Ocean City Inlet Lot System Upgrade Okayed

OCEAN CITY – The Inlet Parking Lot’s pay-to-park system is facing a makeover as it has become worn down over the years.

The discussion during this week’s Mayor and Council meeting centered on which direction the Public Works Department should go in upgrading the current system or changing it all together.

According to Assistant Public Works Director Richard Malone, the Inlet Parking Lot is a $2.5 million revenue generator for Ocean City each year.

Malone presented the council with a handful of options in upgrading or replacing the parking lot system. Last summer, visitors to the lot would receive a ticket upon entering and pay while exiting with either cash or a credit card.

Option one is to continue using the existing system, iParc, with upgrades. This is the easiest method to accomplish, the cheapest fix for the summer of 2011. The town is familiar with its issues and procedures, and its gains the most revenue possible. But, the drawback is it is old equipment and the issues will need to be re-visited in the next two years. Also, the system uses a high amount of employees, costing the town $225,000 per year.

In order to update the iParc system, it will cost the town $70,000 each time until it is eventually replaced.

“That is an attendant parking lot, everybody goes in there and pays,” Malone said. “So it has its advantages and disadvantages like all of these other systems.”

Another option is purchasing a new iParc system or one similar to it. The system will have the same advantages, but it will take a long time to complete and would probably be the highest cost option.

With this option, “you are looking at a $200,000 to $250,000 if it were to be replaced,” Malone said.

A third option is to create a new “pay-in lane attendant less system”.

Malone said this involve removing the existing booths and making it automated, similar to parking garages in metropolitan areas.

“Where we would take the booths out, we would take the people out, and put machines in there and make it credit card only, there would be no attendants,” Malone said.

Malone also asserted that this system is used in many other municipal parking lots, and people are getting accustomed to the requirement to have a credit card to park.

This option includes a low amount of employees to operate it, lowering employee cost and it would generate the same amount of revenue, but will be credit card only.

Another option would be to install Cale machines throughout the parking lot. Cale machines are the equipment currently used on downtown’s side streets that allow the purchase of a parking ticket by credit card or quarters, replacing the concept of a parking meter.

Cale’ machines would lessen the need for employees. It would also lessen the amount of cash being handled. It would be easy to establish by summer of 2011, and it would change traffic trends down town by increasing the flow in and out of the parking lot.

The last option Malone presented would be to “install an electronic pay for space system.” The system would eliminate attendants and increase revenue.

The system’s computer knows how many spaces are available at any time, important for a one-in-one-out system on busy days. Customers will pay up front and then they are done. The customer will not need to be stopped on the way out, alleviating traffic concerns.

Although the system will eliminate attendants, it will increase the need for enforcement personnel. It will also require the permanent marking of each parking space, which the town would need to perform yearly. The town also has no experience with the system or future issues.

Malone suggested in efforts to cut costs, he would prefer to “do away” with the attendants and handling massive amounts of cash.

“Two point five million dollars cash money is an operational nightmare,” Malone said.

Councilman Doug Cymek made a motion to upgrade the current iParc system to get through one more season, and Councilman Joe Hall seconded his motion.

Joe Hall also supported Malone’s recommendation in installing the Cale’ machines because it eliminates cash. He also felt that with the right signage visitors would know the payment to park in the Inlet lot would be credit card only. There is also the possibility that exit lanes could be reduced, alleviating traffic.

“There is a lot to think about in this decision,” Councilman Lloyd Martin said.

Martin agreed that Cymek’s motion would allow the town more time in choosing the right system in the future. He also proposed an EZPass system for frequent visitors, as another option.

Mayor Rick Meehan proposed to experiment this summer season with installing one lane with a Cale’ machine, credit card only.

“To see how that works, to see how many people go to that lane, and to see how people transition,” Meehan said.

Malone responded that the town already has the equipment in order to do so.

Cymek and Joe Hall accepted the mayor’s proposal and amended the motion, which passed in a unanimous vote.