One thing which cannot be emphasized enough is the importance of having rigid security controls in place. Too often I visit a parking operation and they have minimal or no security considerations to mitigate against theft. I love telling the story about the coin collection facility in a major USA city which was located on ground level and had windows which were open to the street. On a hot summer day these windows were wide open, with the keys to all of the City’s many thousands of parking meters in-reach to anyone walking along the street!
Another city on the east coast (which shall also remain nameless) used to allow their parking meter revenue collectors to collect money from parking meters in an outlying zone near where they lived, at the end of the day. Then take the canister of coins’ home (in their own personal car) in order to bring it back to the City facility to be deposited when they started their shift the following morning. This kind of practice is far too common.
In order to protect public funds a number of basic security steps should be taken. Although a whole book can be devoted to this subject, I have summarized it into four high-level categories;
- Collection Staff – It is recommended that before hiring any new staff member a background check is completed. In addition, considerations should be taken with the uniform provided to staff. Several municipalities look to provide uniform with few pockets and those garments that do have pockets can be sewn up.
In addition, agencies should implement some basic policies which can help avoid any potential issues. These include not allowing employees to carry a lot of personal change in their pockets (say less than a $1). Also not allowing employees to take personal cell phones with them on their route – if they are provided with a City or official form of communication. On a side note, it is important that someone is monitoring communications. So that if there is an issue, someone can respond to the situation quickly.
- Collection Vehicles – vehicles should have more than just a factory installed alarm. If possible a divide should be in place between the revenues and cab/ passenger area. In addition to the standard door lock, basic customizations like adding high-quality padlocks and/or electro-magnetic looks to the cargo area should be added.
GPS tracking ability is also a good idea to add to vehicles. This not only adds a level of security to the operations, but provides great fleet management and route optimization tools. It also enables management to monitor driving behaviors of staff. Where possible a hardwired GPS tracking system is preferred thus eliminating the possibility of the driver to pull the power for a few minutes in order to disguise the location and then to plug the unit back in. A simple GPS tracking system does not have to be expensive – as low as $20 per month per vehicle for basic packages.
- Schedules – This is a zero cost solution. Creating a collection schedule with variety is a great way to combat against theft. Both from the inside and outside. If you have set routes going to the same locations at the same time, every day/ week people can learn the routes and know when to strike. By simply mixing up the schedules and the people working them will help mitigate against this. It is good practice to move employees around and not have the same person collect the same zone each time. Also it is advantageous to keep routes as secret as possible with Supervisors not informing their collectors of their assigned routes until the morning of their shift.
- Audits – This is another zero cost solution in terms of technology, just requires some time out of peoples busy schedules to accomplish. In addition to Supervisors/ Leads stopping and checking with staff in the field, it is important that management also do random checks. It cannot be underestimated the effect that a senior member of staff has when they randomly show up in the field. This is an automatic deterrent and lets collection staff know that they are not forgotten about when out in the field. This also provides the manager with the added bonus of spending some one-on-one time with an employee and being able to engage with the staff.
As a previous Program Manager working in a large city with a collection zone of 500 square miles, I have spent countless hours trying to track people down all across the city. Which sometimes can be like finding a needle in a haystack! The ability to view the operation, walk routes with staff and spend time one-on-one with employees provided great insight into the operation and the effects on employee engagement were excellent.
Now these are four simple and relatively cost efficient areas that a parking collection operation can look at. With the technology available today security can go to a whole new level. Digital locks (such as Medeco) are utilized in almost every major city across the USA. This technology allows agencies to program set routes and access times into the keys through a backend system. A great deal of data to assist with auditing is created as a result i.e allowing agencies to see a time stamp of when a parking meter was touched along with the ability to see by whom. By using programmable keys, having to re-key hundreds of parking meter locks when is key is lost, is a thing of the past.
Some of the leading on-street parking operations on the west coast have installed technology linked to “bread-crumbing” software that monitors vehicles and collectors. Managers and Supervisors of parking revenue operations now have the ability to electronically monitor all of their collection staff real-time. Also with the data provided by smart meters, deposited revenue figures can easily be compared to what was collected to verify any anomalies. It is unfortunate, but with any operation involving money theft can and will occur. It is important for agencies to take mitigation steps and be proactive in securing public funds.
Richie Waldron is a parking consultant with DIXON Resources Unlimited. He has considerable experience managing on-street parking programs; handling security and previously assisting the LAPD with surveillance operations relating to parking meter revenue collections.