Montgomery tests ‘smart’ parking meters downtown

Montgomery-Parking-meterThose visiting downtown Montgomery can leave their loose change under the couch cushion.

Parking meters now accept credit cards.

Sixty “smart” parking meters were installed downtown Wednesday as part of a pilot program aimed at making parking more efficient.

City Director of General Services Steve Jones said the city’s parking meters have not been updated in 20 years. If this initial installation goes well, Jones said the idea is to use the increased revenue to convert all old meters into new, card-reading meters.

Besides keeping up with changes in technology and making parking revenue more efficient, Jones said increasing payment options should help people avoid parking tickets.

“Parking is one of the major things that drive the downtown area. Parking meters are made so multiple people can access a space throughout the day,” Jones said. “If somebody pulls into a spot and doesn’t have change, they’re not going to leave the space if they have business to attend to. We’re hoping this is a way to avoid getting a ticket by helping people pay the rate.”

Parking fees provide the city with about $500,000 per year. While the added payment methods mean parking tickets should decrease from the roughly 35,000 issued last year, the meters also have another feature to make sure everybody pays.

“One unique thing about them is when somebody leaves the parking space, (the meter) will zero-out the remaining time. Now everybody is responsible for their own fee,” Jones said.

By erasing the chance of drivers parking on somebody else’s time, these smart meters ensure that each person parking will pay. The credit/debit card option means most everybody should be able to.

Currently, only 30 of the 60 pilot meters “zero-out” once a car leaves, however, that’s just part of initial testing. Jones said all meters will eventually have the motion sensors that detect the presence or movement of a car in a particular space.

If a driver leaves a spot with time still on the meter, that person is not reimbursed for the extra time no matter the payment method.

The parking rate is still 25 cents for 30 minutes, which Jones said is probably the lowest rate among major Alabama cities. However, those paying with a card must pay for $1 for 2 hours and must use change to pay less.

While this first installment of card-reading meters only affects the downtown area, the pilot program could expand if the city sees change in downtown parking.

“If the project works, we’re looking for increased revenue to pay for the new meters,” Jones said. “We’re looking to progressively grow these meters.”