In August, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) flipped the switch, so to speak, on a new high-tech parking system. The $50 million project includes a new parking and revenue control system, two new entry/exit plazas, command centers at each plaza and extensive information technology infrastructure work.
The new configuration decreases the number of staffed exit booths at DFW from 37 to 13. Moving from a primarily cashiered system to a predominantly automated one is expected to reduce wait times for customers and reduce associated vehicle emissions of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxide by more than 50%.
The changes to the parking system are considered to be a key component in DFW's multi-billion-dollar renovations program aimed at improving customer service. They also introduce new efficiencies to the airport's largest source of non-aviation revenue.
Location: Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport
Cost: $50 million
Annual Net Parking Revenue: $112 million
Project Management: Kimley-Horn & Associates
General Contractor (Plazas): Thomas S. Byrne Construction Services
Parking & Revenue Control System: SKIDATA
License Plate Recognition System: Inex-Zamir, integrated with SKIDATA's PlateTech.Logic
Design of Premise Distribution System (Terminal A Garage): Ross & Baruzzini
Closed-Circuit TV & System: NICE Systems
Automatic Vehicle Identification Reader Hardware: Sirit
AVI Reader Integration: SKIDATA
AVI Equipment: Flores Technical Services
Dynamic Signage: North American Information Systems
Gates, Card Readers & Pay-by-Foot Equipment: SKIDATA
Key Benefits: Improved revenue control; decreased wait time for exiting customers; reduced emissions from waiting vehicles; ability to accept parking payments via tollway transponders
"There were one or two months last year where parking generated as much revenue as landing fees," reports Armin Cruz, vice president of DFW's parking business unit.
When the airport opened in 1974, it had 12,000 spaces and three parking options: garages, surface lots and economy surface lots. Customers paid with cash or checks, and parking fees were calculated manually as patrons moved through 14 entry and 16 exit lanes. Back then, parking generated $4.3 million per year in revenue.
Today, DFW provides 40,000 spaces and net revenues (after fees and taxes) exceed $112 million per year. Customers currently have four parking options (terminal garages, covered and uncovered express lots, and remote parking areas), and a valet service is forthcoming.
Each parking option is now equipped with readers that record information according to customers' preferred payment method - credit card, cash or an automatic vehicle identification (AVI) transponder purchased from the North Texas Tollway. With all transaction methods, the system identifies the lot in which the customer parked and calculates the rate.
The airport also installed pay-on-foot devices in remote lots, so customers can pay parking fees near shuttle drop-off areas rather than at the exit gate. With recent additions, the overall system now includes 25 entry and 43 exit lanes.
Improved Revenue Control
According to Cruz, the new parking and revenue control system leapfrogs the airport into the future. "The system is state of the art, putting DFW in the center of today's technological breakthroughs," he elaborates. "With its open architecture, you can plug and play most anything on the market."
All of the airport's numerous customer entry points are now automated, and can accept payment via AVI transponders that automatically charge customers' accounts as they exit. To encourage AVI use, the airport offers a $1 per day discount to customers using a tollway transponder in any area except its remote lots.
Customers can also swipe a credit card to enter (parking fees are then calculated and automatically charged to the card upon exit), or use the more traditional method of pulling a ticket and paying with cash or a credit card when they leave.
Infrared license plate recognition (LPR) cameras record license plate information at entry, exit and throughout the various parking areas.
"LPR helps prevent fraud," explains William Flowers, DFW's vice president of Information Technology Services/chief information officer. "With just under 40,000 transactions a day ... that's a lot of opportunities for people to find a way to beat the system. We see the license plate coming in and the license plate leaving. People can't swap tickets or say they just came in when they've been there for a couple of days. We've had that experience with the old system, and it's hard to prove them wrong."
Bill Johnson, assistant vice president of Information Technology Services, highlights the system's security features and built-in redundancies. "Unless we experience something extremely catastrophic, the parking control system should never have a network outage," he says. "Data are stored in two fully redundant data centers. Each center has a backup generator, uninterruptable power supply, redundant cooling systems and redundant fiber connection feeds to the plazas."
The new system is also designed to run offline, storing transactions until the system is back in service.
