In recent years, many airports have responded to parking shortages by developing larger parking structures. In fact, many of the biggest new parking facilities have been built at airports, including huge new structures at Detroit Metro and Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. This is a trend that will continue as airports look for ways to better serve travelers, according to parking consultant Richard A. Rich.
The advantages of larger parking structures are obvious: they can accommodate more travelers and they can generate more revenue. However, at the same time, the larger a parking structure is, the more difficult it can be to manage. Huge influxes of entering and exiting vehicles can lead to long delays as cars queue, which can in turn lead to very frustrated travelers and administrative headaches for airport managers.
Many airports have found a solution to this challenge in cashier-less technologies such as pay-on-foot and automatic vehicle identification (AVI). By permitting the reduction - or even elimination - of cashier booths, they can significantly reduce queuing times for exiting drivers. Cashier-less tools can also enhance security by reducing the risk of robbery or employee theft by minimizing the amount of money that staff handles.
Additionally, there are a number of new software products that dramatically improve operational efficiency. These tools can make parking more cost-effective because they permit better management of parking facilities, often with fewer staff.
One of the most common, and useful, cashier-less tools is pay-on-foot technology. With pay-on-foot, machines are provided (usually at pedestrian entry/exit points) for patrons to pay for parking in return for an exiting (validated) ticket. That ticket is then used at the exit gate. This process is significantly less time-consuming than having to pay a cashier at the exit. To accommodate parkers who have difficulty operating pay-on-foot machinery, some airports also offer a centrally located staffed cashier's booth where patrons can pay for parking or receive assistance before returning to their vehicles.
Similarly, credit card reader systems also speed up the exiting process. Parking patrons swipe their cards upon entering, and then repeat the process when they exit. The readers automatically compute the length of stay and associated cost, and then directly charge the credit card.
As beneficial as these cashier-less technologies can be, however, they aren't the right answer for every airport parking facility. The most common drawback is that cashier-less parking sometimes causes confusion among parking patrons. For instance, parkers who are unfamiliar with pay-on-foot sometimes ignore the machines, intending to pay for parking at the facility's exit. This can lead to lengthy and frustrating tie-ups at exits as staff (if there even is staff) scramble to collect parking fees and get outbound traffic moving again.
Another common mistake parkers make in pay-on-foot garages is paying as soon as they park their cars. When they are ready to go home, they find themselves unable to leave the parking facility because they have exceeded the grace period for exiting. This can also lead to tie-ups at exits, and if the parking facility has only one exit lane it can be disastrous. In the worst case scenario, the lane has to be remotely opened and the parking charge not collected.
Even structures that are completely cashier-less, particularly large ones, should consider staffing parking areas with customer service representatives who can answer patron's questions or help them use payment equipment properly. Staff should also be in place to deal with any equipment breakdowns that may occur.
Finally, for some existing structures, the cost of converting to a cashier-less approach may be prohibitive. In addition to replacing cashier booths with exit verifiers, it may also be necessary to add and re-stripe lanes and re-pour islands at entry and exit points. The costs of these changes, as well as the cost of pay-on-foot or other cashier-less technologies, can be high and a changeover may not be practical for all parking owners.
While cashier-less parking isn't the answer for every airport parking facility, in the right situation it can provide enormous benefits. It can be a terrific tool for making parking more efficient, customer-friendly, and profitable. And in markets where airports compete with satellite lots for parking dollars, it can provide a competitive advantage by appealing to parkers who want to be able to enter and exit parking quickly, safely, and conveniently.