Upgrades Needed To City Parking System

OCEAN CITY — Advances in credit card technology will soon make many traditional magnetic strip cards obsolete, forcing Ocean City officials to consider expediting upgrades to the paid-parking CALE machines throughout the resort and its payment system at the Inlet parking lot.

During Wednesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, Finance Administrator Martha Bennett briefed members on changing trends in the credit card industry that could eventually make the current army of CALE machines on public streets and municipal parking lots obsolete. Bennett explained most card companies are going to a modified magnetic strip and microchip format and the town’s existing CALE machines are only configured to read traditional magnetic strips.

“Right now, we only take magnetic strips,” she said. “The next generation of cards won’t have a strip. We are going to need to update our machines so they can read this new generation of credit and debit cards.”

Bennett explained the entire existing CALE machines would not need to be replaced. Instead, the same basic shell would remain in place and the software inside would have to be upgraded. At an estimated $2,750 per machine, it could cost the city as much as $200,000 to complete the upgrades. Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan said the resort was likely going to have to bite the bullet on the improvements sooner rather than later.

“We’re going to have to do it,” he said. “It’s the cost of doing business. Most people pay by credit card at the CALE machines. When you look at the numbers, something like 80 percent pay with credit and debit cards.”

During the same discussion, similar changes to the payment system at the Inlet parking lot were discussed. Upgrading system to include chip readers at the Inlet parking lot would likely cost an additional $7,500 to $10,000. However, Meehan said there was less urgency to make the changes at the Inlet lot.

“The Inlet is a little different,” he said. “I think it’s almost the opposite in terms of cash versus credit cards.”

In terms of the machine upgrades, Meehan said there was more urgency to get out in front of the industry changes.

“We need to look at how to find that funding to get that done this spring,” he said.

Bennett said there could be a little more time to make the upgrades, but not much more.

“If we don’t need to do it for this spring, we can budget it for next year,” she said. “Unless it’s critical, that’s the better way to go. We have to have them by 2017. By 2017, the machines won’t have the ability to read the stripes anymore.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.