What Should the End User Expect from a New Revenue Control System?
January, 2004I started working in the parking industry when money was piled in cigar boxes or paper sacks and a monthly pass was a wave and a friendly smile. In the 22 years since then, the industry has grown enormously. During that time, I have held various positions and experienced two exhaustive searches for a Parking Access and Revenue Control System (PARCS).
Searching for better methods to control our cash and monthly revenue -- and keeping our attendants and customers honest -- necessitated the purchase of our first PARC System in 1991. The success of this decision was quickly realized when daily revenues increased 34 percent.
Time marched on. In 1999, for the second time, we began a search for a new system.
Because of the enormous challenge in selecting a successful solution to meet our specific objectives, to aid in the selection of a new system, I formed a PARCS committee using experts from our company. I selected our IT director, accounting director, property management representative, daily and monthly parking operation managers, and accounts receivable clerk.
The PARCS committee identified four key objectives for a new system:
* Operational efficiencies
* User-friendly features
In 2000, a select number of committee members attended the Parking Industries Exhibition (PIE) and International Parking Institute (IPI). At PIE, PARCS vendors gave presentations on their systems and then showcased them in the exhibit hall. The IPI Conference gave us the opportunity to see systems and discover their features. Both exhibitions were excellent and invaluable to us in obtaining a better knowledge of the market.
After completing the specifications and bid process, we invited vendors to give presentations here in Salt Lake City. From there we selected a vendor short-list and conducted site visits at vendor installations that best resembled our operations. References, provided by the vendors and other sources, were called and questioned. Finally, we made a selection and requested a final presentation. That allowed us to conduct one more review and to make certain that we understood exactly what we were paying for.
In 2002, our new PARC System was installed. The new system increased operational efficiencies, offers more payment options to customers, and is expandable and flexible. What does this mean to the end user? It means increased revenue control, more payment options to help us maximize revenue, increased customer satisfaction, reduced expenses and greater reliability.
Why did we upgrade? Most if not all of the basic lane reporting features and payment methods and related system features had been included in our original more-than-decade-old system. We felt pretty good: We had selected a system 13 years before (it was designed a few years before that) that had been able to do most of the things we received in our new system. So why did we change? Aside from the age of the equipment and some maintenance issues, there was something else.
Look at the office around you and remember your office of 15 years ago. Personal computers were just appearing. The Internet was in its infancy. The use of data and information simply wasn't the same. We didn't need new features as much as we needed new ways to display and make use of them.
Not only were we looking for a more "modern look" to our equipment, and the "user-friendly" result to that "look," we also needed equipment that our staff and customers -- many of whom grew up on the Internet -- could use, manage and easily maintain.
Our downtown Salt Lake City mall parking exits were changed from five cashier lanes to four express lanes and two cashier lanes. This reduced our labor and provided many customer-payment options, which lead to greater customer satisfaction.
Operating software stores every transaction into the SQL Database. A journal report can be queried by date and time to show what occurred. This is a great auditing tool for daily and monthly transactions.
System events are reported as "sneak through alerts," "passage during manual open," "passage while barrier broken," "barrier breakage," "barrier opened manually," "passage through closed gate," "intercom activated," "power failure," "power outage," "shift started," ticket jam," and "transaction canceled." All together, it reports on 159 different events.
Recently, a "sneak through alert" message identified a problem. One customer was tailgating another through the exit. We were able to take quick action to find the vehicle and impound it. The customer paid a hefty fine.
The system will also alert us when tickets are low or out. When the tickets are replaced, the system will log the date and time, and a report can be reviewed and printed.
Before our system start up, we held tenant and merchant meetings. These focused on promoting the new system and training the tenant and merchant representatives. In turn, the tenants trained their employees and the merchants helped explain the new validation program to their customers.
Launching our new system required marketing tools to promote its changes and features. The goal was to make the transition from the previous system to the new system as seamless as possible. To accomplish this, we prepared what we called "Take One Cards." The access card and validation ticket are attached to the front of the "Take One Card." Additional information is on the back of the card, explaining and showing the customer how to use their access card or validation ticket.
Rates are user-programmable, and the operator has the ability to test the new rate before launching it. Rate changes can be programmed to be effective at a future date.
We now offer more payment methods and features:
* Credit card
* Time debit card
* Cash debit card
* Credit card in and credit card out
* Credit card on file
* Smart cards
* Automatic checking withdrawal
* Prepaid validation tickets
* Event tickets
* Convention tickets
* One-day passes
* Multiple-day passes
* Prepaid tickets
* Invoice based upon usage
We also have the option to purchase software that allows customers to make payments online and to look up their account history.
The system is flexible. If we decide to install central pay stations inside our mall, we can unplug our cashier pay stations at the exit, then plug them in at the new central pay station and go to work. If our office moves to a new location, we are able to unplug the server and workstations, then plug them in at the new location without any downtime.
The new system allows us to easily expand our operations by adding new devices. Whether it's a new parking facility or system enhancements (e.g., pay-on-foot pay stations, central cashier pay stations, or display signs that inform the customer where the available parking spaces are), adding new equipment is a snap.
"Free Parking" is not a popular phrase to use in the industry. However, when the owner requests it, we are able to program the date and time that gates are to open and close. This can be programmed for one or more facilities. The gate can also be programmed to open when the presence loop detects a vehicle.
Even the best PARC System is only as good as your preventive maintenance program. Our senior technician was completely trained and is capable of diagnosing and repairing most of the problems. The system logs the maintenance cleaning of each device. The senior technician can review the log to verify that the work is being completed as assigned. Maintenance on each device is logged for future review. This is very helpful when evaluating a device's performance and collaborating with the vendor. Like most new systems today, software maintenance can be performed by the vendor from its office. The vendor simply dials into the server and makes the necessary changes or updates.
PARC Systems have progressed substantially, and the future will only improve their capabilities. The tools provided by today's systems give the end user better operational efficiencies, better audit controls, more payment methods and features to increase revenues, the flexibility for future expansion and changes, and reliability when backed up by a solid maintenance program.
Jeff Shaw is Head of Parking at Zions Securities in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.