Duluth to test new parking metersPeople parking in downtown Duluth will see some new technology this summer.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
People parking in downtown Duluth will see some new technology this summer.
About 40 new meters that allow motorists to pay for parking via credit card, debit card or coin should be installed by June, allowing for a two- to three-month free trial period. Duluth Parking Manager Matthew Kennedy said he’s in the final stages of hashing out agreements with a couple of prospective vendors.
One of those vendors is IPS Group Inc., the maker of a solar-powered meter that’s been installed in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and Canada, said Lisa Bahr, marketing manager for the California-based company. Bahr said the company has more than 100,000 meters in operation and has enjoyed “exponential” growth, with sales continuing to double from one year to the next.
Kennedy said this summer’s trial period will give Duluth a no-risk opportunity to assess how the new meters perform in the field.
By making it easier for people to plug meters regardless of whether they have the proper pocket change, Kennedy suspects Duluth can drive up its collections.
“From a city standpoint, however, this is really about improved customer service. The revenue is incidental. We’re driven by a desire to make parking in our downtown more convenient,” he said.
Kennedy said revenue collected during the trial period will be compared with historical data from conventional meters the city has operated in the same locations.
The new meters may lead to fewer parking tickets being issued, but Kennedy noted that only a small percentage of parking violations yield tickets.
“Even with a decrease in the number of tickets issued, we could see a bump in revenue,” he said.
Kennedy said there are no plans to change hourly parking rates. But he acknowledged the city will be dinged with a credit card merchant fee for each electronic transaction it processes.
If the city decides to keep and purchase the meters after analyzing their performance, it will require a bigger investment than old coin-only models of the past did. Kennedy said the credit-card meters cost about $500 each, versus about $350 for a conventional old-style meter.
The city will continue to encourage people to use downtown ramps for their long-term parking needs and will continue to enforce maximum stay rules, Kennedy said. By encouraging steady churn, the city improves the odds that visitors to the downtown will most often be able to find an open meter.
Bahr said IPS offers “anti-meter-feeding” technology, as well. She explained that a sensor is embedded about 3 inches below the surface of each parking slot that can determine whether a vehicle has been moved. If someone tries to pay for more minutes after exceeding the time limit, Bahr said the meter will deny the transaction.
When it comes to winter, Bahr predicts her company’s meters will be able to weather anything Duluth can dish out. She said the meters are in use in Minneapolis; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Buffalo, N.Y. Bahr offered assurances that the solar-powered units can operate through even heavy accumulations of snow.
The new meters won’t be the first in Duluth to accept credit cards. During tourist season, centralized kiosks in Canal Park have been used to process parking transactions in recent years, spitting out receipts that motorists are then asked to display on their dashboards. Kennedy said the city will look to update those systems, so people can simply enter their license plate numbers without the inconvenience of returning to their vehicles.