City To Sell Personal Parking Meters

    GRAND RAPIDS — Parking Services will invest from $15,000 to $25,000 in a new type of parking meter: a personal handheld unit that hangs from a car’s interior rearview mirror.

    The department’s decision to do that comes on the heels of a two-month test run where members of 20 local businesses and organizations tried the electronic meters and registered their feedback with Barbara Singleton of Parking Services.

    The survey results showed that all respondents found the meter easy to use, 88 percent said it saved them time, 95 percent reported the meter was convenient, and 90 percent said it was a solution to their parking needs.

    “For me, it was a practical device. I found it to be real handy, for my use,” said Blake Dupon, owner of Blake’s Turkey Sandwich Shoppe at 102 Monroe Center.

    “I think I’d be coming out ahead with this instead of buying another monthly parking card,” added Dupon, one of the survey’s respondents.

    Instead of having to pull into a ramp or carry a lot of change for curbside meters, the electronic meter comes loaded with paid parking time. Parkers just start the meter and hang it from the rearview mirror with the readout facing forward, then they turn it off when they return to their vehicles. The meter records the parking time left and can be used in the city’s 26 differently priced parking zones.

    “We only have to buy the meters,” said Singleton of the department’s capital investment.

    A meter costs $65 and is made in Israel by Gantis Smart Park Systems. U.S. distribution is handled by T2 Systems of Indianapolis.

    Known as the Smart Auto Meter, it includes a smart card terminal, card viewer software and a backend system that reloads rechargeable smart cards and provides statistical data. A smart card costs $4. The smart card terminal runs $600 and the backend software lists for $9,000, but Singleton said T2 was willing to discount the software package.

    “We have to send everything out for bid,” said Pam Ritsema, Parking Services director, who added that her department may purchase up to 200 meters.

    T2 System loaned Parking Services 20 units for its test trail, which began on Sept. 20 and ended last month.

    Those interested would make a $65 refundable deposit on the meter and then pay for the amount of parking they want loaded into the card. A card can be reprogrammed with more parking time once it runs out.

    “It helps our cash flow; they’re pre-paying. You’re helping the city and helping the customer. It’s a win-win,” said Parking Commissioner Daniel Barcheski.

    Dupon did warn parking commissioners that downtown workers could buy personal meters and then leave their cars parked at a curbside meter for the length of their shift, which would make it difficult for visitors to find open spaces.

    But Singleton said the meters could be programmed so an alarm would go off when a meter’s time limit was exceeded and the car could be ticketed for expired parking — a $10 fine.

    Buying the personal meters is less costly for Parking Services than upgrading its curbside meters. The department has 2,000 meters on the street, but only 200 can use a smart card. It would cost about $330,000 to buy 1,800 smart meters and $4,000 to adapt 200 meters for smart card use.

    “I didn’t have to watch the clock to avoid a ticket from an expired meter and could stay when meetings ran longer than expected,” said Sharon Evoy, director of the Downtown Alliance and one of the 20 testers. “And, most important, I never stood in the rain to put coins into a meter.” 

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