Everything these days seems to be web-based. You use your Internet browser to do everything, whether it’s sending an e-mail or viewing a movie. If it’s “web-based,” it’s the cat’s pajamas.
A number of companies have created applications that use the internet to validate parking in off-street locations. What are the benefits? How can these help? Let’s explore some of the ways.
Virtual validation works like this:
The parking revenue control system must be fully online and real-time. Bar-coded parking tickets are issued at the entry gate. The driver takes the ticket to the office or store that would issue the validation, and it then either scans the ticket using a bar-code scanner or enters the number into a browser-based program.
This validation program is run by means of “cloud computing.” That is, it is run on a central server connected by the Internet to each company that has purchased validations and to the parking control equipment in the building in question.
The local computer sends the validation and ticket information to the central system, which deducts the validation amount from the validator’s account and then tells the parking control equipment that the ticket has been validated. The parking control equipment then either lets the ticket out if it were a 100% validation or refigures the rate and charges the appropriate lower amount.
But all this is just the beginning. The central program is actually a complex accounting program that tracks validations a customer has purchased; ensures only the appropriate validations are put on the right tickets; and logs each transaction so the customer and the facility owner can know exactly who is validating and how much.
When talking to the application suppliers, you find the world of validations can get murky.
Parking operators sell validation stamps for cash. Stamps can be lost, over-used or forgotten. Each of these problems for the customer can be a boon for the operator. They don’t set out to take advantage of the customer, but these facts all benefit the operator and hence the facility owner.
Many times the receptionist, say, or person validating the ticket will put more stamps on the ticket than necessary. That costs the tenant money.
Parking Today was told the story of a large law firm that validated parking in a huge complex in Los Angeles. It spent thousands a month on validations. The firm knew that they were out of control but didn’t know what to do about it.
A virtual validation program that tracks each validation and provides a log of each transaction allowed this law firm customer to audit validation usage and reduce costs by 40%. Good news for them, but maybe not so good for the building owner.
The application designers had to take the needs of the owners into account. Many ask that validations not be sold as money but as individual stamps. If a customer runs out of, say, one-hour validations, they must use all-day ones until they replenish the supply. The program must be flexible enough to take into account these real-world situations.
“One of the major benefits of this type of (validation) system,” says Tim Flanagan of Sentry Control Systems in Sun Valley, CA, supplier of an application called E-Val, “is that every building is already wired. Each office has high-speed Internet in and ready to go. Installing hard-wired validators can be costly.
“In addition, there is no software to install locally,” he says. “If you have an Internet browser, you can begin immediately to validate tickets. USB handheld bar-code scanners are very inexpensive, and if the number of tickets being validated is low, the customer can forgo the scanner and simply enter the ticket number into the browser screen.”
So-called data mining is another benefit of a virtual validation system. Hospitals, for example, can get “where they went and how long they stayed” information. However, other types of organizations may find this information a little too “Big Brother” and request that the data kept be limited. “You have to be cognizant of your customer and know their needs and desires when you present the features,” Flanagan adds.
This validation system is a real benefit to the operator, most say. The tenant can order validation stamps and have them immediately. There is no need to buy, inventory and deliver the stamps. “I know a location in Los Angeles where one person spent half their time delivering validation stamps all over the six-building campus,” he says.
As hardware catches up with the software, handheld devices such as BlackBerrys and PDAs can become validation machines. Many have built-in bar-code scanners and Internet browsers. A building manager could validate tickets as he walks around the facility, each validation tracked and logged.
“Despite efforts to remind customers with well-placed signage, there will still be customers who forget to bring their tickets with them, notes Jeff Vandeford, of Innovative Parking Concepts, another company that has provided an application called VAL-eeze, “the tenant also has the option to print the validation from their office printer (with their account being debited the same amount as if they scanned customer’s ticket). The parker then applies discount by scanning this serialized barcode at the exit devices, which are equipped with third-party barcode scanners.”
Validation programs can cause conflict between tenant, operator and building management. When approaching each of them, their particular desires must be known, Flanagan says.
The building manager wants to provide excellent service to his tenants. The more technology that can be brought to bear on certain costly issues such as parking validation, the better for the manager.
The tenant may not understand the issues of validation. They are used to simply buying stamps and putting them on tickets. They often don’t understand the problems of over-validating or the costs involved in running out of one-hour stamps and using all-day stamps instead.
The operator is concerned about all of the above, plus the fact that they, and the ownership, benefit when validation stamps are lost or when a well-meaning but unknowing receptionist over-validates a parking ticket.
The companies providing virtual systems need to be aware of all these issues and tread carefully in the minefield that can be parking validations.
Tim Flanagan is President of Sentry Control Systems in California. He can be reached through www.sentrycontrol.com.
Jeff Vandevort is CEO of Innovative Parking Concepts in Georgia. He can be reached through www.ipcusa.com.
John Van Horn is the editor of Parking Today. firstname.lastname@example.org.