Citizens Still Adjusting to New Parking SystemPosted: April 8, 2010
Sixteen five-foot tall black machines line the streets of downtown Athens.
Installed in January, these boxes are crucial to Athens’ new downtown parking system.
Each machine prints out parking tickets to be placed on the driver’s side dashboard. Violations may be given if the ticket is not visibly displayed.
This multi-space pay-and-display parking system was instituted by the Athens Downtown Development Authority to ease parking woes.
It took effect on March 22 and applies to the spaces on Broad and Clayton Streets between Lumpkin and Thomas Streets.
“Those are some of the busiest and most heavily utilized parking areas in downtown,” said Laura Miller, director of parking services. “We hope that the new system will help make parking easier to find and access.”
The rest of downtown still uses the traditional single-space parking meters. The individual meters are still in place where the new system is used, but now feature red stickers reading “Please Use New Pay Station.”
Thus far, the success is difficult to judge.
“This is similar system that they’ve been using in Savannah for the past year or so,” said Brian Wardlaw. “Since I work downtown, I park here almost everyday and haven’t had any problems so far.”
First time-user Heather Carrey wasn’t as familiar with the system.
“It is just so confusing,” said Carrey, furiously searching a machine for her ticket. “I never even understand how to use the old meters either and this is even harder.”
Taylor Wood disagrees.
“It’s not confusing once you get used to it,” said Wood, who also works downtown. “The only time this system is not worth it is when it rains.”
Carrey admits that she doesn’t often park downtown and could probably master the operation with practice.
“Users seem to like the portable time, which was not applicable with the traditional meters,” said Miller. “Patrons can now move their cars any time and not lose the time they paid for.”
Another positive is the number of payment options. Motorists can buy time with coins, bills, or credit cards.
“A negative is new users cannot readily locate the payment machines,” said Miller. “We plan to add more signs directing drivers to the machines.”
Parking department employees can usually be found near the machines, ready to help wayward drivers. Miller has also noticed that members of the community experienced with the machines are willing to help out their fellow drivers who may be confused with the operation.
“When you use them, you will find that it is fairly simple equipment,” said Miller. “There are step-by-step instructions that walk users through the payment process. They were designed to be fairly intuitive.”
The ADDA set up a number of informational meetings in March to help acclimate new users. Although no new meetings are scheduled, Miller says that they are still willing to meet with members of the public upon request.
To ease the transition, no parking citations were given for the first two weeks while the machines were in use. Instead, friendly reminders of the new system were left on a vehicle’s windshield along with instructions on how to use the new system.
“We’ve been in ambassador mode to this point,” said Miller.
It took over a year for the change to be approved. It was processed during a Mayor and Commission meeting, bid on by companies, and then came the manufacturing process.
The success or failure of the machines will be closely monitored by the department of parking services over the course of the next few years to determine if more machines should be added.
On July 1, 2009, parking rates downtown were increased. It raised the rate for one hour from a quarter to 50 cents. The fine for an expired meter was raised from $3 to $10. The maximum time allowed was increased from an hour to two.
The Downtown Athens Parking System consists of 750-short term, on-street spaces, 4 surface lots and the College Avenue Parking Deck for long-term parking.
Parking downtown is enforced Monday through Saturday 8 AM to 7 PM.