OCEAN CITY — Already there has been a learning curve for some with the new “pay by plate” parking system at the Inlet lot, but a plan is in place to help residents and visitors become accustomed to it.
Last month, the traditional gated system at the Inlet parking lot came down and has since been replaced with a new state-of-the-art pay-by-plate system with license plate reader (LPR) technology. The new system has LPRs situated at the entrance and exit to the Inlet lot to capture information on when a vehicle entered and when it exited to determine how much to charge if the operators do not utilize the kiosks on the lot.
The more likely scenario is vehicles will enter the Inlet lot and the operators will use one of the many kiosks to enter their license plate information and pay for the time they expect to use. In addition, there is an app available whereby vehicle operators can pay for parking at the Inlet lot via a mobile device.
In either case, the new system represents a departure from the traditional gates system so many had grown accustomed to in recent years. The intent of the new system is to eliminate some of the long lines attempting to leave the old gated system at peak times during the summer.
During a budget work session last week, Mayor Rick Meehan asked Public Works Maintenance Manager Tom Dy if any of the employees from the old manned system had been retained to help residents and visitors get used to the new system.
“I know we’ve reduced the need for attendants in the Inlet parking lot,” he said. “While we’ve eliminated some of those positions as far as working in the booths, have we kept some of them on for the summer to assist people with regard to the new pay stations?”
Dy said most of those positions had been eliminated although there were still employees working on the lot to assist motorists with the new parking system.
“Out of the 15, we’ve eliminated 12,” he said. “We kept three on and they are now working as ambassadors at the Inlet lot for the new pay stations.”
Meehan was pleased to learn some had been retained as ambassadors, but wondered if they were enough given the complete overhaul of the Inlet parking system this season.
“Whatever you anticipate as maybe a learning curve of a delay with people getting used to the new system this year, double or triple that because that’s what’s going to happen. The pay stations are difficult and it’s going to take a while for people to get used to them,” Meehan said.
Meehan said one of the key reasons for the change was to eliminate the long lines attempting to leave the Inlet lot on busy summer nights. If the new system created learning curve challenges, that frustration might still exist for some.
“As you watch people struggle with this new system, remember the most important thing for people on vacation is their time,” he said. “What we want to do, and one of the reasons we switched to this system, is to eliminate the time they lost waiting in line to get out of the Inlet lot.”
Meehan urged forward-thinking in terms of easing the concerns and challenges with the new system.
“We need to look at that 20,000-foot view and whatever we anticipate will be a delay will be much more than that,” he said. “I guarantee that. Whatever ambassadors you have, let’s make sure they can move quickly so we can really assist people with this new system.”
Dy said the town would learn soon enough just how challenging the user-friendly system was for some utilizing the Inlet lot.
“Mid-May is going to the be the month that tests us a little bit because we’re going to have more people up there,” he said. “We do have the information booth we’re operating right now with a big information sign on it.”
Meehan said signs alone are not enough and pushed for more ambassadors on the lot.
“People don’t really read signs,” he said. “We all know that. That doesn’t mean we don’t need them because people will eventually find them. The first time we have a busy weekend, you’re going to see lines at those pay stations. We don’t want them to walk all the way over to some booth to figure out how to do something. We need to be prepared for that. Let’s just be very proactive.”
Councilman Matt James pointed out the education process will be long.
“We’re going to have new users up there every week,” he said. “It’s going to be different people the next day and the next day after that all summer long.”
Educating people on how to download and use the app could alleviate some of the issues, according to Councilman John Gehrig.
“Will the ambassadors be armed with business cards or other printed info on how to download the app?” he said. “If they download the app, they won’t have to wait in lines.”
Dy responded, “They are going to be available at the information booth and the ambassadors are going to carry them in the golf carts wherever they go. They don’t have to go up to the machine and actually pay for the space if they have the app.”