Automated kayak rentals may replace staff at Windsor Castle Park

Published 2:17 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Smithfield’s Department of Parks and Recreation may do away with hiring summer staff to work kayak rentals at Windsor Castle Park and instead set up automated kiosks.

RentFun, a company that offers self-service bicycle, scooter and kayak rentals, has submitted a $16,000 proposal to the town.

The annual amount would cover the “activation fee” for a four-unit kayak rental station. Under a five-year revenue-sharing contract, RentFun and Smithfield would split the rental fees 50-50.

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The kiosk could bring in $8,000 to $16,000 per year depending on how many people rent kayaks. Subtracting the annual activation fee, the company estimates the arrangement could bring Smithfield a profit ranging from $4,000 to $24,000 at the conclusion of the five-year contract.

According to Parks and Recreation Director Amy Novak, the kiosk would save the town around $8,000 it would otherwise need to spend to staff the park’s kayak rental office. 

“Heat related illness cases have been on the rise and it is difficult to keep our staff cool in a space without air conditioning,” Novak’s memorandum to Smithfield’s Town Council states.

The small shed that serves as the rental office operates without air-conditioning during the hottest months of the year, during the hottest times of day, the memo states. Novak estimates it would cost an additional $6,547 to add solar panels to the shed, which would only allow for a fan, as opposed to a full air-conditioning unit.

The kiosk would also allow rentals seven days per week from dawn to dusk for a longer season than the town can currently offer.’

Novak stated at the Town Council’s Feb. 27 committee meetings that she’s looking for a decision on the proposal ahead of the next budget cycle. The town adopts a new annual budget each June for a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year.

Town Council members were receptive to Novak’s proposal.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is “getting tougher” with its regulations on the environments in which employees can work, Mayor Steve Bowman noted.

Vice Mayor Valerie Butler called the change a “sign of the times.”

Some council members expressed concerns about what would occur if a kayak isn’t promptly returned to the kiosk. Novak said in this case, RentFun would contact boaters by phone, text or email if they do not return their rentals within eight hours.