Most PDX travelers seem comfortable with new automated system

The new $8 million automated parking system at Portland International Airport strikes some travelers as a logical innovation. Others see it as a hassle.

The Port of Portland began operating 25 'Quick Pay' machines Jan. 10. Big yellow signs throughout the airport's parking garage remind travelers to remember their tickets and to pay by machine. And customer service employees are stationed by the machines to help travelers make the switch.

Only two of the six ticket booths near the garage's exit have people working in them.

Under the new system, travelers have three options. They can ignore the machines and pay at one of the gates with cashiers. They can pay at the machines with a credit card or cash, then insert their validated ticket at one of the automated exits to open the gate. Or they can insert a credit card into the ticket slot upon entering the parking garage, and insert the same card upon exiting, so that the payment is automatically deducted.

The machines, designed by Scheidt & Bachmann, a German company with U.S. offices in Columbia, Md., offer little challenge to people accustomed to automatic teller machines. Several of them were out of order during a recent visit, but airport employees said that the switch to automation has run smoothly so far, with few complaints.

Most of the travelers surveyed by the Portland Tribune thought the machines worked well.

Scott Needham was paying by machine for the second time in two days. 'It works great,' he said as he plugged his ticket into the slot and hustled back to his car. 'There was always a line before. Now there's no line.'

Lee Sitton was less thrilled. He had left his ticket in his car and had to go get it, come back and pay at the machine, plus deal with another machine while exiting the parking lot.

'The problem is, you still have to wait in line when you exit,' Sitton said. 'You'd think they would have eliminated that step. É They ought to give whoever designed this system a ticket.'

Airport spokesman Steve Johnson said complaints have been rare so far. 'We're hearing especially from business travelers that they like not having to wait in line at the exit,' he said. 'We've gotten a few complaints that have resulted from some confusion. Really, there've been more questions than anything else.'

Johnson said the system would pay for itself through 'staffing efficiencies.' He said there have been no layoffs Ñ in fact, parking staff increased from 30 to 40 people to help with the transition Ñ but the savings would come from 'attrition over time.'

The new system also makes the money-handling process less time-consuming, Johnson said.

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