New Parking Meter Gets Trial Run

May 23, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — For the past two weeks, visitors to the state building haven’t had to feed nickels, dimes or quarters into the parking meters.

Instead, they’ve been paying for their parking with bills, credit cards and debit cards.

The change — which doesn’t require parkers to carry any change — is a first for the city’s parking business, and one that might become permanent in the future if a current trial provides a satisfying result.

Parking Services is testing an Intella-Pay Payment Station for the next six months in the 16-space, city-owned lot at the corner of Michigan Street and Ionia Avenue, which is across Ionia from the state building, a primary parking site for those who have business there.

To make way for the Intella-Pay machine, which is made of 12-gauge steel and is 30 inches high, 23 inches wide and 16 inches deep, Parking Services removed 16 electronic meters from the lot.

If everything goes as planned, the payment station will be managing all 16 spaces through the middle of November.

“It’s one collection point, rather than 16 collection points,” said Barbara Singleton, the point person on the Intella-Pay trial run for Parking Services.

Expectations are high at Parking Services that their customers will warm to Intella-Pay. Why?

Because the machine accepts multiple forms of payment, dispenses a receipt, and makes change. It accepts up to a $10 bill, including the dollar coin and the rare $2 bill, and can conduct a transaction in three languages.

“We should call it ‘Pay N’ Go’ because you pay for parking and then go,” said Pam Ritsema, the city’s parking services director.

Parking Services also hopes Intella-Pay will make its operations more cost effective and efficient. The software, clearly the heart of the system, allows for real time management and auditing of transactions via the department’s PCs and the hand-held Palm Pilots issued to employees.

Singleton said revenue from the test lot has averaged about $500 per week, and that the entire metered system is worth about $1 million a year in revenue.

An Intella-Pay Payment Station sells for $25,000 and the software that runs it goes for $3,000. But Digital Pioneer Technologies Corp. of Canada is letting the city try the system for free.

“Right now, what they’re looking at is operating the equipment without the real time communications, and being able to configure the payment station and generate the reporting that show the detailed transaction information by using the software on the PC in the back end,” said Mike Rodger, director of marketing for Digital Pioneer.

Digital Pioneer has produced the current Intella-Pay since 1999. The Vancouver, British Columbia, company had three earlier versions of the machine, with the very first unattended and automatic payment station hitting the market in 1997.

The Intella-Pay Enterprise Management System lets Parking Services adjust rates, change settings, process invoices and bills, and send new information anytime. System control can be accessed from anywhere via the Internet.

Revenue management is done through the system’s Back-Office Software, which loads into Windows. Back-Office lets Parking Services create an audit trail and accept credit-card transactions. Other information from the lot, such as the most popular method of payment, can be collected and categorized.

The system’s Mobile Software loads all data onto a Palm Pilot.

Intella-Pay only has a few standard requirements — such as a Pentium 133 MHZ processor, 32 megabytes of RAM and one of four Windows operating systems — and it can also run wireless.

“What we’ve really focused on doing is to make things easy to use and provide a lot of benefit by bringing a little bit of technology to the parking world,” said Rodger.

“One of the big benefits is it has a remote alarming capability. If a machine is running out of change or if the receipt paper is getting low, then the machine can preemptively dispatch somebody to take care of that,” he added.

Rodger said Digital Pioneer has 400 Intella-Pay Payment Stations operating in all types of climates across North America, as far north as the frozen Yukon Territory and as far south as steamy Miami. Lansing, East Lansing, Kalamazoo and the University of Michigan also have the system.

The Intella-Pay that Parking Services is testing can manage up to 200 spaces, and Rodger said making that switch is as easy as entering the number of spaces into a field built in the system. The rest is updated automatically.

Digital Pioneer has its largest installation in Hempstead, N.Y., where. There, a dozen Intella-Pays manage 1,700 spaces. And soon, Rodger said, 42 Intella-Pays will manage 6,000 spaces in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“It’s just a matter of what makes the most sense for a particular location. It really depends on the situation and the number of parkers that are using the equipment,” he said.

Having the ability to add spaces to Intella-Pay is what Mayor John Logie wanted to hear. The mayor thought the city might want give the payment station a test run in a larger facility.

“There are probably some things that we’re not going to learn from Michigan and Ionia,” he said. “But this is an important test and I want feedback.”

Expanding the Intella-Pay system isn’t limited to just adding more spaces.

Rodger said city officials in Vail, Colo., were able to program different parking rates into theirs, charging residents a lower rate for parking than out-of-towners. Parking commissioners touched on that topic earlier this month when they discussed parking options for the convention center that opens in December.

“What we allowed them to do was configure a smart card that they issued to local residents on proof of residency, and the residents loaded up the smart card with how much value they wanted to use up in cash or credit card,” said Rodger of the Vail system.

“When the smart card was used for payment, the rate would change from $20 down to $4. There are a lot of things like that, that you can do to promote local business, or to help out local residents.”

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