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Spokane parking meters to accept plastic

Coin-only meters could soon be a thing of the past in downtown Spokane. (File)
Coin-only meters could soon be a thing of the past in downtown Spokane. (File)

Paying for parking with plastic is about to become a permanent option in downtown Spokane.

After several exploratory studies over the past decade, Spokane plans to roll out parking meters that will accept credit card payments as well as coins at 800 parking spaces downtown. The City Council is expected to review a contract with Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions for the new meters later this month.

The Downtown Spokane Partnership, which represents the interests of downtown businesses, has worked with the city on plans to improve the convenience of downtown parking. The group’s president, Mark Richard, said new meters will do just that.

“The overall goal for us is to try to enhance customer service,” Richard said.

Plans to update downtown meters have hit snags in the past. The city originally contracted with a French company named Parkeon in 2011 to install a handful of multispace kiosks requiring drivers to walk up the block to pay for their parking. Those units didn’t test well, Richard said.

“Part of the challenge was you’d have to traipse halfway down the block and climb into a snow bank to pay for your parking,” Richard said.

Single-space units proved more popular. Duncan won a bidding war to supply Spokane with new meters, releasing a model that will cost the city $800 for each machine, making the total cost around $640,000, according to the city. Duncan provides parking services for Atlanta and Houston, among other cities.

The installation will occur in two phases. Parking crews have already removed about 100 credit card meters from downtown streets and will replace them with Duncan machines in the next few weeks. In September, another 700 meters will be installed in the core of downtown, an area roughly bounded by Spokane Falls Boulevard, First Avenue and Monroe and Washington streets.

The city also hopes to lower the transaction fee charged for paying with a card, spokeswoman Julie Happy said. The city charges 30 cents now but hopes to reduce that figure to around 10 cents in the near future.

Richard said the new meters represent a first step in improving the parking experience in downtown. In November, the city rebranded its parking enforcement department to include conflict resolution training and hospitality services. Sensors embedded in the new meters will be able to detect vehicles, allowing the city to collect information on traffic volume and potentially develop an app that would direct drivers to vacant spots.

“It’s really neat,” Richard said.

Some changes, including allowing drivers to receive alerts on their phones when their meter has almost expired and pay for 30-minute extensions, would require cooperation from the city, Richard said. An ordinance prohibits drivers from plugging meters beyond posted time limits.

Happy said the city will monitor the success of the meters downtown and decide how many of the city’s 2,000 parking meters should be replaced.

“This is a movement that we hope to extend throughout the city,” Happy said.