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New digital payment system in Ballston Quarter garage catches some drivers ‘off-guard’

Visitors to the Ballston Public Parking Garage this month may have noticed the absence of parking ticket kiosks and gates.

They were replaced with a new contactless parking system last month on Oct. 16.

If The county intended the change to improve the customer experience at the garage, which has garnered some negative online reviews over the past couple of years, but some users say they have found the new system confusing or restrictive.

Instead of getting a ticket at a gate, drivers entering the county-owned garage at 627 N. Glebe Road now park and then pay at a kiosk, online or through an app. There is a 15-minute grace period after entering the garage when parking is free, however, the new system keeps track of those in the facility by recording license plates upon entry.

Once parked, users can pay with cash or credit card at one of the many kiosks in each elevator lobby, after entering their license plate number and selecting an exit time. They can also pay through the mobile app or by scanning a QR code that redirects them to a payment portal.

Here, users must enter their cell phone and license plate number, choose an exit time, and provide their credit card information, postal code and email address. This method, however, charges a 35-cent service fee.

In addition to creating more payment options, the county hopes the new system will “improve customer experience” by offering garage users the flexibility to add extra time as needed and stores their information for future transactions, says Melissa McMahon, the county’s parking and curb space manager.

Removing physical gates and automated ticket machines has allowed the “operations team to focus on customer experience and enforcement, rather than mechanical equipment malfunctions,” McMahon told ARLnow.

Several anonymous tipsters raised concerns about the poor internet connection inside the garage and the system’s reliance on smartphones.

“God forbid you don’t have a cell phone,” one tipster said.

Anticipating some confusion about the changes, McMahon said the county sent out letters to local community stakeholder groups and posted flyers throughout the garage. During the first month post-installation, garage staff were also posted around the facility to help users navigate the new system.

Still, several people said that the changes caught them “off guard.”

“Instead of a ticket at entry/exit, you are supposed to pay via the web (entering license plate into a form) or at a machine,” one tipster told ARLnow via email. “Luckily, there was a security guard sitting in the lobby off Level 3 asking people if they had paid and, if not, directing them to the machine. I know others did not realize they had to pay since the arms at the entry/exit lanes were all up.”

The same person who raised concerns about smartphone access also said the fliers were in “tiny print and difficult to understand.”

Individuals with concerns can contact the new garage operator, Chicago-based SP Plus, which provides a customer helpline and email support. County staff regularly visit the garage to “observe operations, talk to staff and customers, and work with garage management on refinements to improve customer experience,” says McMahon.

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