Downtown Spokane visitors now can plunk coins into the latest breed of computer-driven parking meters.
The city is testing 16 of the new machines downtown. If all of the old mechanical meters eventually are replaced with the new-fangled devices, using coins may be a thing of the past.
Among its new options, the new electronic meter can use “cash keys” purchased ahead of time. Like debit bank cards, a key would be inserted into the meter, which would display time left, and a memory chip would keep track of the transaction.
The meters also can turn mean by being programmed to wipe away leftover time when a car drives away. Or they can limit how long a driver can park in one spot by refusing to accept coins after a certain time.
City crews recently installed the blue-tipped meters along Main between Lincoln and Post and between Stevens and Howard.
The new Duncan Eagle Meters use all-electronic circuits, do nifty things such as store information every time they’re used, and can change rates automatically.
For instance, they might give an hour of parking for a quarter on weekdays, then give a weekend user two hours for the same amount.
“These are darned impressive pieces of equipment,” said Doug Siemens of the City of Portland parking division.
That city installed 5,400 electronic meters similar to the 16 Spokane is testing.
These new models are slightly larger and no longer have three coin slots and a turn handle.
Equipped with quartz batteries, they keep more accurate time than spring-driven units. They’ve also replaced the time-dial arrow with a digital readout.
But the new models also do things that can make life difficult for everyday drivers.
Although the city has no plans to use these features, the new meters can be adapted to:
Refuse Canadian coins. Each new meter senses the exact value of coins inserted. “Some devices we sell can distinguish between a variety of different U.S. and Canadian coins,” said Bob Andrews of Duncan, which has sold about 150,000 electronic meters worldwide.
Wipe off remaining time. Older meters leave time on the clock when a driver pulls away. These meters, with the aid of infrared sensors, can turn time back to zero when a driver leaves.
“We have that feature, but no one is using it yet,” said Andrews, noting that American drivers have come to expect free parking time as a right.
“Any city that changes that option will have to deal with heavy political fallout,” he said.
Eliminate repeat plugging. A sensor would notice if a car has moved or not. After a maximum of, say, 100 minutes, the meter no longer would give the driver additional time.
Said Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty: “That might be an interesting feature. Getting turnover, or more people using the meters, is the whole reason merchants wanted the parking meters downtown reinstalled.”
He added that reinstalling meters downtown, to help merchants who’ve formed a downtown parking and improvement district, has no connection with the electronic meter test.
Vary time limits at different hours of the day. In Portland, sections of downtown have meters that run as five-hour devices most of the working day.
Between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., those meters have 10-minute limits for parents dropping children off at downtown child care centers.
Spokane Transportation Department Traffic Planner Don Ramsey said the city has no plans to buy more meters until the 16 go through extensive tests.
Geraghty said it’s not clear city residents want all of those sophisticated features.
If the city adopts the new models, the council will have final say on rates and features, he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: A better parking meter?