Doing Their Homework
Personnel at Kimley-Horn and Associates have been working on DFW's new parking system project for about five years. "There were a lot of challenges, because DFW is such a complex system," explains Project Manager Chuck Reedstrom. "The first couple of years were dedicated to identifying functional requirements, writing specifications, verifying we were meeting all the requirements within the specifications, running it through DFW's legal and procurement departments. Then we went through the procurement process, which took more than six months, and identified three vendors for further evaluation. A small group of DFW staff visited nine different airports, three for each vendor, to ask questions and see the equipment in operation."
Following a lengthy bid and evaluation process, the airport selected SKIDATA to design, develop and deploy the new parking and revenue control system specified by DFW.
Ross & Baruzzini designed the premise distribution system for the Terminal A garage. The system has more than 20 communication rooms that support a variety of functions, including the blue light emergency stations located on each level of the parking garage, closed-circuit surveillance cameras, the parking guidance system and Wi-Fi service.
While developing its various requests for proposals, DFW invited input from various stakeholders. A subject matter team met once a week to discuss the project, and a core team of employees offered input from the beginning of the design process.
"These teams have been invaluable to the success of the project," says Parking Operations Manager Sherry Carter. "You have to involve your frontline employees. We solicited their input, which helped generate excitement about the project. They are engaged and committed to ensuring its successful implementation."
After SKIDATA was selected to provide the new parking and revenue control system, company personnel came onsite to verify DFW's functional requirements. Conceptual design, critical design and software design documents were then submitted and evaluated by Kimley-Horn and the DFW team. SKIDATA also performed factory acceptance testing on the entire system.
Thomas Rollo, president and chief executive officer of SKIDATA, describes DFW's management team as very demanding, but fair. "They were very participative," explains Rollo. "Instead of saying 'That's your problem; you have to fix it,' they approached problems with 'How do we fix it? How do we deal with the issue?' Of all the airports I've worked with, I've appreciated working with the DFW project team the most."
The original concept for the project was to replace equipment in existing entry and exit lanes and lengthen the lanes to allow for the use of LPR technology. Shortly after selecting SKIDATA's parking and revenue control system, however, DFW decided to construct new entry and exit plazas approximately 35 feet downstream from the existing plazas.
"This created a whole new set of challenges," recalls Reedstrom. "On the one hand, it made it a lot easier to test and verify that the new equipment was working according to specifications, but it also was a challenge to build new plazas while keeping the existing plazas up and running."
Traffic lanes for the new plazas did not line up with the lanes of the existing plazas, which created flow issues. After driving through an existing plaza, patrons then had to negotiate through construction activity for the new plazas.
To remedy the problem, the new plazas were constructed in phases, three lanes at a time. The corresponding lanes in the existing plaza were shut down during construction, and then reopened when the new lanes were ready to receive traffic.
The new parking control plazas were designed with open canopies that visually dovetail with the airport's other architectural features. Uplighting creates a glowing effect at night. Dynamic messaging signs have replaced former static units, allowing for quicker and more efficient changes to a lane's function.
A new command center at the North Plaza houses five staff members who monitor traffic lanes and resolve problems as they arise. Five other employees monitor LPR activity. A separate command center at the South Plaza serves as backup to the North Plaza Command Center and as a training facility for LPR staff.
Only the Beginning
In choosing a parking and revenue control system, DFW management was particularly pleased with SKIDATA's open architecture environment and ability to integrate with the airport's existing hardware and software applications.
"They (SKIDATA) built their system, their software, into our IT environment," explains Flowers. "Our IT backbone remains the same - we just added the parking and revenue control system to it. SKIDATA's system is very adaptable and about as close as you can get to an open system."
With the core system in place, DFW is prepared to integrate new customer service enhancements into the system. Management is currently implementing a parking guidance system (see sidebar on page 21), and a parking reservation is not far behind. Internal valet operations are currently performed offline, but DFW plans to acquire a valet module from SKIDATA to fully integrate valet operations.
The system is also capable of integrating variable pricing based on daily or seasonal demand and/or customer behavior.
"We didn't want to add a lot of bells and whistles to the system initially, because that would add too much complexity as we rolled out the system," explains Cruz. "We wanted to replace our existing system, then begin adding other service modules.
"Right now, less than 40% of passengers on an aggregate basis park at the airport. So we have a tremendous upward opportunity to grow both transactions and revenue. But we can only do that if we have an adaptable system that services our customers' needs, which brings us back to where we started. This project is a customer service enhancement."