounds great, except for the currency part. As far as I'm concerned, APEs are a formula for disaster.
There have been a number of articles published regarding locations that have deployed this type of lane device, but I have yet to see any empirical data that support the original objective being achieved. The silence on that side of the equation is deafening!
I was very comfortable in not addressing this type of application for several interconnected reasons, all of which I assembled in four classifications: Customer Convenience/ Experience, Operational Efficiency, Cost of Operations and Business Risk.
Customer Convenience/Experience: For years, the most widely accepted paradigm of parking was to pursue repeat customers - simply ensure that the Customer Experience was a non-event. This was typically measured by the patron's ease of entry; finding a location close to the his or her visitation objective; quick and easy payment options for the services used by the patron; and unimpaired egress from the parking facility.
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, all of the global manufacturers of off-street parking and revenue control systems applied available technology, along with designing the application of technology into machine-readable prepay (and pay-on-foot) systems. These systems offered a wide variety of pay options with an eye to patron accommodation. For the most part, they did a good job, as evidenced by the systems we see across the country in urban parking operations, medical centers, municipalities and airports. But one of the major elements of these designs and deployments has been the variety of payment methods offered, as well as moving the payment transaction away from the entry and exit locations to central cashiering and pay-on-foot machines. APEs now take us back to the exit cashiering of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. While the automated nature of APEs offers payment options, it burdens patrons with a delayed exit, along with the fact that patrons arriving at exits must wait for patrons ahead of them to satisfy their parking payment obligations and complete the transaction.
Operational Efficiency: Now I could be wrong, but at the end of the day, lot turnover (among other things) was, and still is, a metric all operations use to measure operational efficiency. It starts with entry and exit lane throughput - a ratio result, based on lane capability (capacity) and actual throughput realized. The integration of APEs in any lot design goes against everything we've learned from the past 50 years of design experience. They are dependent on patron experience, preparation and agility. As long as parking operations must provide the currency payment option, APEs must accommodate the receipt and dispensing of currency notes and coins. I am not aware of any credible and/or documented study that demonstrates that pay-at-exit by unsupervised patrons offers any form of exit throughput
efficiency.
Cost of Operations: It's interesting to note that on the surface, APEs represent an unattended (no cost of a cashier) exit. Further, one can multiply the number of exit lanes equipped with APEs to calculate the raw savings of cashier wages and applicable rollup along with relief cashiers for breaks, absences and vacations, etc. But not usually addressed are the actual costs involved with the placement of APEs. We need to be aware of the original capital cost of the APE, its cost of installation and maintenance (as a piece of equipment), including the maintenance of currency and receipts multiplied by the number of lanes where APEs are installed. As long as they accommodate the acceptance and dispensing of currency, the limited currency bank inherent to APEs will mandate frequent service of currency components, along with adding undue strain on cash-room operations and auditing.
Business Risk: While it's true that business is inherently risky, unnecessarily increasing business risk makes no sense. Forcing patrons to pay at an automated station at the exit while negotiating a vehicle through a restricted lane is incredible - or is it stupid? Demographics alone would dictate that not all patrons are created equal - mentally, physically or in their combined experience. To assume that the occasional distraction or confusion with vehicle direction, accelerator and brake will not appreciably increase the risk of business is simply wrong. APEs, on the surface, simply increase risk of property damage and bodily injury. As many of your readers know, the risk of property damage and/or bodily injury can be managed. It's the cost of defending against these claims that is so very expensive and distracting.
From where I sit, APEs do not offer enhanced customer convenience or experience when compared with other proven designs. They negate operational efficiency designed into any operation at the exit lane - imagine that if the time it took a customer to exit a parking facility after a game or event tripled or quadrupled, the customer would never park at that facility again. It is equal to or - as I would argue - more costly to operate. It (exponentially) increases business risk in an area that management has the least capability to manage: that is, the patron's ability to handle currency in the lane. In the end, I don't get it!
To me, APEs represent four steps back to the '50s, '60s and '70s. So how do the decision-makers of this industry find their way to support this backward trend?
This trend, I'd argue, threatens the viability of the entire parking industry. If the industry is a group of experts in parking control and management, and we force nearly every transaction to happen in the exit lane, we look like operational efficiency idiots, not experts. We have invested years into changing every parking customer's thinking to "pay first, then exit."
If the industry backpedals this late in the game in response to "change reluctance" by a few, rather than responding to true operational enhancements and needs, our industry's viability, along with our investment in education to change customer behavior over the past 15 years, is erased.

Thomas H. Rollo
Senior Executive Vice President
Skidata Inc.

PT the Auditor comments on this letter - see PT the Auditor

Article Abstract from May, 2006




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