Minnewaska State Park thought their problems would be solved with the installation of a pay-station, a fix to the line-up of cars that would grow by the ticket booth during the busy seasons. They would be able to decrease transaction times while increasing customer satisfaction. The staff’s workload would be easier with the machine doing the heavy work. But this modern dream never came to fruition. Instead of ease and accessibility, the machine has caused traffic backups, staff to break safety codes and utter confusion among patrons and staff alike.
Installations of the custom ordered Ventek Model 600 is part of a statewide effort. It aims to modernize parks and simplify ticket purchases for patrons who in the past had to pay a cashier in a ticket booth, said the New York State Parks office in their outlined future goals for all state parks.
“I think it’s an unnecessary addition that makes everything more complicated,” said Rose Ruggerman, the head cashier at Minnewaska State Park, “it’s only purpose is to eliminate us.” She says the purpose of the machine is to reduce counting errors and decrease the possibility of money being stolen, something that has never happened to her knowledge. “No one has ever stolen before, we had multiple checks in place to prevent that.”
With the machine providing a more hands-off approach, the cashiers are left with time to themselves. In a mountain range notorious for no service, some resort to games to occupy themselves.
“[The machine] takes time away from my job so I just play my DS,” said Emily Ward referring to her handheld gaming device. “People ask ‘why are you here?’ and I don’t know what to tell them so I just ask back, ‘would you like a map?”
With the cashiers now on the sidelines, the machine should be doing the majority of the work. However, workers say that the station doesn’t live up to its promises and leaves many patrons confused on how to buy a ticket.
“A transaction where somebody knows what they’re doing takes around eight minutes and if they don’t it takes over ten,” said Ruggerman, “there are no clear instructions so there is a lot more that could go wrong.”
When entering the park, you drive past the booth, with a cashier still stationed inside, and pull up to the station. Once you’re there, you have to press “B” and either insert a credit card, your empire pass or exact change. If you’re able to to get to this point, the machine will dispense your ticket and you can enter the park.
If completed correctly the process may work but many visitors don’t reach that point.
“I hate the machine,” said Steve Kelly, a hiker who frequently stops by Minnewaska, “it makes no sense and is just annoying.”
A main problem that people face is confusion on what button to press. Displayed on the machine are buttons “A” to “C”, with additional numbers tossed in. The only button with significance is “B”, leaving the other buttons as possible slip-ups that can lengthen a transaction.
“Written in tiny print on the machine is ‘Press B’ and people don’t read it,” said Ward, “I had a guy press ‘B’ continuously and it lengthens the transaction because the machine will reset itself and the person has to start over.”
Many visitors don’t know that the machine needs exact change to work. People will wait through an entire line of cars, pass by the cashier in the booth who could give them change, finally reach the machine and realize that they cannot purchase a ticket because they don’t have the appropriate amount. When they realize, there are cars already lined up behind them and reversing to the cashier is not longer an option. At this point the cashiers leave the gate and approach the car to help.
“I have to get out of the gate and help,” said Ruggerman, “they can’t back up or it’s a fuck-fest.”
During a busy day, there is a line of cars that overflows onto route 44/55 which creates a dangerous situation where people are driving fast and there are numerous blind spots. Backing up would cause traffic to flow onto the road further, causing a more dangerous situation.
The station also has a reputation of denying debit and credit cards for no specific reason. “I just tried swiping three different cards,” said Luke Colley, a New Paltz local who visits the park, “the person in the booth tried to help me but it kept denying everything so they just let me through.”
Throughout a shift cashiers leave their booth numerous times, despite safety code that requires them to stay inside and call for assistance.
“We are encouraged to leave the gate but we’re not allowed to technically because it’s against safety code. We don’t have a safety vest handy and we leave a lot of money behind,” said Ward, “We have to do that every 10 to 15 cars, and that’s being generous.”
New York State safety regulation states that when a person working in the booth leaves, they are required to wear a fluorescent safety vest and no money must be left inside.
In addition, over the summer Minnewaska will begin to sell boat licenses at the gate which requires inspection of the boat forcing the cashier to leave which will potentially increase violations.
Only an Empire Pass can be used at the pay-station, leaving unclear instructions for those who hold other passes like a Golden State, which is held by seniors 62 years and older, and the liberty Lifetime pass, a pass given veterans with disabilities to have discounted access to state parks. There are no clear instructions on the website and once at the park, these visitors are told to drive to a separate location to gain entry to the park.
A major flaw of the machine is that you can only complete a transaction in English, adding a language barrier to the transaction process. According to the cashiers, a large percentage of visitors speak Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and other languages.
“When I did the transaction and somebody is had trouble speaking to me in English, I could be courteous of that and make the process as easy as I could,” said Ward, “but the machine can’t do that and it’s so confusing with a lot of unnecessary words. All I can do is repeatedly stress to ‘press B.”
Most of these issues could be solved with a change in programming, said Erika Anderson, Ventek’s Director of Sales.
“The model 600 is one of our most advanced machines and can be programmed to fit almost every need,” Anderson said.
Ventek is an international company that sells machines all over the world with success stories in numerous other parks like the Grand Canyon National Park.
Several calls have been made to the park manager’s office of the park but no statement has been made at this time.
“I used to love talking to people,” said Ruggerman, “now I just get people yelling at me and getting frustrated over something that’s beyond my control and I have managers telling me it’s my fault and that ‘I should never let a patron get that upset again.”