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Council looks at high-tech parking for the future

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Parking in downtown Austin could be a very different experience in the not-too-distant future, as city transportation officials plan to replace the outdated system of parking meters with high-tech, multi-space pay stations.


City Transportation Director Rob Spillar told the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee that his office has studied on-street parking in the downtown area, and has found a number of problems.


Primarily, he said, the city’s parking meters are at the end of their useful life.


“We badly need to replace the parking meters,” Spillar said. “They are falling apart faster than we can keep them repaired, and they are costing us revenue because they are out of commission so often.”

Spillar said that the city needs to expand its parking system’s ability to generate revenue that is needed for other projects, such as a streetcar system or other projects. He said the current meter system does not give the city enough flexibility, and though he did not give a date, recommended that it be replaced sooner rather than later.


Other problems include a system that is not coordinated with parking meters at the Capitol Complex or the University of Texas, and that the current system of electronic cards is problematic and too expensive to maintain.


Spillar suggests the city move to system of so-called pay stations, which would each cover a large number of parking spaces, perhaps covering two or three blocks. The units, similar to ATM machines, would take cash, a debit/credit card, or TxTAGs, and customers could buy as much time as they need. The machine would issue a parking slip, which customers would then put on the dashboard of their vehicle.


He said the pay stations would be self-sufficient, drawing power from a solar cell and communicating with a central databank via either cell phone or Wi-Fi. They could also be used to sell bus or train tickets. Future technology might integrate the system with a driver’s cell phone.


The system would pay for itself in just a few years, he said.


Spillar also recommended that the city expand the number of hours that parking meters are in operation. He said the study showed that the current hours of operation, 8:30am to 5:30pm, would generate about $5.6 million over a 7-year period. During that same period, extending the hours to 8:30pm and adding Saturdays would generate $17.5 million.


He said that the upgraded system would be a key ingredient in the city’s plans to establish a Parking Authority.


“This would allow the city much more flexibility to manage the parking spaces it controls in the downtown area,” Spillar said. “It would make it much easier to track usage, collect fees and adjust the rates through a system that is linked to wireless technology.”


He stressed that coordination with UT and the state is very important to the success of any city parking venture.


“People looking to park don’t know the difference between spaces that are controlled by UT, space at the Capitol Complex and the city,” he said. They just want to find a place to park. It will be important to have all the spaces working on the same system.”


Spillar also recommended increasing the fine from $15 to $30 for a parking infraction and expanding metered parking into areas of the city such as South Congress, Riverside Drive, the near Eastside and the Triangle.


The committee voted 3-0 to accept the report and refer it to various boards/commissions and the full Council for possible action.

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