Beverly Hills Says “YES” to Credit Cards at Meters
By John Van Horn
"This is one of the few times I have changed a technology when people actually called unsolicited to tell us how much they liked it.” So said Chad Lynn, Director of Parking Operations for the city of Beverly Hills, CA. He was speaking of the conversion of his on-street parking meters to those that accept credit cards.
“It adds a feature people are familiar with,” Lynn said. “We have multispace meters and like them – they are in our off-street locations – but there is a learning curve with them. Single-space meters are more familiar. From the customer side; they don’t hesitate to charge a dollar to a credit card any more. We have become used to it ordering small items online. It’s becoming routine.”
Lynn spoke about deployment. “There are issues. Online reporting can overwhelm the repair staff. The system reports every problem immediately. There are more than likely no more issues with these meters than any other technology, but you know about them. A standard meter might sit for a day without anyone knowing that it has a stuck coin. These meters report the problem instantly, and the staff feels they need to respond.”
But there is a reality in deployment of new technology, he said. “The more technical, the more changes there are and the more things that can go wrong, many having nothing to do with the technology. Such as the error reporting or a decrease in citation revenue. It’s something we weren’t expecting and have to adjust for it.
“Cities considering moving to this type of technology should consider that there are significant fees (communications fees, etc.). However, these are probably balanced with cost savings (not having to deal with so much coin). The system is most likely cost neutral,” Lynn said.
“After the first few weeks, we are seeing that 18% of our meter transactions are by credit card. In our off-street locations that have had credit card acceptance for some time, we have a 48% usage, amounting to 57% of the revenue.”
This revenue difference is due to what the credit card companies call an “incremental increase in spending.” If someone goes into Starbucks and orders a coffee, they might order a grande if they are paying cash; however, if they are using a credit card, they might upgrade to a venti. It’s the same with parking. Pay with cash, you may put in just the amount you think you need. Pay with a credit card, you may “top up” all the way to the max to ensure you don’t get a ticket.
There are consequences from a policy perspective, Lynn noted. “These machines may mean better compliance. People have credit cards and pay where they may not have the requisite number of quarters, particularly as the rates increase. However, this does mean a decrease in citation revenue.
From a technical aspect, Don McCall, the city’s Parking Operations Manager, commented on the rollout.
“We tested the meters two years prior to commitment,” he said. “We did rain and condensation tests, plus, (we) put them on the street to check for acceptance. We have 2,300 installed now and look to have 2,700 when the project is complete.
“We can change the rates from our central headquarters,” McCall said, “and if the meters are swapped out for maintenance, the rates stay with the new meter head installed. There is an RFID tag in the housing, and the information about that meter location is set to that tag number. When a new head is installed, it senses the space number and then downloads the specific rate parameters for that space.”
The system has features that allow it to charge only when the city charges for parking, McCall added. For instance, assume it normally charges from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and free the rest of the time. If a person puts money on the meter at 7 a.m., it will escrow that payment and start charging only at 8 a.m.
“It’s great for a person who has an early meeting,” McCall noted. “The reverse is true. It will accept payment only up to the cutoff time. If there is no parking until a certain time, then payment will not be accepted until that time.
“Let’s face it, people just don’t read signs. They see a meter and they put money in it. We have people from all over the world visiting Beverly Hills. They see a meter, they pay. Having the meter tell them when to pay is helpful.”
Vandalism? It’s down with the new meters, Lynn said; however, the rate is usually set by the type of city. “We are contracted to monitor the meters for the city of West Hollywood, just across the street from us to the east. They have a lower vandalism rate than we do. There aren’t as many visitors on a daily basis.
“We (in Beverly Hills) have a population of about 35,000 but have nearly 100,000 people visit every day. Lots of visitors mean lots of new people who may not follow the rules,” he said.
“People know there is no or not as much money in the meter. Plus, we are notified of any vandalism immediately on our BlackBerrys and can dispatch someone to the area.
“We were getting a lot of repair calls that ‘fixed’ themselves by the time we got there. We asked the supplier to install a 2-minute delay before rechecking and then reporting a problem. It greatly cut down on these issues.
“We are told we will have to replace the battery every five years or so – the meter will tell us when the battery is low. It’s charged by a solar panel in each meter.”
Time will tell the tale, said Lynn. “At first blush, this was a good decision for the city, and for our residents and visitors.”
IPS Group, Parking & Telecommunications, provided the city of Beverly Hills with the meters that accept credit cards. For more information, go to www.ipsgroupinc.com.
Article Abstract from February, 2010