Electronic Meters Saving Headaches
By Era Sundar
Austin is relying more on electronic systems to alleviate parking frustrations downtown and cut back on meter malfunctions.
The City of Austin owns thousands of paid parking spaces downtown. These spaces generate more than $7 million dollars for the city each year. Some people see meters as an inexpensive option, while others think they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
Dana Anderson has had run-ins with parking meter enforcement.
“I was like no, I had time, look!” Anderson said. “I was so upset and she was like well, ‘OK you’re here, I just let it go as a warning, so you’re here, you’re gonna move your car.’”
Parking officials say they will work with anyone who comes back to their car while a ticket for an expired meter is being written – yet once the ticket is placed on the windshield, it goes to the municipal court. But new technology is making a difference. Steve Grassfield is with the city’s transportation department.
“Since we put the pay stations in, our violations went from 115,000 down to 89,000,” Grassfield said. “And we feel like the reason for that is because now you’re able to pay by credit card, and most people don’t carry that much change all the time.”
City pay stations have processed more than 3 million transactions this year. And now that the stations are electronic, they average less than one malfunction per month.
“What’s nice about these meters and pay stations, because they have modems in them that take your credit card information, they can also contact us and say, for instance, ‘You’re out of receipt paper, or the credit card portion or the coin portion of the machine is not working,’” Grassfield said.
But the new pay stations haven’t solved Austin’s parking problems. Becky Fabre works in the heart of downtown. She gave up on meters and now pays to park in a private lot.
“I ended up just converting because the meters were only three hours long and so I’d have to jump out in between meetings, and if I missed it by 20 minutes, I’d get a ticket,” Fabre said.
Fabre says going over the metered time limit caused her, on average, one ticket per month.
City officials say the limits are designed to meet different needs. Meters in the music district, for example, have five-hour limits to allow time to catch a show. Downtown meters, on the other hand, have three-hour limits to encourage quicker customer turnover.
Some public-private partnerships are coming to Austin drivers soon – including EasyPark, a device that lets drivers carry portable meters paying only for the time they use.