STOCKTON — In 2015, there were 1,700 parking meters in downtown Stockton.
Since that time, vandals and thieves have either beheaded or completely removed 1,450 to gain access to the coins inside, costing the city as much as $55,000 in monthly revenue, according to city of Stockton parking manager Tina McCarty.
To combat these vandals, the city and SP Plus — the parking management company that provides meters to the city — are starting to install 11 electronic ‘pay-by-plate’ parking machines in various locations downtown.
Two of the new machines, which stand about 5 feet tall with a large white letter ‘P’ on a blue circle located on each side, were installed on Hunter and Main streets.
The Hunter Street machine is located across the road from the Bob Hope Theatre, and the other is located on the southeast corner of Hunter and Main streets.
McCarty said the machines are one of the newest models of electronic parking pay machines available, adding the city of Berkeley also employs them on its streets.
Stockton looked at a number of ways to keep people from removing the standard meters, from reinforced poles and stronger concrete anchors in the sidewalks, McCarty said.
The thieves and vandals, however, seemed to find a way around those security measures over time, she said.
“It’s not for lack of trying to combat (the problem),” she said. “We kind of treated it like graffiti abatement, where the faster we could cover it up, we thought we could deter vandals. We tried that theory with parking meters by replacing them as much as we could. It just didn’t seem to work.”
When motorists park their cars in spaces along the streets , they will walk to the machine, enter their license plate number into system, select the amount of time they would like to remain there and then pay.
Once the machines are online, which McCarty said should be in a couple weeks, the number of vehicles parked on city streets all day should start to decrease.
″(Installing the machines) is good because we need turnover in spaces downtown,” she said. “The street is not really the place for long-term parking. Those who need a longer duration should try to park in city lots or the garages.”
To make sure the correct cars are parked along the street, McCarty said parking enforcement officers will be able to access the machine’s database of license plates paying for spaces at that time.
McCarty said the new machines will accept both coins and credit cards, as the city is aware that not everyone carries the latter.
In addition, “ambassadors” will be available near the machines to teach motorists how to use them once they are online.
“As we install these and we get our ambassadors out there, we should get a good feel of what kinds of questions people will have for us,” city spokeswoman Connie Cochran said. “Then we can put an FAQ on our website and social media pages so everyone can see how these machines will work.”
The remaining 250 standard parking meters will remain on the streets for the time being, McCarty said, and motorists still can use the Parkmobile app on their phones to pay for spaces.
The machines are being installed at SP Plus’ expense, Cochran said. A representative from SP Plus could not be reached for comment.