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South Core Parking Garage Blues (St. Petersburg, FL)

My wife and I are visiting family for a Saturday evening dinner in downtown St. Pete so we choose a parking garage near their home. It’s oddly designed – you press the button at the entrance for a ticket and then need to use that same ticket for another reader machine once you choose what floor to temporarily rest your vehicle. Only floors 3, 4, 7 and 8 are available for visitor parking.

We stayed about 4 hours for dinner and socializing and once done, knew paying in the lobby was the right play. The fee was $3 (first hour is free, $1 per subsequent hour) and the machine's first notice stated exact change was needed which was annoying. Think about it, the system is automated so the company saves money by hiring fewer employees but it requires exact change. That’s not user friendly. If your fee is $8 and you only have a Hamilton, today’s technology should allow it to dispense $2 in change. No excuses whatsoever. I must also add that their website states you can pay with cash or credit card at the Pay on Foot Machines although the website does not state if using cash, you need exact change.

So we’re unable to pay with cash so we're compelled to use a credit card. I tried my Visa card several times but it said error, unrecognizable. I attempt it again with two other cards without success so we need to pay when we exit.

We arrive at our car at a nearly empty 3rd floor space and drive to pay on the 3rd floor. I insert the parking card and I'm prompted to receive a receipt on the display but I’m confused as I’ve not yet inserted my Visa card. I then insert my Visa and I can barely read the sign that says 'quickly remove card' so I react accordingly. No luck. I then cancel and start over, after the parking card is inserted, I quickly insert my Visa card again and release it. No success and same results with my wife’s card. I then try my MasterCard without success. I then request help and wait while the communication device rings nearly 30 times without any response so we decide to drive around the 3rd floor and try for another exit. No such luck so we reboot and try again. Same situation, it won’t accept any of our 3 cards. I then ring for help and an operator answers after about 6 rings although her voice during much of our interaction is somewhat garbled.

She asks basic troubleshooting questions, did you try different cards? Was the strip facing down and to the right? Did you first insert the parking card into the machine? Did you quickly remove the credit card from the reader? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

We try again and this time, the bill is $16 instead of $3, she asks us when we arrived. I replied that we parked for about 4 hours. She’s a little confused. We start over and the reader now correctly displays $3 instead of $16, we’re a little relieved but still frustrated at this malfunctioning device.

At this point, we’ve spent about 15 minutes trying to pay without success. We ask the operator if we can just go through and she pauses, and pauses some more. She appears to be committed to securing the $3 and less concerned about our time lost at this malfunctioning machine. Customer centric? I think not. Does she think we’re incompetent or trying to avoid the parking fee? I don’t know. Does she know more about this machine than she’s telling us? She ultimately asks for my name, hours parked and telephone number (for some unknown reason) and allows us to proceed.

I wonder if she’s empowered in any way to report this to management. Why should exact change be required? Could clear steps in the process be more useful? What happens when several cards don’t work? Would I have trusted her with my card information over the speaker phone? She’s on the front line and if empowered by management, the positive and not so positive feedback she may receives about the automated system could improve the system for future guests.

If there’s silver lining with our experience, there weren’t 3 or 4 cars behind us honking at us as we paid, that would have added much more stress to this situation.

Our drive home is nearly an hour but first we need groceries at Publix close to home. Our focus is on several produce and frozen items and not on any credit card readers. I bag our groceries as my wife pays using her Visa card without incident and she proceeds to tell the employees our frustration with the parking situation. They all laugh and one young man says, “Our credit card reader is not the best…if it works here, it should work anywhere.” We all laugh as she and I shake our heads in exasperation at a system that should be user friendly and simple to use.


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