Olympia City Council moves to replace parking meters

Olympia’s current parking meters’ costs reason to switch to ‘smart meters’

mbatcheldor@theolympian.comFebruary 22, 2013 

The Olympia City Council is moving forward with a plan to replace the city’s 2-year-old parking pay stations with “smart meters” after a test showed the meters require less maintenance.

Removal of the pay stations and installation of the meters is expected to be complete in August, at a cost of $693,000. The city borrowed $725,000 in 2010 to install about 50 of the pay stations, mainly in the formerly free 90-minute parking zone downtown.

Councilwoman Jeannine Roe has been pushing for the switchover to the individual-space meters, citing continued complaints from customers that the pay stations are inconvenient and hard to use. The smart meters, which take credit and debit cards, are distributed one per parking space, rather than the pay stations, which sit one per block and print receipts of payment. Council members decided to move forward with a replacement plan this month after a city staff report showed favorable results in a test of 36 of the new meters.

Olympia began testing after IPS Group, Inc. of San Diego offered to give the city a free trial last summer. During the four-month test, city staff spent 24 minutes maintaining the meters, compared to an average 16 hours of maintenance per week for the pay stations, according to a staff report. The city estimates it will spend $22,350 per year maintaining meters versus $46,210 for the pay stations, a $23,860 savings.

“We’ve had a lot of maintenance problems with the pay stations,” said Karen Kenneson, parking services supervisor for the city. “Probably just in the last 6 months, we’ve seen those increased. We have a couple that we’ve actually had to pull off the street and they’re now in storage. They can’t be fixed.” In contrast, user feedback on smart meters has been “overwhelmingly positive,” the report adds.

“We heard that they were easy to understand how to use them, people liked the convenience of being able to pay with a credit card or debit card and the credit card transactions went through quickly without having to wait a long time for it to connect,” Kenneson said.

She added that people can prepay before parking enforcement starts at 8 a.m., but that the paid time won’t actually start ticking down until after 8. The meters can also display special messages, such as indicate a free parking day.

But that exact model of meter may not be the one the city installs, because it will have a competitive process. The next step is for the city to put out a request for proposals from parking meter manufacturers, which Kenneson expects by early March. She said the city’s criteria call for a model with characteristics similar to the model it tested.

The city will pick the top two proposals and require each of them to test 10 units for 30 days, she said. Before making a decision, it will get feedback from downtown businesses and customers.

Kenneson said the $693,000 price tag could be reduced by whatever the city gets for reselling the old pay stations. It’s unclear how much that could be.

Council members were generally supportive, but had questions during the Feb. 19 council meeting. Councilman Jim Cooper was critical, asking how the meter purchase would affect the city’s parking coffers. Kenneson said it would wipe out what’s there now, but the city would gain $200,000 to $300,000 this year.

Cooper replied, “I’m still thinking that it’s a little bit backwards to go out and buy equipment before we design our parking plan, parking system, but I’ve said that out loud already,” he said.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, who previously advocated for switching meters, expressed concern at the cost, which was higher than a preliminary estimate.

“I know, folks, that there’s a lot of momentum to change the meters,” he said, but “$693,000 is just echoing in my brain.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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