Santa Rosa parking payment, availability woes get high-tech smarts

In parking tech, Santa Rosa closely watches its sister 60 miles south — San Francisco, where high-IQ parking swooped in at fiber-optic speed. In April, S.F. approved a nearly $20 million contract with Skidata to upgrade 22 parking garages that have 15,000 spaces. The contract goes until 2029.

In 2015, San Francisco parking fees raised some $47 million in revenue, compared with about $4.2 million in Santa Rosa. The city’s new technology, linked to its fiber-optic network to hasten processing, enhances smarts, security and surveillance of parking-ticket machines and points of entry and exit. Ticketless parking will be added. A pilot program provides digital signs to direct drivers to open parking spots.

All of Santa Rosa’s parking revenue comes from its downtown district, mostly from nearly 1,000 meters. Parking fines generate an additional $1.2 million a year, primarily from downtown.

“A meter on the 600-block of Fourth Street makes far more money than a meter on Sonoma Avenue,” said Kim Nadeau, parking division manager for Santa Rosa for the past two years. On a weekday in June, a typical meter along Fourth St. garnered between $5 and $6.

In September, Santa Rosa launched a pilot program with a company called Passport Parking, Nadeau said. The mobile-payment app is available along Fourth St. from Railroad Square to E Street. Unlike an aborted earlier app called MobileNow, tried unsuccessfully in 2014, the new app doesn’t require prepayment and shoots text messages to owners of parked cars to let them know their time is nearly up. With Passport, they can refill meters remotely by smartphone for 15 cents per transaction compared to 30 cents for MobileNow.

Passport is also offered in a few lots, including the Depot and lot 15 in Railroad Square near the freeway, and a lot on Fifth St. “We have a few select areas where we’re testing it out,” Nadeau said. “So far it’s going really well. I expect that we’ll be rolling it out citywide in the next couple of months.”

Parking meters were installed in downtown Santa Rosa starting in the 1950s. The fine for an expired meter is $35. The state encourages cities to set fines regionally and keep each city’s rates in line with others nearby.

Meters were invented and patented by lawyer and newspaper editor Carl Magee, who installed the first Park-O-Meter in Oklahoma City on July 16, 1935, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The spring-driven meters, made by a company he co-founded called Dual Parking Meter Co. (dual functions — measure parking time, collect fees), charged 5 cents an hour. By the early 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters in the United States.
Magee was a reporter for an Albuquerque newspaper and wrote stories exposing corruption in New Mexico courts, and exposing corruption by Albert Fall, secretary of the interior, convicted of conspiracy and bribery in the Teapot Dome scandal where he rented Navy oil-reserve lands in California and Wyoming to oil companies in return for personal loans and gifts. Magee became editor of the Oklahoma City News.

“I wouldn’t say that comparing Santa Rosa to Healdsburg and Petaluma,” which have no downtown meters, “is apples to apples,” Nadeau said. “Santa Rosa is the economic hub of the county, the largest city between San Francisco and Portland,” she said, with some 20,000 employees who drive into the downtown every day. “Healdsburg or Petaluma is more of a tourist and shopping destination,” she said. “We’re an economic employment base. We have five public garages and 10 surface lots.”

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