Ellis Will Have EParking At Its Ramp

May 14, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — It will be a technological first for the city. When monthly parkers enter the new ramp being built by the Ellis Parking Co. and Kent County next summer, they will be able to keep both hands on the wheel.

Why? Because the Ellis Parking Midtown Ramp will be the first parking facility in the region to feature hands-free access. That feature is being made possible through a company called TransCore, a product line called Amtech and a process known as AVI, which stands for automatic vehicle identification.

Ellis Parking General Manager Walt Penrose told the Business Journal that the ramp’s monthly parkers will have a tag containing a transmitter attached to their car’s windshield. When they get close to the ramp, the receiver at the entrance will pick up the signal and raise the gate.

“It’s the same system, basically, that they use on the tollway in Dallas,” said Penrose. “It’s done through a radio frequency. There is a transmitter in the card and that transmits to the receiver in the ramp.”

The Amtech system involves what TransCore calls a SmartPass Reader, AVI tags that are attached to windshields and a PC workstation and server. The reader then scans the data in the tag and transmits it to a permanent computer record. The transmission distance is adjustable and the signal can be read at different speeds. The reader requires less power than a 25-watt light bulb.

“As you’re approaching the gate, the gate will go up. You probably won’t even have to come to a complete stop,” said Michael Ellis, president of Ellis Parking.

This state-of-the-art system is, of course, more expensive than the usual parking card scanner system. But Ellis felt the extra investment was worthwhile.

“We did it for the customer’s convenience. They no longer have to roll down their windows, search for a card or worry about having left a card in another vehicle. All those inconveniences are eliminated,” he said.

“That ramp is going to be there for a long, long time and we’re trying to offer the highest level of service in all areas.”

Ellis added that monthly parkers can get another tag for their other car. So if they switch cars, they don’t have to pull the parking tag from one windshield and stick it to the other. Monthly parkers will also have their own lanes in the ramp, so they won’t have to wait in line while others pay.

Non-regular, or transient parkers, will likely gain entry to the ramp in one of two ways. They can either use the take-a-ticket method and pay when they leave, or they can buy a debit card, in any amount, from Ellis.

“It’s a pilot program that we’re going to be running for the next few months, and I think it’s going be to another feature of the new ramp,” said Ellis of the debit-card program.

“All they do is insert their card when they enter and insert it when they leave, and it will calculate for them how much of their credit they’ve used and then debit it from their account.

“The benefit there is it becomes a truly cash-less transaction,” he added. “And they will also have dedicated lanes where they won’t have to wait in line like everybody else.”

A similar debit system is in use on at least some lanes on most of metropolitan Chicago's toll roads.

The $12 million-plus ramp is also the first ever partnership between Ellis, the city’s largest private parking firm, and Kent County, which committed $3 million to its construction to meet its parking obligation for the new courthouse. The ramp will park 666 cars at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Lyon Street, a site Ellis had used for a surface lot.

The ramp will also have an enclosed entryway into the west side of the Waters Building, a premium office address at 161 Ottawa NW.

Southfield architect Richard C. Rich designed the ramp. Pioneer Construction is the project’s general contractor.

Ellis Parking is a division of the Ellis Family Trust, which handles all the firm’s real estate acquisitions and developments. Ellis Parking owns and operates facilities in Lansing, Flint and Grand Rapids.

The Ellis Parking Midtown Ramp will open by Labor Day.    

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