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Technology’s march lands on the beach

Radio ID tags, electronic parking monitors greet visitors to the sands

At Salisbury Beach, beachgoers can use a pay-and-display app to pay for their parking with a credit card.

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

At Salisbury Beach, beachgoers can use a pay-and-display app to pay for their parking with a credit card.

Even a trip to the beach cannot escape the advances of technology.

At Salisbury Beach on the North Shore, Scusset Beach in Sandwich, and Horseneck Beach in Westport, there are now “pay-and-display” machines that allow visitors to use their credit cards to pay for parking.

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Later this month, Duxbury will launch a pilot program that will place high-frequency identification tags in vehicles.

Those tags, which will monitor travel to and from the beach, use a technology similar to the chips on numbers worn by runners to record their race times, said Bruce Schulman, a Duxbury resident participating in the program.

“Passive tags aren’t just for Walmart,” he said, alluding to retailers’ use of the cost-effective technology to guard against theft.

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A major goal of this high-tech efficiency is to keep the ebb and flow of beachgoers and their money moving smoothly. But communities are also employing technology on everything from collecting payments online to keeping lifeguards cooler.

“The applications are pretty wide-ranging,” said Jason Wolfson, a trustee and member of the Duxbury Beach Reservation’s board of directors.

Duxbury, like many other locales, uses beach-related revenue to protect the shoreline, especially with rising sea levels. The way to keep that money coming in is to give customers what they want — beach access and value for their money, said Wolfson.

One of the biggest moneymakers at Duxbury Beach, he said, is the parking spaces on the beach.

Resident and nonresident beachgoers can pay extra in order to drive on a sand road from the parking lot to the beach, where they park on the sand.

“Our product is selling the beach access,” Wolfson said. “Without [revenue from] that access, we’re toast.”

Under the new system, Wolfson said, stickers with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags will be placed on resident and nonresident vehicles.

The stickers, which will transmit data, will be given initially to volunteers to test the system this summer, and later will be embedded in beach passes that are sold.

Coils will be placed under the sand at the vehicle crossovers at Duxbury Beach, and magnets will register the presence of the stickers.

The data will be recorded automatically and show how crowded the beach is. If a car does not have the sticker and has not paid, that will be detected, and the driver of the vehicle, captured on camera, may get a visit from staff asking for payment.

The RFID system is being developed in cooperation with Secure-a-Lot, a company managed by Schulman.

According to Town Manager René Read, officials hope an app can be developed to enable people to see remotely how parking spots are filling up and know when they have to head to the beach to snare a spot.

Currently, nonresidents can receive e-mails or tweets telling them when the beach is closed or reopened to nonresident vehicles.

Up to 250 nonresident vehicles are allowed on the beach, in addition to 250 belonging to residents.

Meanwhile, the use of pay-and-display machines at three beaches owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation follows the experience of New Hampshire.

The machines already are used for most of the 1,249 parking spots at state-run beaches in the Granite State and helped bring in approximately $1.8 million in revenue last year, according to Amy Bassett, assistant director of the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development.

The cost is $2 per hour from May 1 to Oct. 1, and $1 at other times, while at Wallis Sands State Park and South Beach at Hampton Beach State Park, it is $15 per car or $30 per RV.

There are still some traditional meters along Route 1A near North Beach in Hampton.

Bassett said the machines are more convenient than individual meters for consumers, who do not need to bring a pile of quarters or refeed meters.

They can use credit cards or cash at a pay station and place the receipt on the dashboard.

In Massachusetts, pay-and-display machines have not been installed at some DCR beaches, such as Nantasket in Hull, but could be in the future. The units will go into operation soon at Salisbury Beach, and are already operating at Horseneck and Scusset, said William Hickey, the DCR’s acting press secretary.

Hickey also said that for $35 ($45 for nonresidents), Massachusetts residents can buy a MassParks Pass, which is good for DCR beaches and parks across the state all year. The pass is free to those 62 and older.

He said fees mostly stayed the same this year, except for Scusset Beach, where the Legislature approved a $2 surcharge, similar to one added to Salisbury Beach last year.

Some might think technology and the nature of the beach do not mix, but Duxbury’s Wolfson said some advances are making interaction with the shorelines more natural.

He said the new technology will be solar-powered, as are the lifeguard shack LED spotlights and harbormaster radios.

Wolfson said he pushed for solar power when the telephone pole lines were damaged in a storm a year and a half ago. The panels on the guard shack provide the power previously supplied via the poles.

Now, he said, people crossing Powder Point Bridge are not met with a view of ugly phone poles, and snapshots will not show poles coming out of people’s heads. He added that the change will save tens of thousands of dollars by not having to replace poles and wires that are knocked out in a storm.

Wolfson said the RFID antennas will be only a foot square and painted to match the wooden poles on which they will be mounted, so they will blend in.

There will also be two small solar panels in the dunes, along with a relatively small control box that also will be mounted on a pole.

“They should be very discreet,” he said.

He said the new technology will also free up personnel by allowing staffers, who now have to count cars, then tweet and e-mail updates, to attend to other tasks.

Wolfson, who has an electrical engineering degree, also said he used a bit of science to adjust the position of the canopies over lifeguard chairs, reducing the risk of sunburn.

Another technological wrinkle in Duxbury this year is the ability to purchase beach passes online.

Sales this year had fallen at recent count to 6,800 passes from 8,000 last year, Read said, but the town has met its revenue goals.

Fewer season passes have been sold because of concerns over when the beach will be open, he said.

Last summer, the beach was closed for 34 days to protect the endangered piping plovers during their nesting season.

The watch is on now to determine what restrictions are needed to protect the plovers this year.

Overall, prices at most beaches north and south of Boston remained the same this summer. An exception was Marshfield, where nonresidents now pay a daily rate of $15 weekdays and $20 weekends for Rexhame Beach and $10 weekdays and $15 weekends for Brant Rock, an increase of $5 to $8 over last year.

Globe correspondents Kyle Plantz and Lauren Spencer contributed to this article. Jean Lang can be reached at jeanmcmillanlang@
gmail.com.
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