Event Parking Gets Makeover with New Technology
By Jeffrey T. Becker
Think back just a few years. You’re on your way to a football game and what do you see? Parking attendants all wearing aprons with big pockets on the front. As you pull up, they rip a two-part ticket in half, throw one stub on the dash and jam the other in a pocket, along with your $20 bill. Just down the row, season ticket holders flashing parking passes are directed to their spaces.
A supervisor runs a visual check to see that every car has a stub or pass. After the game has started, the attendants go back to the office, where an auditor tries to reconcile the tickets and the cash and the passes. But all too often the number of transactions didn’t equal the number of spaces in the facility, even though all the lots are full.
The demands of parking at a major event such as a concert or a ballgame can be daunting. Huge crowds converging from every direction. VIPs and season pass holders jockeying for their preferred spaces. Multiple lanes and lots with dozens of attendants doing their best to collect the money and get people parked.
Managing a situation like this can be a nightmare. There are just too many ways the process can break down. Facility owners have gone to great lengths to try to get a better handle on their event parking.
One approach is to use more people. More supervisors keeping an eye on the attendants, trying to verify that every vehicle gets accounted for. There have even been stories of facilities putting “auditors” on rooftops or even in helicopters all in the hopes of getting accurate counts that match the cash turned in.
A lot is at stake, to be sure, but at the same time, facilities are under increasing pressure to control staff costs.
Improving the experience for the customer
“Generally speaking, the No. 1 complaint from fans at sporting events is parking,” said Bill Squires, Past President of the Stadium Managers Association.
What can you do to provide an excellent customer experience to your suite holder, season ticket holder, contributing alumni or average fan? How can you lessen the need for cash-handling for your fans as they enter the stadium so they can spend more on concessions and souvenirs?
As happens so often, developments in technology bring new solutions to problems. Remember what happened in the world of off-street parking? Years ago, facilities were run by an entry lane ticket dispenser that time-stamped a piece of paper. That was then stamped by a time clock on exit, and the cashier was left to calculate the fee in his head. Now we have tickets with data encoded in a magnetic stripe and fees calculated automatically by computers and pay-on-foot stations.
We’re poised for a similar revolution in event parking. Great advances have been made in mobile computing technology, and the costs of cellular and other wireless communications have decreased dramatically. Innovative companies are incorporating these mobile computing devices into a sophisticated revenue control system.
Expanding their current product offerings, manufacturers are answering the call for the ability to monitor and audit game-day activities with the same detail as your traditional ticket dispenser, pay-on-foot, fee-computer locations.
One key development is the advent of wireless handheld devices with integrated card-swipe and bar-code readers. This allows the facility to implement a pre-paid parking program using a bar-code that can be read in the lane, which has benefits for customer and owner/operator.
The customer no longer has to worry about where to park; they have a reserved spot in Lot 1. They do not have to spend $30 cash for parking and can use that money elsewhere in the facility. A businessperson can provide the pass to his client or patrons can buy the pass online with their tickets and print them at home.
For the operator/owner, you have your funds upfront. If there happens to be a no-show, you can resell the space. Transaction time is reduced to less than 10 seconds. You can plan staffing levels based on your pre-paid sales, or you could even incorporate express automated lanes for the pre-paid pass holder, which allows you to reduce staffing.
Minimize shrinkage and improve auditing
Another huge step forward made possible by these technological advancements is the ability to accept credit cards in the lane, even if that lane is in the middle of a grass field. Cash handling costs money in many ways, and while there are service fees associated with credit card transactions, these are easily outweighed by a number of benefits. Credit card transactions are automatically and reliably recorded, making reconciliation and auditing much easier. You also can dramatically reduce the staff and time needed to count the cash and close out the shift.
Accepting credit cards is a good first step toward minimizing shrinkage, and real-time counts are the next logical audit tool to implement. The ability to accurately count both transactions and lane activity is essential to true auditing. Today’s wireless handhelds can integrate seamlessly into your overall parking management system, giving you up-to-the-minute reporting throughout your facility.
Inform the customer
Another great way to provide a better customer experience is to enhance your web site with an interactive map with suggested routes to parking facilities. Keep it updated and take into consideration any construction that may be occurring on the way to your complex. You also can show alternate routes to help alleviate congestion.
The same interactive map can show up-to-the-minute counts on how many spaces are available for the event. Showing the number of available spaces lets your patrons alter their route to a parking facility with plenty of room, which means more satisfied customers and less aggravation.
Contact your local DOT or highway department and see if they will allow you to interface into the roadway signs so that they can direct traffic to the most efficient route based on the current facility capacity levels. This will help decrease congestion and get the vehicles off the highways and streets and into parking facilities faster and with fewer issues.
Different parker groups
You may have a number of different parker groups at every event – pay-on-entry, pre-paid and VIP. What is the most efficient manner to handle each of these groups, achieve an excellent customer experience, and bring them back the next time?
Use the technology that is available. Provide information as soon as possible, and in as many formats as possible. And work with a professional to design your system to be able to do all this easily and effectively.
Remember that parking is your customer’s first and last experience when they are visiting your facility. Make sure they are good ones.
Jeffrey Becker, Vice President of Vertical Markets for Amano McGann, can be contacted at Jeff.Becker@AmanoMcGann.com.
Article Abstract from March, 2010