Learning the system
by Jeff Mortimer
After 200 permit parkers moved from Liberty Square to the new Library Lane garage last year, the Downtown Development Authority reopened Liberty Square for hourly parking. But as the change rippled through its computer payment system, evening patrons embarked on a learning curve that some of them still haven't mastered.
Customers entering after 3 p.m. on weekdays or any time Saturday still owe $3 but now they have a multitude of options for when and where to pay: as they enter; at machines in the elevator lobbies on Washington and Liberty streets; or as they exit. Whichever they choose, instead of simply breezing through an open gate to leave, drivers now have to stop and insert either their credit card or a payment receipt into a "verifier" in order to get the gate to lift, and that often creates backups at the exit.
Since it operates without an attendant, Liberty Square had no one to explain the new system. So "we up-staffed what we call utility ambassadors [people who are on call to assist with mechanical problems or confused customers] to explain to folks the initial transition," says Art Low, district/general manager for Republic Parking, which manages the system for the DDA.
That was in August, and while Low says "we're getting closer to the projected staffing levels that we anticipated after the rollout of the new equipment," the job isn't over. "For the most part, our daily transient business, folks who are there during business hours, are repeat customers," Low says. "They're learning the system. Where we do have challenges is the nighttime crowd, people who may come down two or three times a year. That's when we tend to up-staff. There are times when we have two ambassadors, one going between the two elevator lobbies and one at the verifier."
If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. "We have done more than what is typically done in a private garage," notes Low, who joined Republic in late 2011. "They just put the equipment in and let people learn."
[Originally published in April, 2013.]