Recently, Jacksonville City Council Members Suzanne Jenkins and Elaine Brown held a meeting to discuss downtown parking. While some topics on the agenda included meter times and smart meters, it turned into a bit of an airing of grievances (anyone see that Seinfeld episode about the fictional holiday Festivus ). This was bound to happen, since this is something that downtown business owners are quite passionate about.
Parking is arguably the biggest complaint of downtown patrons - there's not enough, the garages are too expensive, I never have quarters for the meters - the list goes on and on. Jacksonville's 2006 meter technology is basically the same as it was in 1956 - accepting quarters only. Many cities have progressed past this and have installed "smart meters" - meters that can be fed via a number of methods, such as coins, paper money, prepaid cards, credit cards and even cell phones.
One such city that has progressed past the "Quarter is King" technology is Seattle. Seattle has installed multi-space pay stations, using a concept called "Pay and Display: The process is simple - a patron parks, and instead of fishing for quarters, they walk to the nearest pay station (normally one every few spaces), and purchase parking time, using coins, paper money, credit or debit cards, or smart cards (smart cards are prepaid parking cards that work just like a gift cards. The machine will print a sticker that the patron affixes to the inside of their driver's side window (as a nice touch, they even give you two minutes free to walk back to your car to affix the sticker). While it seems that the walking back to the car may be a deterrent for some, this technology seems to be very popular among many major cities. Portland, Chicago, New York, Sacramento and Indianapolis are just a few cities that use this system or a similar concept.
Indianapolis is also testing a variation of this technology, known as "Pay by Space". Instead of walking back to their car, a patron goes to the pay station and selects the space they parked, and pays for the space. There is no need to walk back to the car, since the pay station keeps track of the time on each space.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Pay by Space is significantly cheaper - the City of Indianapolis is expecting to pay $4,500 per pay station compared to $10,000 for a Pay and Display station. Pay and Display also has the added inconvenience of maintenance - it relies on a supply of stickers in the device. However, Pay by Space is not without its disadvantages. If a Pay by Space device is offline, then the spaces that the particular device covers is also offline, while Pay and Display patrons can purchase parking at any pay station.
There are other variations of the Pay by Space technology, such as cell phone communication - a patron pulls up to a two hour meter, and chooses to pay for one hour. After 45 minutes, it sends a text message to the patron, who can choose to reply to the message and the pay station can automatically charge the patron for another hour. In addition, some cities trying to squeak extra money out of it's citizens (Pay attention Mayor Peyton, it's budget season) can install electronic parking space monitoring, so that it can sense a car pulling away from a space, and reset the time on that space to zero, eliminating the concept pulling up to the space and getting a free time.
Councilwomen Jenkins and Brown, and Bob Carle, the city's Parking Division Chief are currently investigating these and other types of meters. They have been very responsive to citizen input, holding town hall meetings for citizens and business owners to participate in. In addition, the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission's Downtown Parking Committee is in the process of hiring a downtown parking consultant to tell us what we are doing wrong (if it is this simple, why didn't we do this 5 years ago), in hopes of solving the city's parking problems by the time that our grandkids are driving downtown. Let's hope that this is a project finished sooner rather than later.