Charlotte to test ‘smart’ parking meters


by NEIL HAGGERTY / CHarlotte Observer

Posted on July 1, 2013 at 8:45 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte resident Onike Davies says she rarely carries change, so parking in uptown can be a challenge.

But starting this fall, the Charlotte Department of Transportation will be installing about 30 individual parking meters that swipe credit and debit cards to make parking easier.

These “smart” parking meters are part of a pilot program to make paying for parking easier and to better track meter malfunctions in parking spaces. CDOT will be installing these smart parking meters on South Brevard Street.

“I think it’s great,” Davies said. “It’s always a benefit to be able to use a card.”

Doreen Szymanski, a spokeswoman for CDOT, said the department decided to run the trial because many current parking meters are old and need to be replaced. Other cities like Indianapolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco are already using smart meters.

CDOT can’t currently determine when individual parking meters are not working unless someone calls. Smart parking meters have a record-keeping system that would notify CDOT of any malfunctions.

The meters that accept credit and debit cards could cost about $500 per meter, compared with the $300 price for the meters that only accept coins.

If the trial is successful, Szymanski said CDOT will look into adding more smart meters throughout the city. She said CDOT would keep pay stations that already accept credit and debit cards in high-demand parking areas and coin-operated meters in low-demand areas.

Szymanski said smart-parking meters would mean that more of the city’s parking spots will be used, since more people will be able to pay for them.

“Right now we have no single head meters that will read credit cards,” Szymanski said. “Not everyone carries coins today.”

This isn’t the first initiative to improve parking payments in Charlotte. In 2012, the city launched a service to allow people to pay for designated uptown parking spaces through a phone service called Parkmobile.

People can pay for their spots through a smartphone application or by calling 877-727-5301, but the service requires a 35-cent service charge for each transaction.

Parking technology has made major advances in recent years.

David Cummins, senior vice president of parking solutions at Xerox, a company that works with cities to improve parking, said parking technology has lagged for the past 30 years.

“Parking is a pain,” Cummins said. “With technology and innovation you can take the pain out of parking.”

Clinton Quan, a transportation engineering associate for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said the city has gotten positive feedback for the 38,000 smart-parking meters that have been installed.

He said the new meters don’t have nearly as many malfunctions as the old meters do from coin jams. He said meters have been operating properly at a rate of 99.9 percent.

Cummins also said smart-parking meters can improve traffic. He said studies show that 20 percent of traffic in cities is a result of people driving around trying to find parking spots. He said people do not have to worry as much about how much change they have in their pockets when there are meters that accept credit and debit cards.

Xerox has also worked with cities to implement sensors that say whether a spot is vacant. These sensors can connect to smartphone applications that can direct people to open parking spaces.

Szymanski said CDOT is also looking into such technology but isn’t ready to use it.