Meters ditched, fewer tickets issued, more cash brought in
Year into pay station parking era, city sees benefits of machines despite bumpy debut
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.
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.