Parking Made E-Z
From Maine to Florida, from Illinois to Texas and California, the transponder-based collection system has become synonymous with the fast and hassle-free way to pay for tolls.
However, less-well-known is the combination toll/parking system that allows customers who have a credit card associated with their account to pay for parking at suitably equipped facilities.
The first parking facility at which that feature was deployed in the Northeast was at Albany (NY) International Airport in November 2001, nearly 10 years ago. Since then, it has been deployed at numerous parking facilities across the country.
Compared to the toll system itself, the add-on feature has been slow to catch on in the parking industry. Of the nine facilities that accept it, six are owned or operated by major toll agencies. So, only three parking operators felt the need or desire to deploy this interesting feature.
There are several reasons for this lack of interest – some valid, some less so.
Never heard of it – Many people in the region have never heard of this add-on feature. Other than a short mention on their websites, the toll agencies have historically not advertised it nor have they sought out parking operators to implement it.
Don’t know how to get started – In the same vein as the people who are unfamiliar with parking using a transponder-based system, those parking operators that have heard of the solution often do not know whom to contact regarding the product and services. There is no actual company called E-ZPass (in the Northeast), SunPass (Florida), TollTag (Texas) or FasTrak (California). These are names used by the toll companies to market and brand their systems and are simply a trademark they use to indicate they are part of a group that supports this interoperable toll system.
Can be expensive to install – It’s true that these systems can sometimes cost more to install than other transponder-based payment systems. For proper operation, antennas must be mounted above the center-line of the lane, as opposed to some side-fire systems that are installed on the side of the lane. This requires appropriate overhead structures on which to mount the antennas (a cost that can be mitigated if an overhead structure, appropriate for antenna mounting, already exists). Several innovative techniques have been developed to mount the equipment in a very cost-effective manner. Also, from a start-up cost perspective, the system as a form of payment is similar to many other revenue control systems that offer credit cards as a method of payment.
Operating costs – Transaction fees with this system are similar to many credit card agreements. Just as a parking operator is willing to accept per-transaction fees on credit cards, they have to be prepared to accept similar fees for these systems.
Of course, the main question is – with installation and transaction costs, why bother? The answers are varied:
Speed – Depending on the deployment, these transactions can often be faster than a pre-paid ticket transaction. Customers can bypass pay-on-foot machines and go straight to their cars. Upon exiting the lot, the transponder is validated using a local “whitelist,” which allows the validation to take place in less than 1/10th of a second.
Cost savings – In comparison with pay-on-foot machines, there is no cash to handle, no kiosk machines to maintain, no jamming, and virtually no paper (depending on installation). Savings over attendant/staffed lanes, especially during off-peak hours when there is little-to-no exit activity, may be substantial.
Convenience – Toll customers experience the ultimate in convenience when paying tolls. No stopping to pay a toll, no fumbling for cash, online access to view and maintain accounts, and a consolidated statement of all their toll activity. Non-toll customers enjoy most of the same benefits. They don’t have to worry about having cash on hand, and all their parking activity is reflected on their statement.
Customer service – The system enjoys extremely high customer satisfaction. A 2010 study by MTA Bridges and Tunnels in the Tri-State Area found that 94% of customers are satisfied or very satisfied. Adding this feature to a parking facility provides customers another option for making payments.
The combination toll/commercial parking system is a viable adjunct to any existing parking revenue control system. Deploying it at your parking facility can facilitate throughput, increase revenue control and improve the overall customer experience.
To ensure a successful deployment, make sure your vendors and consultants are experienced not only with transponder-based fee payments, but also with these commercial systems themselves.
Armed with this knowledge and experience, they can help you navigate the world and the various toll agencies that manage it.
Michael Kolb, a Principal at Traffic Technologies Inc. (TTI), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His company supports some of the largest tolling agencies in the U.S., and has been involved in every E-ZPass Plus installation to date. For more information, go to www.t-t-i.com.