New Card System Speeds up Valet Parking

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

A valet parking service about a mile from Bradley International Airport (BDL) is using a new express checkout service to help returning travelers get on their way even more quickly.

"Anything that improves one sector of the airport community contributes to the ultimate improvement of the whole," says Paul Murdock, executive vice president and general manager of Roncari Express Valet Parking in Windsor Locks, CT.

To use the automated checkout service, Roncari customers tap their credit card-size eGOPASS on the Roncari Courtesy Station reader located in the airport's arrival area. Customers receive a confirmation screen instructing them to proceed to the shuttle bus area.

Facts & Figures

Project: Automated Checkout Service

Location: Bradley International Airport (offsite)

Owner/Operator: Roncari Express Valet Parking

Designer: Red Beetle Inc.

Card Printer: Digital Identification Solutions

Key Benefits: Expedites customer checkout, decreases personnel requirements

That action simultaneously alerts the shuttle bus driver that a customer is ready to be picked up at the airport and tells the lot attendant to bring the customer's vehicle forward. Understanding that a customer is checking out, the system charges the customer's credit card for parking and any car care services that were provided, and prints a receipt. The lot attendant picks up the receipt and leaves it in the vehicle with the customer's car keys.

Automating steps in the checkout process allows Roncari Express, a local, family-owned business established in 1995, to serve more customers without adding more staff.

"We're very excited about the new system," Murdock says. "It allows us to expand the number of people we can enroll as Express Parkers, because we can handle a larger volume of calls and cash-outs in the same amount of time."

The company's 43-acre site, said to be the largest of its kind on the East Coast, can accommodate up to 4,300 vehicles in express and self-park lots. Before the new automated system was in place, Roncari had to limit the number of people who could be enrolled as "express parkers" to 3,000. Maintaining a waiting list wasn't prudent, because customers rarely resigned their express status, Murdock notes.

Within six months of the system's debut last May, 2,000 customers were actively using eGOPASS.

Murdock describes the typical cardholder as a "road warrior" - a business traveler who flies several times a month and wants to spend the absolute minimum amount of time waiting for service. He likens the extra tier of service, which costs $2.50 per stay, to premium services offered by airlines and hotels.

Before eGOPASS perks were offered to customers, Roncari provided traditional valet parking. When travelers returned from a trip, they would locate their ticket, call Roncari and read an attendant their ticket number. (They could also give their name, but that slowed the process.) Then, they took the shuttle bus to Roncari's station, where they went inside to pay.

Automated Benefits

With the new automated checkout system, there's no need to keep strict track of ticket stubs or numbers. Since the eGOPASS is a proximity card, the card reader is able to read a card from inside a purse or wallet within 6 inches of the reader.

The new system also improves accuracy because personalized traveler information is embedded inside the eGOPASS. The card-triggered automation eliminates the possibility of an attendant incorrectly hearing or mistyping a ticket number.

Since there's no need to call for pickup, customers are not using a public telephone other travelers have placed next to their mouths - a welcome benefit given heightened awareness regarding the H1N1 virus.

There's also not a race to be the first in line to pay for parking as customers exit the shuttle bus. Since credit cards are automatically charged, there is no line.

The Tech Behind the Card

The idea to add automation grew out of a casual conversation between the principals of Roncari Express and Red Beetle Inc., a manufacturer of Internet protocol-based electronic security and safety systems. Roncari had been considering automated registration systems, but hadn't yet fully researched them.

"Our business requires high volume, high turnover transactions," Murdock explains. "So any technology or system that can help streamline our process is of interest."

Red Beetle developed Roncari's system in six weeks and scheduled a 90-day beta test.

The backbone of the system is Red Beetle's ip-AXS, originally designed to provide physical access control. The Roncari Courtesy Station, which has a scanning antenna and transceiver to decode information from the cards, connects wirelessly via the Internet to a customized parking management application at Roncari's facilities. The customized software manages customer profiles, point of sale data, lot management and transaction processing.

Each eGOPASS is an RFID (radio frequency identification) card that's printed using the EDIsecure(r) XID 580ie Printer from Digital Identification Solutions (DISO).

Marnie Cooper

The EDIsecure(r) XID uses reverse thermal image transfer, also known as retransfer printing. During the printing process, color from the ink ribbon is transferred first onto a separate film and then onto the card. Because the print head never touches the card, it's less likely for the electronics inside the card to be damaged - an important factor given the high volume of cards being printed. Conversely, the print head can't be damaged by the card, explains Jonathan Bowen, DISO's U.S. business development manager. The EDIsecure(r) XID prints on both sides of the card and makes efficient use of the ribbon by allowing color to be used on the front of the eGOPASS and black on the back.

Training Roncari staff to use the printer and overall system was a straightforward process that took a few days, reports Murdock.

Once the staff was ready, the company advertised its new eGOPASS capabilities via billboards, mailers and email notices. The best marketing, however, was having one traveler see another use eGOPASS at the Roncari Courtesy Station, reports Neil Alan, president of Red Beetle.

"When the person in front of you taps their card and the kiosk says, 'OK, get on the bus' and you're left sifting through your belongings trying to find your ticket, you can see the advantage," explains Alan.

More of a Good Thing

According to Marnie Cooper, Roncari's marketing manager, the new checkout system has prompted unsolicited compliments from customers. They've also asked for automated check-in, which is Phase 2 of the project.

Upon entering the valet parking lot, eGOPASS cardholders will tap their membership card at the kiosk to trigger a greeting with their profile information on a touch screen display. They'll then select the date and time they expect to return and can order services such as a car wash or oil change. The entire check-in process is expected to be complete within seconds.

Roncari is also in the preliminary stages of developing a membership card system for its Galaxy Self Park facility, which can accommodate up to 1,000 cars.

Alan notes that systems like Roncari's could benefit airport travelers in other ways, like helping passengers make hotel or rental car reservations. Many airport services, he adds, can use a card system to make traveling less complicated and more pleasurable.


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