Magazine

High-Tech Solution to a Parking Problem

By John Van Horn

“We wanted to take advantage of the technology available, to be on the cutting edge, while at the same time solve some problems we had with our parking operation.” So says Andy Fobes of the Tampa Port Authority in discussing the port’s reasons for selecting a “chip coin” system for their cruise ship parking facility.
The port had some issues. They required cruise ships to prepay for parking, but visitors to the area’s restaurants and bars to pay on exit. They needed to track how many spaces they had available for non-cruise parkers, plus they wanted to reduce lost tickets and provide a central payment system.
“We have the capability to have up to four entry cashiers,” says Cory Hubert, General Manager for Republic Parking. “We staff the entry booths only when a cruise ship is leaving. The cashiers identify parkers as going on a ship; they prepay, and a chip coin is issued to them. They can then leave the coin in their vehicle and use it for exit when they return.
“They pay for their entire stay up front, and the coin knows it is prepaid. This saves a lot of time on exit. Other visitors pay at pay-on-foot machines in the mall area,” Hubert says.
“The cruise ships make the operation more of an ‘event mall’ with people leaving in large groups, “ adds Fobes. “This [chip coin] system virtually eliminates exit backups. The patrons love it.”
The port was looking for a system that was relatively trouble free, and the lack of moving parts with the chip coin system caught their eye. “There are a lot of moving parts in a standard system; we felt more comfortable with this one,” Hubert says. “Basically, it works on gravity.”
The technology is the same as a read/write card but in a different medium.
The port does have lost chip coins, but considerably fewer than with tickets. “We have lost 50 chips in over 60,000 customers,” Hubert says. “That’s many less than with tickets. We do charge a ‘lost chip fee’ that covers the cost of the chip coin.”
The system can be preset for each cruise and issues chips that are valid only for the length of that cruise. Non-cruise parkers receive a chip that logs their entry time and they pay (or are validated) before returning to their vehicles. There are validation units in all the shops in the mall. All exits are unstaffed.
The 2,000-space garage has up to six entries – four of which can be used for prepay cruise customers and two of which are reserved for non-cruise visitors. Signage directs parkers to the appropriate entrance.
The parking operator receives a daily inventory of just how many spaces are used by cruise customers. The system tracks the number of chip coins issued to prepay cruisers and those that have been returned. “We know exactly the availability of parking for visitors and the next cruise ship. We know when to mark the facility as full, in preparation for incoming long-term parkers.”
“Data is everything,” Hubert says. “We can enter data about non-sufficient-funds parkers (driver’s license, address, etc.) and data about handicapped parkers who are allowed to park free. This enables us to properly audit the cashiers. It’s great.”
In the event that a parker doesn’t use the pay-on-foot equipment before exiting, the cashier has a handheld cashier terminal that can read the chip and compute the fee. This abrogates the need for an expensive computerized terminal in each exit booth. The handhelds can be used as cash-only pay-on-foot, and the cashiers can be located at convenient spots throughout the mall during peak traffic times.

The chip coin equipment was supplied by Scheidt & Bachmann.

Article Abstract from September, 2008




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