How a New England State Parks Agency Responded to COVID with Smarter Parks Management

How a New England State Parks Agency Responded to COVID with Smarter Parks Management
Erik August 11, 2021

How a New England State Parks Agency Responded to COVID with Smarter Parks Management 

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Adopts Yodel Pass for Contactless Parking Payment and Improved Customer Service 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A leading parks and recreation agency responded to the threat posed by COVID-19 by requesting quotes from technology vendors to implement a contactless parking and pass management system. 

The Massachusetts DCR chose Yodel Pass for its three S commitments: Simplicity, Safety and Security. 

Simplicity: An off-the-shelf mobile application that was deployed in two weeks and deliver mobile friendly access to visitors 

Safety: A contactless payment system that allowed visitors to avert pay stations and attendants 

Security: The application features two industry-leading systems to protect users and the park: multifactor authentication and a shifting QR code. 

The result was an intuitive and customer-focused solution that allowed the DCR to provide an improved parking and pass payment system in time for the busy summer season in 2021. 

And more than 10,000 visitor fees collected in the first month in a contactless environment. 

THE PROBLEM: COVID-19 Upends Operations and Makes Parks More Essential Than Ever 

It’s safe to say the 2020 pandemic caused upheaval in almost every aspect of our lives, and that the parks and outdoors recreation industry was not immune. 

But few could have predicted how the parks industry would face unprecedented demand following the strict lockdowns. 

Agencies across North America pivoted to serve the avalanche of visitors who sought refuge in the outdoors, but also presented newfound challenges relative to safe operations in the era of highly transmissible deadly virus. 

The idea of “contactless” became a new must-have as agencies followed the lead of restaurants and retail outlets in trying to keep the doors open while keeping the virus at bay. But few agencies had invested in the sort of digital solutions that make contactless purchases – especially via a smart device – so widespread. 

The Massachusetts DCR welcomes approximately 500,000 visitors a year to its 53 sites across the Commonwealth, and quickly realized it needed to upgrade its entry and parking management systems to meet this sudden and in many ways non-negotiable customer expectation. 

“We all quickly realized that handing cash to a parking agent in a booth or using the same kiosk as thousands of other visitors was no longer as feasible as it was in 2019,” said Pragati Kirshan, Product Director, Yodel Pass. “Agencies were thinking about doing things differently and trying to find partners that could bring new solutions to their visitors.” 

THE PROPOSAL: How to Find the Best Fit and Value 

Parking may be an afterthought to many park visitors, or even a necessary evil. But park administrators realize it’s a crucial revenue stream that provides monies to fund essential parks services. 

“Paying for parking is rarely a favorite activity, but we have to remember that parks are not running their lots next to football stadiums for profit,” Kirshan said. “They are trying to set the prices as low as possible to drive accessibility while creating revenues to invest in the park. And without these funds, the parks would suffer.” 

The Massachusetts DCR team focused on several key deliverable as they crafted their proposal for a contactless parking solution: 

  • Pay parking fees by various methods, including but not limited to, native mobile application, secure mobile or desktop browser, IVR system. 
  • Optional: pay by text, QR Code, or tap to pay. 
  • Pay through Point-of-sale (POS) interface on-site (through staff, not a public use kiosk) as a backup method when primary contactless methods cannot be completed. 
  • Create an account or bypass account registration to pay parking fees. 
  • Reserve parking session in advance
  • Access parking history; view past transactions
  • Store multiple vehicle license plates under one account
  • Manage account profile – customers must be able to update account details without the assistance of customer service or DCR staff.

More important than what the system does, is what they needed it to deliver. 

To that end, they wanted a solution that would meet their needs well after COVID has passed and integrates with their larger efforts to digitize state government operations. 

Their comprehensive goals included: 

  • Eliminate person to person contact during fee collection 
  • Minimize the number of touch points in the fee collection process  
  • Allow visitors to pay parking fees via a virtual process
  • Manage facility capacity 
  • Provide visitation statistics 
  • Provide visitation and revenue data in a format suitable for upload or automatic update to the agency’s data access application
  • Allow visitors to reserve a parking space in advance of visiting a park

“Ultimately that was about more than just delivering contactless payments during COVID,” Krishna said. “This is about the government working to become more accountable and data driven and finding smarter ways to serve the public.” 

SELECTING YODEL PASS: Collaborating with a Trusted Partner 

 

Yodel Pass developed an off-the-shelf solution ideal for the Massachusetts situation. 

After being selected in June 2020, the Yodel Pass team sprinted alongside the Massachusetts DCR organization to roll out Yodel in about two weeks across 12 of the most visited state parks during the peak summer season when the parks see more than 80 percent of its visitors. 

It’s working throughout the summer to service the rest of the parks so visitors across the state can enjoy the same convenience and security when paying for parking. 

And the two are collaborating on a next-generation automation solution that will include adding license plate reader cameras at a select number of high-capacity parks. These cameras will allow the state to re-allocate the people who used to collect parking fees into more high-value roles. 

“Our technology is not about replacing people, because great staff are the backbone of a great parks system,” Krishna said. “Our technology is about freeing up staff to focus on higher value activities that drive greater customer satisfaction. The truth is people are used to paying for parking and so many other activities online and are looking for staff to be focused on making the park experience memorable.” 

COMMUNICATION IS KEY: How to deploy so visitors adopt the new technology

Despite only a few weeks time between the awarding of the RFP and the deployment of the application, the MDCR team focused intensely on a strong communications plan designed to drive adoption. 

They updated their website

Conducted outreach to the media.

Their messaging was simple and direct. Here’s a sample from their FAQ: 

Why is DCR introducing the Yodel app? 

Improving visitor experience, reducing traffic and wait time, and managing capacity are some of the key reasons DCR is introducing the new YODEL app. The YODEL app saves time! Allowing you to purchase your daily parking pass conveniently on your mobile device. Going digital also reduces traffic and helps the environment by reducing waste. You never have to worry about displaying your pass again. 

How does it work? 

Download the YODEL app to your phone. The YODEL app allows you to pay for your parking space using the digital app. You select the location, date, input your license plate and pay the parking fee. YODEL maintains a list of paid license plates for that location and date. 

Valid plates will not be subject to ticket or towing. 

Do I have to use the YODEL app? 

DCR is adding YODEL to a list of park payment and pass options. DCR is encouraging all park users to become familiar with YODEL. In time, DCR will expand the use and capabilities of the YODEL app.

 

In short, just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean you can avoid the crucial communications with your visitors. Even toasters come with instructions. 

Today the Yodel Pass team is working to expand to dozens of additional parks and will be adding the camera automation that will drive even greater revenue crucial to park operations. 

“It’s an exciting time for parks as they’ve been recognized as more crucial than ever to the welfare of our communities,” Krishna said. “And the pandemic has forced us to think creatively about how we deliver services to our visitors. We’re excited to work with more agencies in Massachusetts, across New England, and ultimately all of North America to deliver this mobile experience.” 

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