Airport NL 0415, Article_Pay_in_Lanes

Pay in Lanes: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Many folks have asked should I use a Pay in Lane devices. Most every manufacture today supplies a form of Pay in Lane device, however I would caution you before using them. A Pay in Lane is usually defined as a device that will read a parking ticket, or coupon, calculate your fee, display it to you and then take either notes, coin and credit cards to accommodate that fee before letting you out of the parking facility. These devices are placed in the actual exit lane and interfaced to a barrier gate. My issue with Pay in Lane devices is not the mechanics or the electronics, the issue is how people interface with these machines from a driver’s window.

These devices are off shoots of Pay on Foot stations. Like Pay on Foot stations, they come in all shapes and configurations. Some dispense notes and coins. Some just coins. If you like a pocket full of coins, this may be a good option. As compared to Pay on Foot stations their features vary considerably more as many suppliers have entered this market, therefore their price can vary drastically from very low to high, this naturally will impact the overall quality and feature set they provide. Pay in Lanes come in many forms, many of which are rather cheap, so make sure you consider all aspects before purchasing one. Don’t just look at a specification sheet but try and look inside, look at the reports they provide, try and get a sense if it is ergonomically designed or is it confusing to use, can future options be added later on. The last thing you want is to paste a dozen instruction stickers all over it to explain to your client what to do next, which is so common.  You can often tell a lot about the quality by looking inside a unit (are the parts machined, ball bearings or bushing) so take your time and do so.

The need for Pay in Lane devices emanated from garages within professional office buildings years ago where a majority of patrons left work at a given time and only a few vehicles remained past 5 o’clock in the garage. To keep a cashier during the night shift was deemed too expensive when only about 45 cars remained in the garage. The alternate was to open the gates and let them out without collecting a fee or add an inexpensive coin unit and charge a flat fee regardless of how much time they parked. It was obvious that neither of these alternatives were favored by management, so someone came up with the idea of putting in a full-fledged full featured Pay on Foot in a lane, more or less. A bit more expensive, but it replaced the cashier with no detrimental harm to the revenue collected, or so was the thinking at the time.  So in time, these Pay in Lane units have been requested by both consultants and operators alike as they serve a particular application. Although their popularity of late has been waning they still seem to have some appeal. Today all manufacturers supply them if they are specified.

This may seem strange, but from a strictly operational perspective, I will take a different position on this subject than you may have thought even though we (SKIDATA) manufacture Pay in Lane units. I tend to tell clients to be wary as they are not the panacea the conventional Pay on Foot’s are. It’s important that the reader recognizes the fact before they purchase a unit. Understand the pros and cons and then do what you feel comfortable for your application.

Over time, these Pay in Lanes have been misapplied throughout the Midwest. Their application has surpassed what they were originally designed for. We have lost sight of lane speed and ease of operation in an effort to maximize collections and lower labor overhead. If you’re considering a Pay in Lane, think twice.  If you’re servicing a small number of individuals during the night shift and want to reduce manpower allotments, they may work well. However, for all day operations when usage can be very heavy, deciding to use Pay in Lanes may allow you to collect money, but at the expense of much slower throughput and a frustrated client base. This can sometimes be rectified by adding exit lanes to speed things up but in the real world that’s not easily done.  Sometimes when there is no central lobby to install a Pay on Foot station, your first inclination is to use Pay in Lane devices so as to reduce labor and yet still collect fees. Although that sounds alright, it does not always provide the conveniences you may be striving for.   Granted, 2 Pay in Lanes on 2 exits is cheaper than buying 4 Pay on Foot stations for each corner of the building or is it really over time. Just appreciate your giving up speed and, unless patrons are using credit cards, you usually will have a frustrated patron. It can be forced to work and has in many locations, but it isn’t either fast or easy to use and I’ll explain why. By todays standard collecting money in a lane is not all that efficient nor fast. It worked when cashiers were at the ready to help you and take whatever you gave them as payment. But machines are more exacting, you have to have the correct height, properly parked at a distance where you can reach the buttons and slots and then you have to be able to read the instructions and carry them out. Most experts will tell you to avoid collecting money in a lane these days if possible, be it cashier or Pay in Lane or a simple coin unit if you want to maximize efficiency and throughput.

