No More Fumbling for Coins: Drexel Alumns Create the Ompay Parking Meter
This essay is the eighth in the series Drexel students write about Drexel innovations
No More Fumbling for Coins: Drexel Alumns Create the Ompay Parking Meter
by Emily Kim
In order to successfully develop a solution, a problem must first be recognized. Appropriate planning and research must be conducted to understand the underlying issues. Drexel University alumni, James Kohler and Nitin Khanna, have sympathized with Philadelphia drivers and the apprehension they endure while parking. This anxiety is a result of feeding parking meters with the last quarter dug out from either the car’s ashtray that has become a piggy bank, or the pockets of pants and shirts that have been infested with crumbs and lint. Rushing back to the parked car in hopes of beating the notorious Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) before they can issue a parking violation is yet another product of the city’s parking situation. The PPA is the regulating body of all on-street parking in the city. In fact, Khanna has once fallen victim to being ticketed for an expired meter. With this experience lingering in their minds, Kohler and Khanna have collaborated ideas to create a process that ultimately alleviates this stress. Entitled OmPay, the system relies on the use of the Smart Card, which is akin to a debit card. With the swipe of the Smart Card, as opposed to the insertion of loose change, drivers are able to pay for metered parking on streets throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Since its introduction in 2001, OmPay has been applauded for its convenience to tourists, businesspeople, students, and commuters alike.
Drexel and its entrepreneurship programs have made much of the team’s success possible. Kohler, from Drexel’s Lebow College of Business, and Khanna, from its College of Engineering, have partnered in various projects prior to OmPay. In an entrepreneurship class, the two have developed a wireless network for apartment complexes. Kohler and Khanna’s start-up company, Webergize, LLC, has sprung up from Drexel University’s Laurence A. Baiada Center, which “serves as an incubator for budding student and alumni entrepreneurs by offering a combination of teaching, mentoring, and research” (Riell). After thoroughly analyzing the problem and its potential solutions, the students have been able to get in touch “with, among others, Paul Baiada, and the PPA’s chairman and executive director, Joe Ashdall and Rick Dickson, respectively” to introduce their preliminary thoughts (Riell). Networking through Drexel and the PPA has allowed for a greater awareness of the parking meter problem.
Self-funded by Kohler and Khanna, Webergize, LLC has transformed into today’s OmPay, LLC. The two students have begun spending time ‘“researching the industry, looking into different types of technology, and [finding] out what the [PPA has been] doing with vendors and technology suppliers’” (Riell). Identifying Philadelphia’s market potential has been critical to “research, develop, and deploy a custom program” (“Leadership”). In 2003, OmPay created a public private partnership with the PPA. Together, they have implemented a system using the smart card technology. Similar to a debit card’s magnetic stripe, the Smart Card’s embedded microchip transmits its information to the parking meter. Once inserted into the designated slot, the meter deducts money from the prepaid card in twenty-five cent increments (“Using Smart Cards”). The digital display on the meter shows the amount of time purchased; and when the card is withdrawn, the appropriate amount is deducted from the original balance (Parker). However, these cards have been designed to not add time beyond the meter’s preset limit, which prevents overpaying for a parking spot. In fact, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), a regional municipal authority that operates buses, subways, trains, and trolleys in and around Philadelphia, has adopted this Smart Card. After two years of trying to obtain money from federal and state grants, SEPTA has finalized its move to borrow $175 million through the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (Nussbaum). This money will pay for the advanced electronic fare systems installed at all SEPTA stations. Instead of the traditional style of tokens, tickets, and passes, Smart Cards will eventually be their replacement. Passengers will be able to conveniently wave their Smart Cards across sensors implanted into these new fare systems within the stations. Transit lines throughout the nation, including Washington, California, and New York, are planning to adopt similar systems for their travelers and commuters. Because “the idea is for people to do business,” the result is various “spin-off economic benefits” (Parker). People are not thwarted from reaching their destinations, and economic activity is constantly flowing. In conjunction with the PPA, OmPay has accomplished its vision to create a cashless payment system for various means of transportation, including buses, subways, trains, and automobiles.
Aside from its affiliation with SEPTA, OmPay has partnered with numerous retailers to create a retail distribution channel, along with its web channel. With Philadelphia having “the country’s largest network of retail distributors for any prepaid parking card”, over 200 businesses, including ACME, Conestoga Bank, The Fresh Grocer, WaWa and 7-Eleven, have furthered the Smart Card service to a wider population of customers. As a matter of fact, the Smart Card has become the “top-selling prepaid product at WaWa and 7-Eleven stores” (SmartCard is Top-Selling…), which demonstrates its popularity in convenience. These prepaid cards can be purchased in ten, twenty, and fifty-dollar denominations throughout the city. However, they are not yet reloadable, so cards must be discarded after they are empty.
OmPay has been a company solely based on the ideal of changing people’s lives on a daily basis by exploring different uses of technology. The OmPay team wholeheartedly believes that the world can be saved thousands of hours daily if each person can be saved a few minutes each day through the convenience of the Smart Card (“Overview”). Since its launch in October 2003, OmPay’s Smart Cards have been boasted as “the most reliable on-street parking transaction process in the nation” (“Leadership”). It has become America’s first payment option to work in all modes of transportation (First Reloadable SmartCard…). Kohler and Khanna accredit the success of their organization to the commitment and dedication of their mentors at the Baiada center (“The Baiada Mentors Program”).
Kohler and Khanna’s success story has proven to be very inspirational and motivating. A plethora of possibilities and opportunities can be reached by simply acting upon a problem. Much greater accomplishments are capable of being attained through dedication and perseverance.
"The Baiada Mentors Program." Laurence A. Baiada Center. Drexel University. Web. 12
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