How do they know where i parked at Logan Airport?
February 5, 2008 7:16 PM   Subscribe

How do they know where I parked at Logan Airport?

I recently parked at Logan Airport for 4 days. Upon entering the parking garage I got a ticket at the entrance on the first floor, and proceeded up the ramp to the fifth level, where I parked in row BB.

Upon my return I prepaid using the ticket, and printed on the receipt was the location of my parking space, 5BB. How did they know?
posted by alball to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If it's like other airports, the actually do a daily license plate scan. I once lost my car at an airport and they were able to tell me in what section it was parked when I gave them my license plate number. They even gave me a lift to my car! I think they started doing this as a "Homeland Security" measure. Feel safer?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:23 PM on February 5, 2008

Did you do anything to identify yourself on the way in? (e.g. swipe the credit card)

Was any other identifying information requested when you paid? (e.g. license plate)
posted by winston at 7:24 PM on February 5, 2008

At my airport, there's a truck that regularly roams the parking lots, with a camera attached to photograph license plates. The info goes *somewhere* -- the the parking services people, presumably -- because if you forget where you parked they can locate the car for you.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:25 PM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: No I did not identify myself when I entered the garage.

There was no additional info when I paid other than my credit card info.

So do you think they roamed through the garage scanning cars, doing a reverse look up based on my license plate, and then associated that with my credit card info I gave them while paying? If so, that is spooky.
posted by alball at 7:29 PM on February 5, 2008

otherworldlyglow and mudpuppie are correct. There was a camera that captured your license plate number at the ticket dispenser when you first arrived at the garage, and this was associated with the ticket you received, and matched up with the data collected by the roaming camera vehicle.

Another nifty bonus is that they can charge you the correct amount even if you lose your ticket (that's not to say they won't charge you the maximum rate just because they can).
posted by i love cheese at 7:30 PM on February 5, 2008

It's got to be a coincidence, right? Was the "5BB" explicitly listed as Parking Space: 5BB or was it maybe just part of some random sequence number or other code? If you hadn't even returned to your car yet, I don't see how even a license plate scan would help them.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:33 PM on February 5, 2008

a camera that captured your license plate number at the ticket dispenser when you first arrived at the garage, and this was associated with the ticket you received,

Actually, that makes sense.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:34 PM on February 5, 2008

The license plate scan has been routine for a while, actually. Back before 9/11, my stepfather died while he was away on business, and I got tasked with retrieving his car from longterm parking at Dulles. I wasn't even sure I could recognize the car. When I called, they told me exactly where to find it. They drive around with a digital camera or digital video, and I'm sure you're scanned when you get your ticket, and when you leave. It's security-related, obviously, but i love cheese is probably right: they started doing it as a way to ensure they get their money.
posted by steef at 7:44 PM on February 5, 2008

Best answer: Forget Where You Parked Your Car? Logan Airport Is Spending Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To Track Available Spaces And Help Travelers Navigate Its Busy Garages
“David B. Liroff, the chief technology officer at WGBH, had a Big Brother moment recently when he flew into Logan International Airport after a business trip.

He paid his parking bill at a kiosk inside the terminal and discovered that his receipt not only showed how much he had paid but the precise location of his car (Level 4, Row 8Q).

‘How did they know which car was my car?’ he asked. ‘ And how did they know where it was parked?’

Struggling to handle the daily influx of cars looking for parking at Logan, the airport is spending tens of millions of dollars to build one of the more sophisticated parking garage monitoring systems in the country. The system not only tells airport officials how many spaces are available in their garages, but also where those spaces are and, in certain cases, what cars are in those spaces.

The system allows the airport to direct incoming travelers to empty spots quickly and efficiently, or to other garages and lots if all the spaces are filled. Garage officials currently do much of the traffic direction themselves, but eventually the operation will be fully automated.

In the Terminal B garage, signs already tell travelers how many spaces are available on each level. Later this summer, signs are expected to go up in the central parking garage telling drivers where in the facility they can find the most optimal parking for the terminal they are flying out of.

Kim E. Jackson, executive director of the International Parking Institute in Fredericksburg, Va., said airports are on the cutting edge with smart parking systems, but she predicted every large garage will be deploying some version of the technology in the next five years.

‘One of the biggest frustrations people have when they pull into a facility is they can't find a space,’ Jackson said.

Tracy Newman, a spokeswoman for Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said the facility began testing its Smart Park system on one level of one garage in 2001, relying on sensors above each parking spot to gather information on space availability.

The consumer response was so positive that the system was rolled out to the rest of the garage and then incorporated into a new 8,400-space long-term parking garage.

‘Our customers love it,’ Newman said. ‘We've really seen that this system has allowed us to alleviate backups in the garages.’

The Logan system relies on old and new technologies and a bit of old-fashioned shoe leather. When a car enters a garage, a camera snaps a picture of the vehicle's license plate and, using optical character recognition, feeds the license plate number and time of arrival into a database.

On a nightly basis, airport employees fan out on foot to the various garages to conduct a vehicle inventory. Using handheld devices, they input into the same database the license plate and location of each car in each garage.

Each morning, the database gives parking officials at Logan a clear picture of the spaces available in their garages. Sensors located in the floor at key junctions in the garages help update that information at 10-second intervals throughout the day. As a car moves into an area with 10 open spaces, the system cuts its tally of open spaces in that area to nine. If a car leaves that area, the tally of open spaces is increased back to 10.

The system not only helps garage customers find an open space, it also can help them find their cars.

Jack Hemphill, business general manager at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, said about 20 to 25 people a day fly into Logan and can't remember where they parked their vehicles.

With the new system, officials can quickly locate any vehicle that has been parked overnight. Car locations are also automatically printed on parking receipts issued at kiosks inside the terminals.

Logan's system also can thwart parking fraud and auto thefts. Massport can now verify how long a vehicle has been parked in the garage, even if the driver says he lost his parking ticket. The system also photographs license plates of cars leaving the garage and automatically checks to make sure the exiting car and parking ticket match the ticket and car that entered. If there isn't a match, the driver is detained and questioned.

‘Once the public becomes used to the product, I think it will work marvelously and prove to be a great customer service,’ Hemphill said. Logan earned $74 million from its parking operations last year.

After being told by the Globe how Massport knew where his car was parked, Liroff said he appreciated the technology and the consumer benefits. But he said he was troubled that the agency at no point informs customers what information is being gathered about them and what is being done with it.

‘I should have a right to be an “educated consumer” so I can make an informed decision for myself about the personal trade-offs in each situation,’ he said.

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said Massport should have a privacy policy in place. ‘They need to tell you how they're using that information,’ she said.

Phil Orlandella, a Massport spokesman, said the agency does not plan to notify parkers about its information-gathering activities or develop a privacy policy. He stressed that data are gathered on vehicles entering the garages and not the drivers of those vehicles.

Orlandella said the information is held indefinitely and used for internal parking management, although he said the State Police is given access to the database for stolen vehicle and other investigations.

‘This program does not and was never intended to violate any person's rights,’ he said. ''The system is used for inventory and has a lot of customer service built into it.’”
posted by ericb at 10:20 PM on February 5, 2008 [10 favorites]

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