Why is that? The reason is the human factor as I alluded to above. It is hard to process a ticket, insert a coin in a slot or un-wrinkle a dollar note and insert all these in the proper slots from a car window while sitting down, especially if you parked 3 ft. away from the unit.  At least with a cashier you can easily hand them the goods and the cashier can accommodate variances in car height, driver position, multiple coins and notes, even torn bad notes. But when you have a stationary robot in a lane, you have to conform to it. It does not conform to you. Even driving up close enough to a device to start a transaction may be difficult for some. So we find that transaction times are far longer. People have a much harder time reading instructions, inserting their money, coins or notes. Some times patrons have to drive back and forth so as to get close enough to the machine or they open their car door.  Money often drops to the floor and clients open their car doors trying to reach for their money as their foot slips off the brake pedal and we have countless videos of cars hitting gates and curbs before the driver can react. No, this doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen enough that it should be a concern if you are thinking about such devices. If the client pays by credit cards, things seem to work relatively better, if you have repeat patrons that are familiar with its operation, process times are better, but when coins and notes or vouchers are in play, and you’re catering to patrons that are not familiar then difficulties ensue, plain a simple. Airports especially should be careful as your rate of departures from a parking facility can vary tremendously. As soon as vehicle volume increases you can expect issues at Pay in Lanes, that’s my philosophy.

What some owners don’t realize is you don’t always need a Pay in Lane if you’re going to take credit cards. There are credit card only units which are much faster, easier to use and cost effective. That’s why you see an ever increasing number of credit card lanes at many airports. Keep in mind that credit card lanes usually take 4 to 5 seconds a transaction and most airports will have over 70% usage after patrons get acclimated to them, it may take several months. But credit card lanes are fast, efficient and a great way of collecting all your money. Pay in Lane can take can take 30 seconds to a minute or more per transaction depending on how well its used.

In some ways, in this effort to reduce man power and trying to automate whatever we can, we have forgotten the basic rule of servicing the client and have added a burden onto the client. This becomes more problematic in garages that have a good deal of transactions and turnover is great. If you are just concerned about 50 individuals left in the garage or even a hundred at night departing over time, a Pay in Lane may be an acceptable solution if the use is staggered. But if you’re trying to process a lot of patrons through an exit lane, I feel you may be doing your clients a disservice. It up to you what level of service you wish to provide.

Just keep these points in mind before deciding on any purchase. Dealing with all these issues of a Pay in Lane, sitting down in a car working through a small window, can be frustrating at best. Whereas Pay on Foot stations are designed to accommodate a person standing up comfortably aligned to all the slots, buttons and screens. I have seen countless Pay on Foot stations around the world working, accommodating people of all kinds, improving the throughput of airports everywhere - I can’t say that of Pay in Lanes. So, my conclusion is Pay in Lanes can serve a purpose but remember they are slow and can be cumbersome for many people and sometimes even dangerous. It’s a costly decision that has to be made by the buyers, just keep an open mind and consider your options.  

Ten most popular features you should look for in a Pay in Lane device:  

  1. Ergonomically designed, look for something simple to use - not too many slots and push buttons. It has to make sense to the user. Avoid a bunch of stickers that seem so common on hard to use units.
  2. Single slot technology (for lack of a better term). It helps if the client has only one slot choice for their parking ticket, vouchers, smart card, employee card, coupons, RFID cards, receipts etc. so they don’t have to make a decision as to where to insert this or get that.
  3. Self-replenishing coin hoppers will minimize the number of times security will have to go out and refill the hoppers with change. For airports, larger hoppers are usually the better choice.
  4. Banknote recycler and stacker. This function allows the machine to redistribute the same money it takes in. This minimizes the manual replenishing of notes that otherwise would  be dispensed. This lessens the need for security to go out and refill. This is important for airports with many transactions.
  5. The capability of either additional or larger hoppers is a nice option for airports with many transactions, as are large capacity receipt and ticket bins.
  6. Pay on Foot stations should be able to dispense both coins and notes. Management can decide what to use. But a Pay on Foot that merely dispenses coins is very limiting and upsets clients. No one wants 20 quarters in change. Hourly dollar rates with no cents also speeds things up a lot.
  7. Multi National /denominational money handling is very effective when servicing clients from other countries or if the airport is close to a border and you have to take that country’s currency to move things along.
  8. Multilingual options are nice features in airports whose demographics are bilingual. To have an LCD display that accommodates English, Spanish and French has benefits in easing the process.
  9. Speaking of Displays, make sure it is large, colorful, and capable of displaying graphics for ease of use and most importantly easily programmable. Units with just 2 line displays are too limiting and don’t provide the client with sufficient information.
  10. Items such as alarms, intercoms, self-locking vaults, programmable push buttons, a heavy duty 3 point locking door mechanism and a heavy duty outside shell all makes for a proper Pay on Foot station.

Note: The author Pierre Koudelka is the former Business Development Airport Segment Manager for SKIDATA Inc. with 40 year in the parking industry as a manufacturer and consultant.

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