Not your grandmother’s parking meter

By BARB SIEMINSKI | The Municipal

Customer at a solar-powered meter. In February the city bet on the sun to power the new multi-space, wireless parking technology option. (Photo provided)

Customer at a solar-powered meter. In February the city bet on the sun to power the new multi-space, wireless parking technology option. (Photo provided)

A parking ambassador writes a parking ticket prior to the installation of solar-powered meters in several locations around Chattanooga, Tenn. (Photo provided)

A parking ambassador writes a parking ticket prior to the installation of solar-powered meters in several locations around Chattanooga, Tenn. (Photo provided)

Here comes the sun, hopes Chattanooga, Tenn.

In February, Chattanooga, Tenn., installed solar-powered parking meters. Jim Bowen, director of special projects with the Chattanooga Parking Authority, said officials approved the investment of more than $700,000 in the new devices, which take either credit cards or coins and allow customers to pay with their cellphones.

“If their phones are used to pay the meters, they would not need to put a receipt on the dash. Another advantage of using their mobile apps for parking is that they can extend their meter time remotely.”

Prior to the installations, CPA included how-to photos and a video on its website. It took a real meter to several downtown civic presentations in an effort to show how easy it was to use them. The local TV stations aired similar information.

“Our parking ambassadors were concentrated near the new pay stations during the first two weeks to show parkers how to use them, and they still assist regularly when someone seems confused or seeks help. They also carry change for customers,” said Bowen. The machines are intuitive and have simple instructions.

“Once you use it the first time you’ve got it. Paying for a parking meter by phone is also very simple, and we’re seeing more usage monthly.”

The benefits of paying by phone are attractive: drivers don’t have to get out of their vehicles in inclement weather; no receipt, cash or change is needed; payment is secure; and online personal pages allow them to manage and print a parking receipt.

The solar parking pay stations also reduce clutter by eliminating single pole mounted meters. At each location, one pay station typically works for six to eight spaces.

Chattanooga’s service provider, Parkmobile, began operating solar-powered pay-by-phone lots in the city in mid-2011.

Tampa, Fla., decided to install the new technology after seeing vendor presentations at the 2010 International Parking Institute Trade Show.

According to Parking Division Manager Jim Corbet, there was a little pushback from the public at first.

“Our biggest problem in installing these meters was due to the general public being used to the single-space meter and educating them to the multi-space meter,” he said. “When you look across demographics, certain factors came into play, including senior citizens who might not have had computer training and therefore did not want any change in the meters.”

Pensacola, Fla., became the 54th jurisdiction in the state to employ solar-powered and wireless pay stations for curb parking with other southern cities following suit.

Albany, N.Y., Parking Authority Executive Director Michael Klein admits that the new meters — first installed in 2011 — do cost more, but that they more than pay for themselves.

“These solar-powered meters accept credit cards and are programmable to do many things that old meters could never do. They generate more revenue, too, which more than makes up for the higher cost,” he said.


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