Five Florida Airports Adopt Hands-free, Cash-free Parking Payment to Go Green

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Increasing use of SunPass Plus for automated payment of parking fees has customer convenience spreading like sunshine throughout airports in the State of Florida.

Transponder units mounted on users' windshields for collecting highway tolls also transmit a radio signal to sensors in designated airport SunPass lanes that deduct parking fees from prepaid accounts as patrons exit the airport. With more than 4 million activated users and counting, the trend toward Florida airports adopting SunPass infrastructure is growing.

Already on Line

Two airports are currently interoperable with the statewide SunPass transponders, two more are scheduled to follow later this year and another is scheduled to begin in 2010.

The original adopter, Orlando International Airport (MCO), began SunPass operations in February 2005 as a community effort with Central Florida toll road agencies to provide better customer assistance to their users. MCO processes its transactions through the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) via a daily batch transmission. Once OOCEA receives the file, it separates out the Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) transactions and sends them to the Florida Deportment of Transportation (FDOT) for processing.

Facts & Figures

Project: Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) Deployment for Parking Facilities at Florida Airports

Program: SunPass Plus

Participating Airports: Orlando International Airport, Tampa International Airport, Airports Slated to Begin Service in 2009-2010: Palm Beach International Airport, Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale International Airport

Technology Provider: TransCore

Governmental Agency: Florida Turnpike Enterprise

Airport SunPass Plus Debut: Orlando in February 2005

MCO manager for Airport Operations Darrell Brantley says the customer service initiative has been well received, with approximately one-third of patrons using the SunPass payment method. The airport initially offered the hands-free, cash-free option in the terminal garages and rapidly expanded it into satellite lots one year later. Today, 21 of MCO's 38 parking lanes are equipped for processing automatic vehicle identification (AVI) transactions.

"We have a platform of using technology here at Orlando," Brantley explains. "We have always volunteered to use technology to improve customer service and the customer experience."

The advantages of automated parking payment can be especially significant at origin and destination airports such as MCO.

"Ninety-five percent of our passengers cross the curb," notes Brantley. "We need more parking facilities, we need more roadway, and we need a lot more amenities. So this process was part of offering a level of service, and it helps us, too. Throughput is improved and there is less expense in staffing those lanes with cashiers."

Tampa International became the second Florida airport to deploy AVI technology with a soft launch of the program in November 2008. It began by adding the service at its economy parking garage with one entrance lane and two exit lanes. Another soft launch in June debuted SunPass use in and around the main terminal via three additional entrance lanes and two exit lanes.

"It is working well," reports Richard C. Rogers, deputy director of IT projects and strategy at Tampa International. "There have been a growing percentage of entries and exits that are processed through the SunPass system." In June, Rogers estimated 6% to 8% of economy garage customers were using the system.

Technology enhancements that evolved since the initial introduction of SunPass at MCO allow Tampa to process its transactions directly through the Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) in real time. Tampa's scenario differs from Orlando because the newer system allows Tampa to negotiate directly with FDOT about SunPass processing. Orlando, on the other hand, uses a toll authority to front end the FDOT for MCO.

When MCO began using SunPass years ago, the only way it could access FDOT was through an Orlando County system. "We were fortunate that we waited for this real-time interactive system to be ready from FDOT," Rogers notes. "We avoided a middleman processor such as Orlando, and avoided the batch processing scenario."

Next on Board

Back-to-back SunPass debuts are scheduled in the near future at Palm Beach International, Miami International and Fort Lauderdale International.

Palm Beach began installation at the beginning of 2009 and is slated to go live in the third quarter. Its system is scheduled to contain a total of 14 AVI-equipped lanes for processing parking transactions that will be processed live through FDOT.

Miami International will follow suit in the fourth quarter of 2009 with a total of 13 AVI-equipped lanes.

MIA spokesman Greg Chin notes that a 2007 survey of more than 2,000 parking patrons indicated 58% would utilize SunPass at the airport.

"We think the results of this study validate and justify the need to implement SunPass at the airport," Chin says. The new system, he adds, will provide a significant increase in customer convenience compared to pay-on-foot or credit card in/out payment.

Fort Lauderdale is slated to be online to process SunPass transactions in 20 lanes during the first quarter of 2010.

Upward Trend

TransCore senior systems engineer Paul McKeever says that 2009 is a big year for the transponder technology provider.

"The early adopter and visionary in Florida was the Orlando airport," McKeever recalls, noting that TransCore recently upgraded the MCO to next generation Encompass5 technology and cut over live in October 2008. "But today is when we're seeing the tipping point in acceptance and adoption nationally and particularly within Florida."

While SunPass adoption is growing at Florida airports, it's not universal.

Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, for instance, decided against adding the system. "We came right up to flicking the switch on," recalls Mark Fisher, Lee County Port Authority's deputy executive director of Development.

The airport had hired a consultant, designed a SunPass system for its parking lot and had begun construction when it reconsidered. "The total cost for us was around $600,000, but the more we evaluated it, it just didn't make financial sense for us to implement," Fisher relates.

The combination of credit card and SunPass fees necessary to be compatible with the system gave the airport pause.

"We were going to be hit twice," Fisher explains. "We were only going to get 80 cents on the dollar for every SunPass transaction. We make 100% of the revenue on cash, so we like people pulling up and pulling cash out of their wallets."

Fisher doesn't rule out the possibility of adding SunPass capabilities in the future - especially if SunPass fees go down or toll booth officer salaries go way up. "But for now, we think we have made a sound business decision," he says.

Each airport pays a different fee, typically ranging from 2% to 3% per transaction.

In addition to credit card fees, MCO pays a transaction fee to Expressway Authority in Orlando.

"We are paying 10 cents per transaction," Brantley reports. "This covers all of the back office processing and sending and wiring fees into our account, so I don't consider that to be excessive."


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