(July 26, 2013) An apparent case of literal crossed wires left a long line of cars – filled with less-than-pleased visitors – in the inlet parking lot last Wednesday night, as the city is trying to figure out how to manage the 1,200-space facility in the event of technical failure.
According to the account of former City Councilman Joe Hall, who was in the backup, as well as reports from city staff, the lot became congested around 10 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, July 17, and took roughly two hours to clear.
The cause of the backup was compound. To begin with, the credit card system at the lot’s tollbooths lost its connection. This eliminated the use of one completely automated exit lane, where no attendant is needed. There are three main points of egress and attendants at the other lanes were manually taking down credit transactions for later entry.
“It looks like it was mainly the result of the fact that we lost connectivity on the credit card machines,” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “And we lost it right when everybody was packing up to go home for the night.”
Further, police reported two vehicle collisions in the lot, as well as a fight on Talbot Street that delayed officers responding to direct traffic.
The fourth lane, an emergency exit that runs parallel to the Boardwalk was eventually opened as well. At that time, the official word from the city was a 50-car backup, but Hall said that at its peak the line was nearly five times that.
A few times each year, according to Adkins, the lot becomes gridlocked and must be flushed by allowing customers to leave without paying. That move was apparently not made last Wednesday.
“If anything was learned, it’s that maybe a firmer procedure should be put in place for that decision to be made,” said city Communications Manager Jessica Waters. “We certainly never want visitors to go through incidents like that.”
According to a message from city IT staff, the credit card connection failed because a cable had been wired in reverse. This made the system impossible to reboot after losing power, according to staff, because “when it came up, it created a bunch of switching loops that caused it to shut down several ports.”
Over the winter, the city hired a consultant to re-vamp the lot’s control system, which is done every five years or so. Apart from allowing easier automation, the revision also allowed entrance and exit patterns to be reversed, allowing customers to pay a flat fee on entry rather than paying on exit for the exact time they spent.
This feature was used earlier this month when the city decided to charge a $50 flat rate for Fourth of July parking, a move that went well technically, although many visitors seemed disgruntled with the price increase.
Adkins has contacted several of the customers from last Wednesday who had called City Hall to complain, asking for specific information on where exactly they were parked and when and where they came to a standstill.
“The best thing to do is to use the opportunity to figure out exactly what happened,” Adkins said. “I try to put myself in their shoes.”