Many complain the new downtown parking meters are too complex. Others say give them time.
By Fred Hiers
Joe and Dot Jones looked at the new parking meter next to their Nissan in downtown Ocala and studied the small screen.
“This would be the right side; right?” Dot Jones asked her husband.
The meter serves two spaces and the visiting couple from The Villages was trying to figure out how to pay the meter for their side.
“It’s 31. We’re in Space 31. Does it say 31?” Joe Jones asked his wife.
“What happens if I put a quarter in?” Dot Jones, 74, asked.
She slid a quarter in the slot and pressed an arrow pointing to her parking space on the left. The meter reported it had the received money.
“Come on, let’s go,” Joe said, looking toward Harry’s Seafood, Bar & Grille, where the couple planned to each lunch.
They said they like to often visit Ocala’s downtown area, but do not like the new meters.
“I just don’t know what to think,” Dot Jones said, shaking her head. “Where we live, we don’t have meters. And it’s the greatest feeling not having to worry about the meters.”
The couple said that adding coins was complicated enough and they likely would never try to pay with a credit card or a smartphone app.
Neither of them was sure if they had entered money for the correct space, or the space next to their car, or how many minutes’ worth of parking time they had registered. They hoped for the best and headed to the restaurant.
The city installed the 140 new meters, most of which serve two spaces instead of one, to limit visual clutter.
A few minutes after the Jones’ walked away, Kat McGrath also was trying to decipher one of the parking meters.
McGrath, 59, of Ocala, said she had an app on her phone to pay for parking but had forgotten how to use it. She found change in her purse and stared at the meter.
McGrath, who was running late for a hair appointment, said she would rather use a meter that was more self-explanatory.
When asked how she liked the new meters, McGrath said, “At the moment, not much.”
Dave Reilly was more blunt.
“They stink,” said Reilly, putting coins in a meter. “They’re just a pain in the a**.”
“For one thing, you can’t see the (the screen) from your car to see if there’s still time on it,” Reilly added.
“There used to be simple ones. You’d put coins in it and you’d be done,” said the retired cabinet maker.
Sandra Hill, however, said that after using the meters a couple of times, it was easy enough.
“Just read the directions,” she said. “It’s not bad. It’s just different and it takes a while to get used to it.”
“And I can use my credit card if I don’t have change. That’s nice. People will get used to them in time,” Hill said.
Chip Rich is the city of Ocala Senior Projects administrator and oversaw the meters’ purchase and now their operation. He said that as long as people follow the directions on the meter screen they really can’t go wrong.
“I think a lot of people are over thinking it,” Rich said. “There might be some people who think of (the meter) as if it were their computer. They’re afraid they’re going to break it. But most people I’ve spoken with downtown (say that) after their second time they get it.”
During March, the new meters were used more than 17,280 times.
Rich said the city bought the meters that can service two spaces because they present less visual clutter. And, they do far more than just allow people to park downtown.
They provide Rich will real time data as to how often vehicle owners feed the meters and how long they planned to stay, and how often the units are used and when. They also send Rich data about how much money the meters have taken in and deposited into the city’s bank account.
That’s the kind of information any business wants to have and needs to operate efficiently, Rich said.
If anyone has an issue with one of the 140 new meters, such as paying for the wrong side or thinking they had paid for more parking time, Rich said they can petition his department. The meters have a digital memory and Rich said he can boot that up so he and the vehicle owner can review the problem and see what happened.
The meters cost the city about $126,000. The city will pay the vendor, MacKay Meters, about $16,000 during the first year in servicing fees. The amount will vary depending on the number of people who use credit cards.
The city’s annual share of revenue from the new meters is expected to be about $122,000, Tye Chighizola, Ocala’s growth management director, said earlier this year.
Currently, people who park over their allotted time are given written warnings. After that, parking fines are $25.