High-tech Seattle-style parking meters were installed Wednesday along four blocks of downtown Spokane and in a city-owned parking lot next to City Hall as part of an experiment.
Similar meters were tried and rejected six years ago by city and business leaders who felt that motorists were confused and inconvenienced by an earlier version of the system. City leaders also questioned the need to pay credit card fees.
But Louis Meuler, the city planner leading the effort to create a new downtown parking system, said times have changed and there’s a bigger demand from the public for extra conveniences in how they pay to park. They want the ability to pay by credit or debit card, for example.
“Parking-payment technology has evolved quite a bit in the last few years,” Meuler said.
The new system, which is solar powered, also will allow drivers to create accounts so they can pay by phone.
Only nine of the new meters have been installed during the trial, which will last through March. They serve street parking along four blocks: the two blocks of Post Street immediately south of River Park Square and the two blocks of Main Avenue in front of the mall. One also serves a city lot just north of City Hall.
A big difference between the system unveiled Thursday and the one considered six years ago is that drivers will not have to go back to their car to affix a receipt to the window. That’s the system still used in downtown Seattle.
Parkeon, a French company, was selected by the city to perform the trial from nine bids received. Seattle and Tacoma also use Parkeon meters. The test was approved unanimously by the Spokane City Council earlier this month.
If the city moves forward and purchases the meters, they will cost $6,250 and $7,500 each, depending on the features selected. The city also would pay Parkeon $60 per month per meter for software, database and other fees. The meters allow the city to determine which ones need service and better track how they’re used.
“This will be a fantastic tool to help us better manage our parking system,” Meuler said. “We’ll get daily data on how our spaces are doing.”
Meuler said the city expects revenue to increase under the new meters because parkers tend to pay for more time since they aren’t dependent on the number of coins in their car. The city also will gain because drivers can’t take advantage of unused, unexpired meters – they’ll no longer be able to tell when there’s time left on a meter.
Not all old meters will be replaced. The new system only pays for itself in high-turnover parking spots. Meuler said extra revenue generated with the new meters will pay for the new meters within five years. At this point, the city estimates that it will buy about 75, but the trial may show that the city should buy more or less.
“We want hard numbers to back that up,” Meuler said.
One man using the system Thursday said it’s less convenient than feeding the old meters, which were immediately adjacent to each space. Most parkers asked about the new system, however, said they prefer it.
Spokane resident Janel McLean said getting a printed receipt showing when the meter will expire will help parkers avoid tickets.
Before getting out of his car, Josh Leech scrounged for coins, which he used to fill the new meter. If he had known the machine took credit cards, he wouldn’t have bothered, he said.
“It’s actually quite easy once I learned how to use it,” Leech, a Spokane resident, said immediately after using the new meter. “I don’t carry cash a lot.”
Only one meter was operational Thursday. Meuler said the city won’t issue tickets at spaces with new meters until Monday.
Signs labeling each space with numbers were installed Thursday. Customers type in the number of the space they’re occupying and pay for time by coin or credit card. The machines do not accept bills. Each meter handles six to 12 spaces.
The meter won’t allow parkers to pay during holidays or after-hours. A parker who arrives before enforcement begins at 8 a.m. can plug the meter, which will wait until 8 to start ticking.
But the city will have the ability to program meters so credit card payers can’t add time after making the first payment. The prohibition would be meant to enforce the city’s law forbidding drivers from refilling meters.
“We’re not instituting that at this time,” Meuler said.
Andrew Rolwes, public parking and policy manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said the first trial, which occurred under former Mayor Jim West, was unsuccessful because it took too long for the older machines to verify credit card information and customers disliked having to go back to their cars to post receipts.
Meuler said the city expects to pay an average of 14 cents per transaction to credit card companies, and will bar people from using credit cards if they want to pay for less than a half-hour of time. Credit card users must purchase at least 60 cents worth of time. Like now, coin users can pay as little as a nickel.