Buxbaum raised the topic at this week’s City Council meeting, asking city staffers to study the issue and get back to the council at this Tuesday’s meeting for further discussion. The meters could be installed next year, he said.
“ I have always felt that we really bought the wrong pay stations,” Buxbaum said. “They aren’t a good fit for the kinds of parking situations that we have in downtown Olympia.”
The mayor and other council members have been looking for a way to replace the pay stations, which are difficult and inconvenient to use, customers complain.
The city has been quietly testing a handful of the meters for two months on the Cherry Street side of City Hall, the mayor said.
“They’re digital; they have easy-to-read screens; they provide an opportunity to easily mark in how much time you need in order to do what you want to do and leave,” he said.
That’s in contrast to the much-maligned pay stations, about 50 of which were installed two years ago in the formerly free-parking zone in downtown Olympia. Customers have expressed disappointment in having to walk to the pay station, get a receipt and walk back to the vehicle to place it on the dash. The machines have broken down frequently and have had difficulty reading credit cards.
The city borrowed $725,000 in 2010 to buy and install the pay stations, and it expected to spend $810,000 over three years, including interest, to pay back the loan with proceeds from the pay stations.
Buxbaum said one reason to replace the stations now is that the city has paid them off. He said he’s open to creative ideas for reusing the old pay stations, maybe in parking lots.
The final cost estimate for the meters isn’t known, but they are significantly cheaper than the pay stations. The meters themselves would cost cost about $500 each, said Keith Stahley, director of Community Planning and Development, and there are 335 parking stalls to meter. So the meters alone would total about $167,000. The metal poles and housing for meters cost about $250, he said.
But some of those meters will share poles, and there are other costs to consider. The city can tap a parking account that has about $600,000 to pay for the meters, Stahley said.
The city will have to pay for phone connections and credit card fees in order to accept credit cards.
The current pay stations, while generating money the city didn’t get before, also cost a significant amount. Stahley said the city budgets about $75,000 just to maintain the meters, which it subtracts from about $250,000 in annual revenues.
Buxbaum said it appears the smart meters would require less maintenance.
“I want us to be as thrifty as possible,” he said. “At the same time, I also want to balance this with, you know, the express needs of our downtown business and customers to make downtown as friendly and welcoming as possible.”
He said he wants to reach out to downtown businesses, the Parking and Business Improvement Area and the Olympia Downtown Association.
Connie Lorenz, executive director of the downtown association, said she likes the meters. In fact, her association recommended the meters rather than pay stations before they were put in.
She said people are used to the meters.