Pay-and-display parking meters a mixed successPosted: April 14, 2011
By Briana Gerdeman
On a recent evening, Jim and Patty Lutz walked back to their car parked on Clayton Street to put the parking ticket they’d paid for in their windshield. Patty reminded Jim to make sure it was displayed prominently where it could be seen.
A year after new pay-and-display parking meters were activated in parts of downtown Athens, it’s still unclear whether the new meters are an improvement or not.
Jim and Patty Lutz said they like the new meters, because after they were installed, it has become easier to find an empty parking space downtown.
“For us, it’s easier to park downtown,” Jim Lutz said. “It just seemed that when they changed everything, it opened up some spots.”
But Patty Lutz noted that the new system also had drawbacks. Before, they used to sometimes find a meter that already had time paid for. Now, they might waste time they have paid for because the ticket can’t be taken with them.
The Athens Mayor and Commission voted in 2009 to install the new meters, which were installed in January and February 2010. The new meters went into use on March 29, 2010.
“They were chosen because they offer a variety of payment options,” said Laura Miller, director of parking operations for the Athens Downtown Development Authority. In addition to coins, drivers have the option to pay for parking with $1 bills or credit cards. The machine then issues a ticket, to be displayed in the car’s windshield, that can be used in any parking spot with a pay-and-display meter.
“The customers are very happy about that,” Miller said.
Miller said the ADDA tried to prevent confusion about how to use the new meters. The organization held clinics for local merchants to show them how to use the meters, and for the first month, issued warnings rather than citations for parking violations.
Although the paper tickets make paid parking time portable, they can be an inconvenience for motorcycle drivers, since the tickets can blow away in the wind. Motorcycle drivers are instead urged to park in motorcycle parking spaces with traditional meters.
Paper tickets also present the potential for litter, but Miller said she hasn’t seen the tickets littered on the ground.
In their first year, the pay-and-display meters have not increased revenue for downtown parking.
“Revenue this year is down overall,” Miller said. “There are fewer people parking this year, and that’s directly due to the economy. Less people are shopping and dining downtown.”
But, she said, the pay-and-display meters have brought in more money than the traditional meters, because people can no longer park in a space that still has some time left on the meter from the last person to use it.
The pay-and-display meters have not had an impact on the number of parking citations, and there are no plans to install them elsewhere in Athens, Miller said.
In a July 4, 2010 editorial in the Athens Banner-Herald, columnist Don Nelson questioned the efficiency of the new parking meters. He wrote that many people were confused on how to use them, and their confusion might deter them from visiting downtown Athens.
Employees at several downtown businesses said the new parking meters had not caused a decrease in customers, but they mentioned that fewer people now ask them for change to put in meters.
Olivia Shellman, an employee at The Grill, said she sometimes parks in metered spots when she’s in a hurry coming to work, and she wishes there were free parking for people who work downtown. But, she said she likes being able to use a credit card.
Imaan Rashied, an employee at Starbucks, also said he liked using a credit card to pay for parking. But he realized the pay-and-display meters could be confusing, and said he sometimes shows people how to use them.
Stuart Bryan, an employee at Flirt Fashions, said the meters haven’t affected the store’s business, but she considers them a nuisance.
“When I’m coming here as a shopper and not as an employee, it’s definitely annoying,” she said.
An employee of Prestige Parking in downtown Athens, who asked not to be named, said the new meters haven’t affected the number of customers parking in the lot he manages.
“It hasn’t really changed anything, because it’s limited the spaces on the street,” he said.
He’s only used the new meters twice himself, but thought they were okay.
“I don’t like coming downtown,” he said. “I just work down here. It’s too congested for me.”