Time’s up for parking stations

November 27, 2012 

The Olympia City Council is about to pull the plug on a controversial set of parking pay stations downtown.

It’s a painful, expensive decision. Nevertheless, it’s the right thing to do.

The 50 pay stations are only two years old, but they have been poorly received by downtown visitors and merchants alike, for several reasons.

The instruction screens on the pay stations are poorly lit and set so low to the ground that it’s hard to read them standing up. Looks of befuddlement and frustration are commonplace among patrons when they confront a pay station.

The stations are spaced widely apart, which cuts down on visual clutter of individual parking meters. But the pay stations force parking customers to walk greater distances, compared with regular parking meters.

And here’s a frustrating feature: Once a ticket is purchased, there’s no way to add more time to that ticket without starting the ticket purchase process from scratch.

The poorly received stations are prone to mechanical problems, refusing to accept credit cards at times and generally causing a maintenance headache.

Granted, it’s never easy to acknowledge a bad investment and eat sunken costs that in this case amount to about $725,000. In addition, there’s the estimated $683,000 the city will have to spend to replace them.

But as one longtime downtown Olympia business merchant said: “It’s not easy to admit an investment like this isn’t working. But sometimes you have to listen to your customers.”

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum sounded the death knell for the pay stations about two weeks ago, suggesting a new generation of individual meters that accept credit cards and coins would be a better fit for downtown Olympia. The City Council, which consists of many new members who aren’t vested in the failed parking station project, are following suit.

With any luck, the city can still find a use for some of the “old” parking pay stations in downtown parking lots. They would be better suited for use there.

It’s time to put this unfortunate chapter in downtown parking behind us. Take the parking stations off the streets.

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