Me­ters ditched, fewer tick­ets is­sued, more cash brought in

Year into pay sta­tion park­ing era, city sees ben­e­fits of ma­chines de­spite bumpy de­but

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Marty Toohey Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn StAff

A year af­ter Austin started re­plac­ing its worn-out park­ing me­ters with new pay sta­tions, the city says it is is­su­ing sig­nif­i­cant-ly fewer tick­ets while col­lect­ing more money. The pay sta­tions — so­lar-pow-ered yel­low-and-gray ma­chines that spit out re­ceipts for driv­ers to stick to their wind­shields — were re­spon­si­ble for a 26 per­cent in­crease in park­ing-me­ter rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to the city, which is plan­ning to re­place the rest of its old me­ters dur­ing the next year.

The new pay sta­tions break down less of­ten than the old me­ters did. They also take credit card pay­ments, so peo­ple do not have to have change handy or buy pre­paid me­ter cards.

End re­sult: The city is is­su­ing about 36 per­cent fewer tick­ets since it started in­stalling the pay sta­tions.

“What we’ve seen is that peo­ple have been will­ing to pay if we make it eas­ier for them, as op­posed to tak­ing their chances with a ticket,” said Rob Spil­lar, the city’s trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor.

The new pay sta­tions got off to a rocky start.

In­stead of sim­ply pulling up

Con­tin­ued from A next to a me­ter and drop­ping in change, driv­ers have to go to the near­est pay sta­tion — there is gen­er­ally one per block — pay, take a re­ceipt and stick it onto the in­side of the curb­side win­dow. Many driv­ers ini­tially found the change con­fus­ing and the di­rec­tions on the pay sta­tions un­clear.

In re­sponse, the city gave warn­ings in­stead of fines dur­ing the first few weeks af­ter a par­tic­u­lar pay sta­tion was in­stalled, Spil­lar said.

Now driv­ers who im­prop­erly dis­play the re­ceipt get one warn­ing be­fore the city starts is­su­ing the stan­dard $20 fine.

The city is­sued 43,145warn­ings be­tween July 22, 2009, when the first pay sta­tions be­gan ap­pear­ing, and end of last month, the most re­cent month of data avail­able.

Spil­lar said most of the warn­ings were is­sued early on, though, and ex­pects the num­ber of tick­ets to re­main around the 5,284 is­sued per month since the city be­gan in­stalling the pay sta­tions.

“Peo­ple wound up catch­ing on pretty quick,” he said.

De­spite fewer ci­ta­tions, the city ac­tu­ally col­lected about the same amount in park­ing fines: $3.28 mil­lion from July 2008 to June 2009, and $3.26 mil­lion from July 2009 to June 2010. That is partly be­cause the city raised the early-pay­ment fine from $15 to $20, and those fig­ures also in­clude tick­ets that were is­sued much ear­lier but col­lected in the past two years, ac­cord­ing to the mu­nic­i­pal court.

Spil­lar said one of the main rea­sons the new pay sta­tions bring in more money is that peo­ple can pay by credit card; 60 per­cent of the pay sta­tion trans­ac­tions are by credit card, ac­cord­ing to city data.

The other rea­son, Spil­lar said, is sim­ply that the pay sta­tions don’t break down as of­ten as the old me­ters.

In the 11 months be­fore the city be­gan in­stalling the pay sta­tions, the city’s 3,780 park­ing me­ters broke down 18,990 times. When a me­ter stops work­ing, peo­ple can park in the space with­out hav­ing to pay un­til it’s fixed.

In the 11 months since it be­gan in­stalling the pay sta­tions, the city has had only 4,608 break­downs, a 76 per­cent re­duc­tion. And of those break­downs, 3,331 were from the 481 old me­ters that have not yet been re­placed.

Those re­main­ing me­ters, like the 3,299 that were re­placed, are 15 to 18 years old and are gen­er­ally only ex­pected to last 10 years, ac­cord­ing to the city. The re­main­ing ones sit on steeply sloped ter­rain, such as the hilly San An­to­nio Street area of down­town to the west of the Black­wellThur­man Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Cen­ter that are un­suit­able for the larger pay sta­tions, which re­quire flat­ter ground for a deeper foun­da­tion.

The re­main­ing me­ters will be re­placed dur­ing the next year with smaller pay sta­tions that will take the place of in­di­vid­ual me­ters, Spil­lar said. In to­tal, the city will have spent $7.4 mil­lion on new park­ing me­ters. Spil­lar said the pay sta­tions are ex­pected to pay for them­selves in about 10 years and to last at least 15 years.

Jay Jan­ner

In much of down­town, need­ing coins to pay for park­ing is a thing of the past. Omar Gar­cia uses one of the city’s new pay sta­tions Wed­nes­day on 10th Street. The pay sta­tions ac­cept credit cards for pay­ment.

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