Cash still king in OC inlet lot as card-only lanes leaving

(Feb. 13, 2015) Even as more and more financial transactions become digital, cash apparently remains king when it comes to parking in this town.

Ocean City is poised to remove the automated credit card-only payment lane from the inlet parking lot before the summer season, replacing it with a traditional staffed booth after data indicated that the lane is going underused.

“It does seem backward from everything else,” said Mayor Rick Meehan during this week’s Transportation Commission session. “This is probably the exception rather than the rule.”

It also appears that the automated lane may be increasing wait times for motorists trying to pay and exit the lot.

“Some years ago, we had machines on the Boardwalk where you could pre-pay for parking,” said Deputy Public Works Director John Van Fossen. “They weren’t used, so we took those out and went with a credit-card only lane.

“What we’ve experienced is that people don’t use that lane either.”

The lot is set up so that patrons take a time-stamped ticket on entry and leave through any one of five exit lanes. Three staffed lanes, plus the card-only lane, run east-west, with the card lane and at least one booth being open at all times during the summer.

The fifth lane runs north-south along the side of the lot and is typically only opened for specific events.

According to the city’s data, the first manned lane, which is always open, processed 163,519 cars last season, for a total of $780,155 in revenue.

The credit-only lane, by comparison, was used by only 23,621 cars for a total of $110,370 in parking fees.

“The bottom line is you have a $2 million business that you have to operate as efficiently as possible and we’re not able to do that,” said City Engineer Terry McGean.

The current lane setup was installed in 2010. Before that, Public Works Manager Tom Dy said, “we had some backups, but not anything like what we’ve experienced recently.”

The preference, it would seem, isn’t just for using a booth with an actual person, but also the preference to pay in cash. As Meehan noted, the lot’s heaviest users are day-trippers who may be bringing bills rather than plastic.

While booth attendants can run credit cards as well, Dy said, “the majority of the transactions are in cash.”

The commission voted unanimously to recommend an appropriation of $43,000 to modify the main exit lane set-up to include a fourth attendant. This sum would include the construction of a new booth as well as wages for an extra staff member.

“You may end up breaking even by the end of the summer, just by virtue of being able push more people through the lot,” McGean said.

The current system of booths, gates, and payment machines likely has another two to three years of life left in it, after which the city will investigate a complete overhaul.

“In another two or three years, the way you pay for things will probably have changed dramatically,” Meehan said.

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