Over the weekend, I read the story in the Contra Costa Times
that Walnut Creek’s three city-owned parking garages are going to go fully automated
starting next month. This means that electronic pay stations will replace human attendants.
According to the Times, as a motorist using one of the garages, you will pick up a yellow plastic parking token as you drive in and park. You will be able to get that token validated at about 70 local restaurants and businesses. Then, when you are done eating, shopping, or going to a show at the Lesher Center, you will take that token, embedded with a computer chip and programmed to calculate in your validation, to a pay station. You will insert the token and pay your fee–with cash, coin, or credit card. Then you will insert the token into an exit machine when you leave.
But you have the choice to avoid the token and validation system by swiping a credit card to enter and exit the garage.
Walnut Creek’s public services department tells the Times that this automated parking system—which costs $216,000 a year, the same amount the city save annually by using it—will be “easier, more efficient, and provide options for payment.”
But I wondered.
Like me, many of you have probably encountered these automated systems in public garages elsewhere in the Bay Area, notably San Francisco. Yes, these systems, with their pay stations, can work very well. They can definitely spare you some time, waiting in line of cars behind some driver, who is searching for the bills in his wallet to pay the human parking attendant.
On the other hand, I’ve also visited these garages when the system doesn’t quite work as well as it should. A pay station is broken. Or, a line forms behind people who are struggling to figure out how to use the stations. Maybe a crowd of people hit all the pay stations at once, which I could see happening in the North Locust Street garage when several shows at the Lesher Center let out at around the same time.
I thought it would be nice to know that there would be a human being around, to whom drivers could go or call, in case a pay station or exit machine is broken, they are having trouble figuring out how to work the machines, or there are lines to pay. The story only mentioned that some garage attendants would lose their jobs, but that some would stay on to help people use the new machines.
But how would exactly would these human beings stay around to help? At all hours of the day and night? This automated system will allow the garages to be open 24 hours a day.
I know I’d be pretty annoyed if it’s late at night, and I can’t get my car out of one of the damned garages because the automated system has a glitch in it. And I can’t find someone immediately to help out.
I checked in with Gayle Vassar, the city’s community relations manager, and she kindly got me some of the answers I was looking for. Here is her response:
While we are reducing staff, the new staffing model includes a manager and cashier/office assistant at the North Locust Garage. In addition, two customer service “rovers” will be available to respond to customer’s calls for assistance (via intercoms). Even at 3 a.m., someone will be available to respond to customer calls or inoperable equipment. Also, we plan to have parking ambassadors for the first couple of months following installation to help with the learning curve.
She adds that much of this information is now available on the city’s new handy dandy parking website.