Monthly Parking, Attendant, Coin-Box, Automated Pay Station-Which One?

Which pay parking collection method to use on surface lots and garages has always been a source of debate. Each new technology promises tamper proof 100% compliance and accountability. Each new technology claim is proved incorrect shortly thereafter.

What Matters?
Parking rates, the amount of turnover traffic, and the cost of your collections all play varying roles of importance. To a lesser extent, customer service and security can be considered.

For example, parking rates and revenues generated must be higher to afford expensive technology or staffed locations. Automated Pay Stations can cost $15-$20,000 or more in some cases, and the cost of parking attendant payroll is ongoing. Unless the rates are sufficiently high and there is a high turnover of the parking spaces, you might get the machine paid off about the time it’s worn out. As for an attended location, unless you can generate an additional $25-$30,000 a year in revenue because of the attendant, you will essentially be trading dollars by the time you pay for wages, benefits, taxes, uniforms, etc. Monthly parking is a relatively low cost collection method but the revenue per space will be the low compared to other collection methods. Coin-boxes continue to have their place as a simple and yet reasonably effective collection method. They are labor intensive but also are a fraction of the cost of automated equipment.

It eventually comes down to a cost benefit analysis comparing the cost of your collections to the impact that has on revenues. You can move the cost side by simply pricing the various collection methods. Moving the revenue side, including stopping revenue slippage, takes experience and skill that can be brought on by having an experienced parking operator.

What REALLY Matters? 
It eventually comes down to parking management. It doesn’t matter what kind of collection method or equipment you use, no matter how sophisticated, the process must still be managed. And it goes beyond simply knowing the right rate structures and marketing the location.

We’ve seen times in our experience when parking lot attendants took money by manipulating tickets. After expensive parking control equipment was installed and everyone walked away thinking they had stopped the slippage, the attendant figured it all out and still could take money. Coin-Boxes, monthly parking, and automated pay stations can all likewise be beaten or abused if not managed. I had scores of automated pay stations in my region at one time and it took us about a week to figure out how to beat them. No system is fool-proof.

Many parking control systems are good and we use them in many of our locations as very helpful management tools. However, when parking operators rely on systems instead of active management, they end up with kids that can’t do math if their calculator batteries are low or folks that cannot recall anyone’s telephone number because it’s in their cell phone.

There are those in Little Rock now that are touting automated pay stations for their accountability and further stating that coin-boxes are rife with theft. There are many layers where accountability can be compromised. Customers, lot checkers, Supervisors, money-count room, office clerical and keyboarding all have potential for slippage, regardless of what equipment you have.

We have layers of cross checking from Jeff and me on down to the maintenance staff. Lot checkers do not have access to the revenue. Supervisors have access and clear the revenue. The money-count room is video recorded and employs an entirely separate group. Jeff and I do tail-pipe check and review daily revenue sheets and maintain a host of other cross-checks and procedures. We can generally tell when a location moves $5 one way or another. And we do this from experience (we both started out as parking lot attendants) and we do this because we have operated all kinds of revenue collection equipment. In the final analysis, regardless of what kind of revenue collection system you utilize, you still have to get customers to park on the lot, collect the money, get the money in the bank and account for it. That takes parking management experience and skill.

So always remember, when any parking related company touts its equipment as air-tight and completely fool-proof and 100% accountable, those claims need to be translated. What they’re really saying is that they lack genuine hands-on parking management experience and that they would rather sell you something than get into the middle of the situation, roll up their sleeves and manage it.

— David