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New parking pay stations debut downtown

Friday, July 17, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Parking pay stations, an early effort of City Manager Marc Ott, will roll out downtown and in West University beginning today, with the possibility of solar-powered units being placed in the Capitol complex. The new meters will have a five-hour limit, and will accept credit cards.

“We heard from a number of citizens that they just needed a little bit more time,” Transportation Director Rob Spillar said. “That’s probably the only major change for folks.”

Spillar provided an update to the Urban Transportation Commission this week on the parking pay stations. Last year, Council authorized the purchase of 750 pay stations, to be used one per block face, which is expected to replace 3,800 of the city’s current parking meters. That will leave approximately 300 to 400 single-space meters remaining in the area of downtown and West University area.

The hours of operation and fees of the new parking pay stations will be the same as the conventional parking meters. Instead of a three-hour limit, however, the meters will have a five-hour limit.

Spillar will host a media demonstration this morning. The solar-powered meters will begin rolling out on Congress Avenue on July 22.

Parking ambassadors will be on hand downtown during the initial roll out to explain the meters, which will accept credit cards, debit cards and coins. A customer can buy a credit on the pay station machine, and any excess value can be used for additional parking at another location at another time.

A pay station, which will offer a menu of directions in English, Spanish or Chinese, will serve multiple parking spaces. If a pay station is non-functional – and they are never intended to be non-functional – the machine across the street can be used, Spillar told the commissioners. And for those who are downtown on business, the machines will provide receipts.

All of downtown should be completed by Thanksgiving. About 500 of the 750 meters will cover downtown, Spillar said. The rest will be used around West Campus. The city also is negotiating with the Capitol complex. Since the machines can be geo-coded, parking revenues can be easily be divided between city and state.

The Department of Public Safety handles the meters, and collects the fines, for parking in the area around the state Capitol, which includes many state buildings. The city also is negotiating with Capitol Metro, since rapid bus service could also use the pay stations for the purchase of bus passes.

Many of downtown’s existing meters are past their useful service life, Spillar said. One advantage of the solar-powered machines is that they will notify the city if they are close to being full or they are broken. As it is, current meters have to be checked on a regular basis, and the city often is not notified when a meter is broken. More than 18,000 meter outages were reported last year.

The meter polls will be taken down over time for a recycling project being coordinated by Council Member Randi Shade, Spillar said. The pay stations should pay for themselves in 8 to 10 years.

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