Parking in downtown Olympia will get easier starting this week, city officials say.
The city's parking technology will be updated to make parking more convenient for residents and consumers — specifically downtown, according to a news release from the city. The new cloud-based software, called NuPark, will allow the public to pay for parking online.
Pam Fant, the city's permitting and parking supervisor, said this overhaul has been in the works for months.
"It will be updating a system that is completely outdated," Fant said. "Customers will be able to go in and see their whole (parking) history.
"The portal will allow us better ways to communicate with customers and give better parking information."
Other improvements proposed in the city's new downtown strategy include providing free bus passes to 100 downtown employees to free up spaces, as well as upgrading meters — many of which are still solely coin-operated — and working with property owners downtown to allow public parking in the evenings.
According to the Olympia Onward progress report the city released earlier this year, peak-hour weekday parking occupancy has increased from 69 percent to 77 percent between 2015 and 2017.
Todd Cutts, the executive director of the Olympia Downtown Alliance, says the parking changes are a measure of success for downtown businesses.
"I think any time you can employ new technology to benefit customers coming downtown it's a good thing," Cutts said.
Meter updates downtown will begin this week. The city will install stickers that connect with the PayByPhone smartphone application beginning Wednesday.
This is the same system used to pay for parking in downtown Bellingham.
Currently, there are 2-, 3- and 9-hour meters on streets north of the Capitol Campus and in downtown Olympia. Only the 2-hour meters accept credit cards. The longer meters only accept coins.
The app changes that. The new stickers will be installed on all meters in the city, allowing users to pay remotely.
The project could take until May, based on current weather patterns, Fant says. But once the stickers are installed, users will be able to download the PayByPhone application to their phone, enter meter numbers and license plate numbers, and pay online.
The app will send text alerts when a meter is about to expire, and allow users to add more time as long as they have not exceeded the time limit of the space.
"For those customers that have paid for a meter for one hour, and are taking a little longer for lunch, they'll have the opportunity to not leave their seat, stay in the restaurant and enjoy the company, and not rush to a meter," Cutts said.
Residents also will be able to use the online portal to apply and pay for parking permits. This includes residential permits in certain neighborhoods downtown. Permit holders also will be able to manage which vehicles their permits apply to.
"Residential parking customers will be able to upload required documents that will save them a trip into City Hall," Fant said.
Paying for parking tickets or requesting appeal hearings also will be an available service online.
To improve efficiency, the city also will use License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology to enforce parking rules. When a user has paid for their meter, enforcement officers will be notified, so the user is not fined even if the meter reads "expired."
The LPR software will read license plates and check for permits and payments automatically. This will help avoid inaccuracies and unnecessary citations.
LPR also will collect data to determine how often parking spaces are occupied and for how long. The data collected will be used to continue improving the parking system.
No credit card information will be collected by LPR and data will be deleted daily if a ticket is not issued to a vehicle that was scanned.
If a vehicle is ticketed, data will be kept on file for three years, per state law. It will be kept for 10 years if the ticket is sent to collections.
"The information collected is only used by Parking Management to ensure the vehicle has paid for parking (via permit or pay-by-phone)," the city's website says.
"The data, without license plate information, is available to parking staff to determine occupancy rates. For example, how many cars parked in a given area during a specific time period."
Cutts says the new parking strategy will be an added convenience for consumers downtown.
"We will be learning as they move along," Cutts said. "Generally I think it will be positive for the community at large and businesses specifically."