OLYMPIA – The city’s parking pay stations have failed to meet the city’s standards and have triggered a range of complaints from residents since they were put into use in July, according to a city staff report.
“People hate those parking stations,” Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said. “There are so many complaints about them. I have people complaining to me almost daily.”
Roe said she supports replacing the dollar-an-hour pay stations with traditional meters.
“I’m all for yanking them out,” she said.
The Olympia City Council’s finance committee tackled the issue Tuesday, and the full council could discuss solutions in June.
“I think this issue warrants discussion by the full council,” said Councilman Stephen Buxbaum, chairman of the finance committee.
The report says of the meters, “The operation of the equipment has not achieved performance expectations with regards to functionality, convenience, intuitiveness, adaptability and revenues.” About the only good news to be found in the report is that there’s plenty of parking available.
On average, 39 percent of parking spaces were taken up between August and February. That’s down from an occupancy rate that sometimes exceeded 80 percent in the former 90-minute free-parking zone, according to an earlier city study. Downtown employees were tying up spots, preventing customers from using them.
The council took out a $750,000 loan to install about 50 parking pay stations to free up spaces for customers by discouraging parking by employees and to generate revenue in order to build a city parking garage, an idea that later was scrapped.
But fewer people parking means less potential revenue for the city, and the money generated so far is much less than the city’s expectation. The city expected an average of 60 percent occupancy, generating revenue between $358,182 and $452,250 a month. At that rate, the loan for the pay stations could be paid off in two to three years.
But revenue from August to February has averaged $18,765 a month. If that monthly total holds, the city will make about $225,180 a year.
A small part, but not all, of that revenue loss is the result of the council’s last-minute decision in June to give parkers the first 15 minutes free. The report estimates the city misses out on $7,832 a month as a result.
The city’s revenue woes are just the beginning of its problems with the pay stations. Users have offered a host of complaints:
• The electronic display on the pay stations’ screens is difficult to read. The screens are deliberately placed low for handicapped-accessibility. But they’re also difficult to see. The city has ordered new screens with greater contrast.
• Electronic and printed instructions are complicated. The city has tweaked them twice and could do so further.
• Using the machines is inconvenient. They’re placed mid-block, which means people have to walk to a pay station, pay, then return to the vehicle to place a receipt on the dashboard, often in the rain. The report suggests one option is replacing stations in low-use areas with meters and relocating the pay stations to high-use areas.
• Street signs need improvement. Sometimes they’re difficult to see because of vegetation.
• A three-hour limit would be better than the current two hours. Some people say they need more time.
Roe said there are other problems.
“There’s issues that it will not take your credit card and it will just randomly reject it,” she said. She said the devices have cell phones that contact banks to confirm payment cards, and sometimes they don’t connect.
Keith Stahley, director of the Community Planning and Development Department, said the city was looking into the terms of the devices’ warranty.
Council members had some suggestions.
Councilwoman Rhenda Strub questioned whether the stations needed a time limit.
“With a 60 percent vacancy rate, do you think we really need to drive turnover?” she said.
Councilwoman Karen Rogers suggested moving the free 15-minute period to the end of the time allotted, to prevent people who get to their car just after the expiration of their time from getting tickets. She also suggested relocating the machines, perhaps to the Capitol Campus area.
“I think people are finding the parking pay stations a negative experience,” said Mary Wilkinson, a resident who worked on a parking advisory committee. “The pay stations are new. People are having trouble mastering them.”
Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, said it’s not the money people are being charged that bothers them.
Jeff Trinin, another member of the downtown association, said “we certainly have lots of things we can improve.” But he has supported the stations.
Dave Platt, owner of The Mailbox, said the city doesn’t have enough information to draw conclusions and needs to survey residents.
“We need to ask people to write it down,” he said.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869