WESTERLY —Parking at state beaches, including Misquamicut, is easier than ever before, according to the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which operates eight saltwater beaches and associated parking facilities.
The department has again partnered with LAZ Parking to modernize, digitize, and streamline parking for more than one million annual beachgoers this year. DEM has implemented a customized technology platform built upon LAZ’s e-commerce, business intelligence, and customer care solutions.
The technology allows residents and out-of-state visitors to purchase season parking passes and daily flex passes at https://beachparkingri.com. With a daily flex pass, beachgoers are automatically charged the daily parking rate when their vehicle enters one of the state beach parking lots. The flex parking pass is a good option, DEM officials say if a beachgoer is unsure how many times they may visit the beach but would like the opportunity to use the express lanes.
Both passes use license plate recognition technology for validation and allow passholders to access express lanes for faster entry. The technology was in limited use in 2020 before being suspended due to travel restrictions and capacity limits associated with COVID-19.
Improvements, include allowing customers to buy both day and season online passes in advance, express lanes using license plate recognition technology for prepaid customers at some locations, capability to provide real-time parking lot capacity data that DEM can use to communicate alerts when lots are at or near capacity, and capability to capture visitation and revenue numbers in real time to ensure that the right fees are being charged and collected for every transaction. Initial data showed that purchasing a season or flex pass online and using an express lane significantly reduced the time to park. according to a news release from DEM and LAZ.
To help reduce the amount of time beachgoers spend at the entry booths, DEM encourages state residents to buy season and daily flex parking passes online or in advance. Anyone who buys a season parking pass or a daily flex parking pass online or before heading to the beach may use the express lanes for quick beach entry. Purchasing season or daily flex parking passes online also helps DEM keep express lanes open, as there have been past instances when the express lanes could not be used because too many people were paying for parking at the entry gates rather using pre-paid parking passes.
“Per-vehicle transaction times at beach entrance booths for sales of seasonal beach passes previously took up to three minutes a car,” said DEM Acting Director Terrence Gray, in the news release. “If you multiply that by the thousands of cars we welcome on busy summer weekends, the time really adds up and means worse traffic backups and delays for everyone. This technology will be even more critical in 2021, as the state expects record crowds this year.”
DEM first contracted with LAZ Parking in early 2020, after a competitive bidding process, to operate and modernize parking at state beaches.
DEM is also using LAZ Business Intelligence technology to collect, organize, and analyze data to improve the parking process. This technology was useful in 2020 during the pandemic because of frequent changes to capacity limits, new federal and state regulations, and heightened safety concerns by consumers. With the new technology stack in place, DEM could easily provide accurate data to demonstrate compliance with all COVID restrictions and guidelines, according to the news release.
The technology includes dynamic data visualization that integrates data sets such as real-time lot capacity, historical parking data, current weather, seasonality, and tide charts to predict and manage potential over-crowding. This information can be used to increase or decrease the number of spots that are available, communicate alerts when lots are at or near capacity, and manage staffing decisions.
— Dale P. Faulkner