Thursday, February 28, 2002

You still pay ... just not a cashier

Newport parking garage to become automated

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The first fully automated “cashier-less” parking payment system in Greater Cincinnati will be fully operational this summer when all the entertainment venues are open at Newport on the Levee.

        Central Parking System, which operates several parking garages in Cincinnati including the Central Trust Center, Chiquita Center and Fountain Place as well as the 2,000-car parking garage at Newport on the Levee, is already using the system — known as Express Exiting — on a limited basis at the Levee.

        The Express Exiting system permits visitors to the Levee who have parked in the garage to pay for the parking before they return to their vehicle, at any of three locations near the elevators where machines have been installed. The machines read the parking ticket, accept either cash or credit card payment, and encode the ticket so it will open the barrier gates at the garage exit.

        There will be no attendant at the exit.

        “Right now, we have cashiers working the (two) ticket booths at the exits, so people using the parking garage can either use the automated system or pay the cashier as they leave,” Central Parking's senior project manager Andy Barlow said. “But we hope to have a cashier-less operation by June.”

        Mr. Barlow said that while the system is new to the Greater Cincinnati area, “it is widely used in Europe and has been very well-accepted. It's the same as the system at the Columbus (Ohio) airport, which is also operated by Central Parking. But at the airport there are no pay-on-foot locations, only from vehicles.”

        He said a similar system has also been in use at the Indianapolis airport for the last couple years.

        Ted Bushelman, communications director at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, said the airport administration is looking at possibly installing some pay-on-foot machines in the terminal that would allow visitors to pay for their parking before they got to their car.

        “But we don't want to do without cashiers,” Mr. Bushelman said. “For us to remain a No.1-rated airport, we have to have people dealing with our visitors and flyers. We would not remove the cashiers from the parking booths.”

        Genine Drodz, who handles public relations and communications for the Levee and Newport Aquarium, said her office has not received any complaints since the new system and pay-on-foot machines began operation last month.

        “So far, about 30 percent of the people using the parking garage have used the new payment system before they go to their car,” she said. She said Levee management was not releasing figures on how many people park in the garage.

        The system works like this:

        • You receive a ticket when you enter the garage.

        • When you are ready to leave, you can go to one of three locations where you can insert the parking ticket into a machine that will tell you how much you owe. The machines are programmed to consider special parking discounts such as one-hour free parking for aquarium visitors.

        • When the fee is paid, either with cash, credit or debit card, the ticket is encoded with the proper information and returned to the visitor. There is a 20-minute grace period from the time your ticket is returned until you must exit the garage. If a patron dawdles on the way back to the car for say, 21 minutes, the gate won't open, and they have to pay for an additional hour

        • Upon leaving, the ticket is inserted in a slot at the exit gate, and the gate is lifted. The machine at the gate retains the ticket.

        “You also have the option of paying as you leave the garage, in case you left your ticket in the car,” Mr. Barlow said. “But at the exit gate, you can only pay with a credit card.”

        He said Levee employees have been passing out informational fliers as people enter the garage, and signs and fliers are posted in other areas of the Levee complex to educate visitors about the parking system.

        “If they use the system as it is intended, it should be very smooth,” Mr. Barlow said.

        Some places that have instituted cashier-less parking have not had such a smooth ride, however. When State College, Pa., a city of about 60,000 in Central Pennsylvania, put in a cashier-less system in one of its major municipal parking lots, there was confusion, public outrage, and gate-crashing by confused and trapped patrons, city council meeting records show.

        The municipality's city council, in the end, had to rehire the parking lot attendant position it sought to downsize in order to provide assistance to people trying to use the machine and to let people out in emergencies. So, public funds continued paying the cashier's salary, but also had to to pay for the already-installed technology, which had been bid.

        Mr. Barlow said that Central Parking has no immediate plans to incorporate the Express Exiting system at any of the Cincinnati garages.

        “The technology is good, but it requires specific applications and design for the garage to be most effective,” he said. “The Newport on the Levee garage is a better fit than some of the downtown garages.”


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- You still pay ... just not a cashier