Cities from coast to coast taking parking meter technology for a spin
The station installation took place at the same time that the city boosted parking rates to $1 an hour late last summer in parts of downtown Walnut Creek, a suburb of Oakland, Calif.
The new units have been placed in the middle of each block and will allow people to pay for parking at one central location rather than at a meter. The boxes will accept cash, coins or a credit card.
The pay stations will be powered through ambient light rather than direct sunlight. The city currently is monitoring the stations to see how the solar parts of the stations withstand trees and other foliage in the downtown area.
The stations will enable enforcement officers to monitor compliance through a hand-held device rather than having to be positioned at the pay station.
“The experiment is still going on; we are still in the trial stage,” Ron Toombs, a technician in the Walnut Creek parking meter shop within the city’s Transportation Division, told GovPro.com. “The city is still evaluating the product and its costs. Since budget times are coming up, there probably will be a decision made regarding the parking stations sometime this June.”
According to Tombs, some of the decisions to be made include whether to purchase more units, what vendor to buy from, how many units to buy and what meter technology works best.
If the pilot program is a success, the city could spend about $1 million to replace some of the downtown meters and install 100 pay station units.
Meanwhile, the city of Cleveland is experimenting with parking pay stations. A team from PSx Inc., a parking and security firm with offices in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland, recently installed four solar-powered, multi-space parking boxes along a boulevard in downtown Cleveland. The new units replace meters for 64 spaces.
The pay stations are being tested on a trial basis, and their effectiveness will be reviewed in the months ahead to determine whether additional devices will be purchased.
Instead of putting coins in a parking meter alongside each car, Cleveland motorists enter their parking space number on an electronic keypad and deposit money in the pay station. The machine then prints a ticket with an expiration time that is placed on a car’s dashboard. Cleveland officials estimate that the meters along the boulevard will bring in $80,000 to $100,000 a year.
Smart parking meters call motorists on their cell phones
On the streets of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Buffalo, N.Y., Photo Violation Technologies Corp. is testing a digital parking meter that calls motorists on their cell phones when they are running out of meter time. Motorists can pay for more time over the phone instead of running out to fill the meter.
If they don’t get to the meter in time and they receive a citation, motorists can pay the fine at the meter with their credit cards. However, if a parker decides to ignore the citation and drive off, the smart meter will snap an image of his/her license plate and wirelessly transmit it to the city’s enforcement crew.
Payment methods for the smart meter include coins, credit cards, ATM/debit cards and city-issued smart cards or by phone.
Sizable revenue source for cities
According to Martin Stein, president of the National Parking Association (NPA), parking meter fees and the fines generated from parking violations are “an important source of revenue for municipalities.”
“The technology of metered parking has evolved greatly in the past decade,” Stein told GovPro.com. “Where there were once single-space mechanical meters accepting only coins, there are now multi-space meters with technology that allows acceptance of both cash and credit cards. Additionally, the ability to pay for metered parking via a cell phone has been emerging. All of these improvements provide for better revenue and space control while adding convenience to the parking public.”
Stein’s group, the NPA, is an international network of 1,200 companies representing thousands of parking industry professionals, including colleges and universities, airports, municipalities, parking authorities, hospital and medical centers, private operators, parking consultants, developers and industry vendors.
“Parking is a very large part of many city budgets now—sometimes it can be as high as 30 percent,” said William Dugan, chairman of Arlington Heights, Ill.-based Integrated Parking Solutions (IPS), which provides turnkey mobile hand-held enforcement tools for on- and off-street parking for universities, municipalities and businesses.
The ground and bumper sensors and wireless technology in the IPS system alert enforcement personnel to the locations of parking violators. The same sensors can advise when a motorist is parked in no-parking or no-loading zones. The IPS system alerts administrators when a meter is malfunctioning, allowing revenue to flow without disruption.
“Cities typically collect just 10 percent or less of the existing violations out there, and our system shows enforcement officers every violation in real time, so violation revenue collections go way up,” Dugan said.
Parking policies up for review?
Gabriel Roth, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, a Washington-based public policy research organization, advised government administrators to “look closely at their parking fees, with the aim of always having some spaces that are available.”
“People coming into town, looking to shop for 10 or 15 minutes, they’d be happy to pay $1 for a quarter of an hour if they could readily find a space,” Gabriel Roth told Govpro.com. “I suspect those cities having those kinds of parking pricing policies would have much higher parking revenues to benefit city coffers. There would also be the advantage of fewer cars cruising, looking for a vacant parking space. Some experts reckon that in a busy city, 20 percent of the cars on the road are looking for a parking space—it’s a sizable proportion, so all that traffic would disappear and reduce congestion and save energy.”
For a useful analysis on this topic, Roth suggested reading Donald Shoup’s “High Cost of Free Parking.” Shoup is a fellow at the American Institute of Certified Planners and is professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.
According to Bern Grush, chief scientist at Toronto-based Skymeter Corp., government administrators need to analyze the costs of their city’s street parking metering technology. His company uses GPS to track and charge vehicles for road use and parking metering.
“The cost of technology on average absorbs about 70 percent of the parking revenue—at least that’s the case in Toronto and some other major cities,” Grush told GovPro.com. “They need to have a far less expensive payment collection system.”
Another government parking policy issue that needs to be addressed is pricing, Stein asserted.
“The only issue that seems to remain on the back burner is the fair pricing of on-street parking versus off-street parking,” Stein told GovPro.com. “In many cases, on-street parking is perceived to be the most convenient, yet it is priced the lowest.”
Governments, including municipalities, counties and states, are key players in the U.S. parking industry.
“By some estimates, 40 to 50 percent of all paid parking facilities in the U.S. are owned and controlled by the institutional sector, including governments,” said Mike de Windt, a partner in the Mayfield Heights, Ohio-based Gates Group, which provides equity capital for the acquisition of real estate and companies serving the parking industries.