The Case of the Mysterious Sudden Drop in Revenue
In this, the start of a continuing feature in Parking Today, we introduce a new
character in our cast of parking sleuths: DC McGuire. A former FBI auditor, DC also
has worked in parking operations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. He has been kind enough to chronicle some of his cases for Parking Today. Some say DC bears a striking resemblance to Larry Donoghue. -- Editor
And now for today's training session.
Mr. Owner of the River Street Garage hired me for some police work. For some reason, the transient revenue at the garage had dropped abruptly recently, and he couldn't figure out what was causing it. Laddie boy, when you get a case like this, you have to ask a lot of questions to find the answer.
First off, I ask him, "How has your occupancy been at peak time?"
He quickly replies, "We fill up every day by about 11:30 a.m. and stay full until about 1:30 p.m.
"Then," say I, "your number of vehicles using the garage hasn't dropped off?"
"Nope," says he. "The number of tickets issued every day averages out about the same as it was before the revenue dropped so suddenly."
"OK," say I, "then we have to look for the problem at the exit."
"Yeah," says Mr. Owner. "That's what I thought you'd say."
"OK, have you hired any new employees?"
"Yup, I got me a new cashier, and he's a real bargain. He never needs relief breaks and always works straight through the lunch hour. I've saved a lot of money on the relief cashier payroll, thanks to him. He's a real slick-looking dude. He makes snappy talk with all the young nurses from the Doctors Office Building across the street from the garage."
"Let's go over and take a look at the garage."
"Yup," he says, "and you can meet my new cashier; he just came on duty. I wish all the others were like him. He gets to work every day 10 to 15 minutes early, always is in full uniform, with his hair slicked back. He makes a sharp appearance. I wish more of my employees would adopt his work habits."
When we get to the garage, Mr. Owner takes me over to meet the new cashier. Well, I tell you, he was a sharp dresser. That red bow tie really made his face light up. Mr. Owner says, "Sly, I want you to meet a friend of mine. Sly Fox, meet Mr. McGuire. He's into police work."
"Glad to meecha, Mr. McGuire," says Sly. I don't let on I'm on a case.
"Explain to me," I ask, "what does a cashier do in the booth all day long?"
He goes into great detail telling me the procedures for taking the patron's tickets, inserting them into the reader/printer and ringing up the transaction. I watch him handle several transactions and then ask him if I could get into the booth and watch a little closer. I really didn't need to watch his procedures any longer. I'm a fast learner, Laddie. I really wanted to see the inside of the booth.
Once inside, I keep asking questions: "What this?" "What's that?"
He really knows the business; he answers each question quickly and correctly. Finally, my eye lands on a gray metal door along the wall, under the counter. "What's that?"
He quickly tells me, correctly: "That's the electrical switch box."
"Show me how it works," I ask, casually. Quick as a wink, he bends down under the counter and pops the door open, exposing about six or eight circuit breakers.
I ask him what the circuit breakers control. He tells me they control the booth air conditioner and heater, all the revenue control equipment, and the booth interior lighting. I then pretend to test the door lock and the light switches. I compliment him on his knowledge about cashier procedures and the booth accessories.
As Mr. Owner and I leave the garage, he says, "Didn't I say Sly was a top employee?"
"Tell me, when did he come to work for you?" I ask. "Was it about the time the revenue started
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, it coincides exactly with when I hired him."
"Yup," say I. "You really don't want your other employees to adopt his work habits because he's probably the reason for your sudden drop in revenue."
"Why do you say that?" asks Mr. Owner.
"Mr. Owner, I'm now going to tell you what he was doing. Inside that electrical panel box, one of the circuit breakers controls power to the barrier gate. Periodically, after he rings up a transaction, he tells the patron: "Please don't move your vehicle. I have to check something." He then stoops down in the booth, opens the metal door to the panel box, flips off the circuit breaker for the power to the barrier gate, closes the metal door, pops back up and tells the patron: "Everything is OK. Now you can drive out."
When the patron drives out the exit lane, I explain, the barrier gate doesn't close. It can't because the power has been turned off. Sly then leaves the power off and serves the following patrons one at a time. In each case, he collects the proper fee, and then waves the patrons out without ringing up a transaction. There is no need to ring up a transaction because the gate is already open. Sly Fox then fraudulently pockets their parking fees.
Mr. Owner thanks me profusely for my quick sleuthing and tells me, "Send me your bill, or would you rather have me get you a wee dram at the local pub?"
"No drink," say I. "My wedding anniversary is coming up, and I promised the Missus I'd treat her to that new restaurant on Seventh Street."
So, Laddie boy, the lesson to be learned here is that if there is an electrical panel in a cashier booth, the door for the panel box should be of the type that has a lock built into it. That way, only a parking supervisor or manager has access to the circuit breakers. Of course, some of the newer systems actually track power on and off so you can see the problem on your reports. My guess is, however, that most parking operations don't have that feature and a good lock on the electrical box takes care of the problem.
Oh, if the evening staff needs access to the circuit breakers when the managers are off, simply put the key to the box in a sealed envelope. If the envelope is open in the morning, there had better be a very good explanation.