Sacramento installing ‘smart’ parking meters

The days of sifting through glove compartments for quarters or walking to a parking kiosk may come to an end as Sacramento begins installing “smart meters” at parking spaces that will take credit cards and most coins – and eventually may accept payment by cellphone.

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The city installed 100 such meters around Cesar E. Chavez Plaza in downtown Sacramento last week and will install 250 more in Old Sacramento on Wednesday.

The city took its first parking technology leap in 2006 when it installed tall, green kiosks that serve multiple parking spaces, take credit cards and require drivers to affix a payment sticker on their car window.

Unlike the green kiosks, each new smart meter is assigned to one parking space. The new solar-powered devices look much like the pre-2006 quarter machines, which remain on some streets, but have a distinctive credit card slot. The new meters also accept all coins except pennies, whereas old meters only took quarters.

The new meters address customer complaints about having to walk to and from a kiosk to display the parking sticker, said Parking Technology and Infrastructure Manager Mike King. They are expected to have fewer malfunctions and do not require a battery change, as did the old coin meters that relied on 9-volt batteries.

In the event of a problem, the machine will automatically alert city staff.

“They phone home, so to speak,” King said .

The City Council approved the 4,000-meter project in November at a cost of $4 million from Sacramento’s parking fund. After Wednesday’s installation in Old Sacramento, the city has its sights set on midtown streets, though it has yet to set an installation date.

The city is keeping the same parking rates on the newly installed meters, and it will not charge a credit card fee, King said. There is, however, a one-hour minimum when using a credit card. The City Council determines the parking rates, King said.

The new meters have the ability to enable payments by cellphone, where drivers can enter a meter number, select the amount of parking time desired and have the cost charged to a credit card. In that scenario, drivers could also add time from afar. But the city has not yet launched those functions.

Parking officials expect the new meters to increase revenues, in part because drivers who pay by credit card tend to purchase more time than they use. But they also think that could result in fewer parking violations.

Sacramento resident Kathy Palombi said she used to have trouble telling if a space was metered, and that led to a recent parking ticket. She hopes making that determination will be easier with the new system. She also noted the difficulty of always carrying quarters.

“I think they’re better that they take all kinds of coins, and the credit card is nice, too,” she said. “I make sure now of where I park.”

Kiosks will remain in areas that lend themselves to long-term parking such as N Street and B Street. But for people who park for only an hour or two, single-serve meters are ideal, King said.

“With the old meters, a lot of people would be finding coins under the floor mats, putting them in and hoping for the best,” King said. “The new meters make it much easier.”

Source: Sacramento Bee

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