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Published: Monday, 1/16/2006

Toledoans soon may pay for parking another way

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Every time Sylvania attorney Patrick Sadowski deposits a paycheck at the bank, he gets a $10 roll of quarters.

That s usually enough to cover all the parking meters he pays in downtown Toledo while tending to cases at municipal, county, or federal courthouses though sometimes he manages to miss a meter feeding.

When that happens, Mr. Sadowski sometimes gets a $10 ticket in return from ParkSmart, which oversees street meters in the city.

Mr. Sadowski soon could forget about his arsenal of quarters and charge his parking to a credit card instead. In about two months or so, ParkSmart plans to introduce parking kiosks along streets near the Civic Mall as a possible prelude to replacing conventional parking meters throughout downtown Toledo.

ParkSmart, it seems, is getting smarter about parking.

Clayton Johnston, president of ParkSmart, said central kiosks will be established to serve parking spaces along entire blocks in the areas around the downtown courthouses and Civic Mall.

The kiosks would provide more flexible time for court parking through such changes as allowing motorists to pay for more than the standard one-hour or two-hour limit but pay a higher rate for the extended time.

We re looking at pay and display, which has a central machine for as many as 12 parking spaces, Mr. Johnston said. Such systems, already in use in cities like New York and Seattle, and even along the Coast Highway beachfront in Southern California, require drivers to buy their time from a parking kiosk and then display a receipt for payment on their dashboards. The machines accept cash, tokens, and credit cards, he said.

On a long-term basis, we think that s helpful for regular users of downtown street parking, Mr. Johnston said, adding that eliminating meters for every parking space also removes curbside clutter.

Mr. Sadowski said he often parks on 10th Street, where the meters have a two-hour limit instead of the one hour allowed on most meters closer to the central business district, but occasionally his appointments and appearances run long.

Being able to buy more than two hours and use a credit card would be convenient, he said though he then wondered aloud if reducing ticket volume would cost ParkSmart revenue.

Mr. Johnston said, however, that his agency believes most of its ticket revenue comes from people who fail to pay at all for parking and from people who don t pay their tickets promptly, thus incurring penalties.

There s enough metered-parking revenue, Mr. Johnston said. But is [the current system] really serving the parking needs of the area?

No leftover time

Furthermore, people freshly arriving at kiosk-governed parking spaces would no longer see the occasional benefit of leftover time on the meter. Those who leave early wouldn t get refunds for unused time though Mr. Johnston said their receipts will remain valid at other kiosk locations until they expire.

Several suburban communities including Perrysburg, Sylvania, and Maumee do not have parking meters.

Bowling Green s rate is just 25 cents per hour, and it was only a dime as recently as October. So the city s two parking enforcement officers enforce a two-hour time limit the low-tech way: they chalk the tires of parked vehicles in a certain spot, then return later and ticket those that haven t moved.

We have more of the old meters in inventory, and we have decided to take the least costly route, said John Fawcett, the public service director in Bowling Green.

Barry Savage, a Toledo attorney who also habitually parks at meters but in his case, near his Madison Avenue office questioned why the parking authority would want to make it easier for people to park for extended periods of time at spaces that are supposed to be available primarily for downtown shoppers.

Mr. Johnston acknowledged that Toledo has a problem with meter hogs, especially during the free-parking hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. that are intended to encourage lunchtime dining and shopping downtown.

If the kiosk system is expanded to cover more of downtown, he said, the time-extension option might not be offered in areas where it affects shoppers and restaurant patrons.

While ParkSmart s agents primarily enforce meters, Mr. Johnston said they do write some tickets for vehicles that overstay time limits even if the meters are paid though he could not say how many such tickets have been written.

Toledo s meters aren t active for long enough hours, Mr. Johnston said, to justify the cost of another technology now in use in Pacific Grove, Calif., and being tested in several other cities.

Smart Meters, marketed by InnovaPark of Westport, Conn., employ in-pavement detection loops to monitor parking-space occupancy and make it harder for parkers to refresh meters.

Sensor linked to chip

Similar to the loops that can trigger traffic signals, InnovaPark s sensor system communicates with a chip in the parking meter that can tell it not to accept more money until after a parking space has been vacated, or to raise the rate for extended time, said Gary Seitz, a company spokesman.

When a vehicle vacates a spot, he said, the meter s time resets to zero, also eliminating leftover time for the next driver who parks there.

InnovaPark provides its system, with state-of-the-art meters, for $46 per meter per month with a five-year minimum lease, Mr. Seitz said.

But in busy areas where high parking-space turnover is desired, the additional revenue more than offsets the lease cost, he said. After five years, a city would own the meter without the communication chip if it didn t want the service anymore.

We re looking at it for other parts of the city, said James Colangelo, the city manager of Pacific Grove, which installed Smart Meters near an aquarium where employees previously had scooped up on-street parking spots instead of using long-term parking nearby.

We want to make the parking intended for visiting and shopping available, so the people who want to come shop here can, Mr. Colangelo said.

Toledo s parking meters, however, are officially in service for just six hours per day 8 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. and Mr. Johnston said that s not long enough to recoup costs associated with Smart Meters.

There s the cost of tearing up the street [to install them] and then maintaining those loops, he said. The lunchtime free-parking period makes it very difficult to install a lot of expensive high technology.

Mr. Fawcett agreed that while meter hogging is one of the biggest sources of complaint we receive, the city doesn t charge enough for parking to justify high-tech parking meters or even going with kiosks as Toledo may do.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.


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