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TIME TO PAY: Nacy Mendez collects a ticket from a driver at Parking Structure No. Five on Fourth Street Monday afternoon. In an effort to help drivers get out of the structures quicker, City Hall is in the process of installing machines at Downtown structures that will allow people to pay before they get back into their cars. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Those frustrating days of queuing in the exit line at the garage, waiting for the drivers who dig through their car ashtray in an attempt to find enough change, could soon be a thing of the past.

A series of prepaid parking ticket stations at the city-owned garages in Downtown are expected to go live over the next several weeks as City Hall puts the finishing touches on a new program aimed at expediting departures.

The machines, which are already present in the garages on Second and Fourth streets, will allow patrons to pay for their parking fees before heading back to their cars, leaving the structure by simply feeding the prepaid ticket upon their exit.

The wait time to leave the garages has long fueled complaints by parking patrons, prompting City Hall last fall to install unattended machines in the second exit lane that would allow drivers to pay with their credit cards.

“They said it takes too long and that it’s a downside to using the parking structures,” said Miriam Mack, the economic development manager. “We’re trying to change it and improve it and expedite it.”

Mack said that several of the Downtown structures slated to undergo renovation will reopen with a design intended to expedite the exit lanes.

City officials said they have noticed an improvement since adding the credit card pay option, seeing a 20 percent increase in the number of drivers using the second lane.

“We see slowly more and more people use credit cards to pay for parking,” said Frank Ching, the parking coordinator for City Hall. “We are expecting more after the new machines are put into action.”

Some drivers who frequent the garage voice a different experience.

“The express takes longer than the actual cashier,” said Mike Sanchez, an employee at Washington Mutual. “People pay with credit cards so it takes forever.”

Devlyn Steele, who parked in the garage on Fourth Street off Broadway on Monday, said she would be in favor of the prepaid machines, expressing her frustration in occasionally waiting in line for 20 to 30 minutes to exit the garage.

“I just noticed (the parking machines) recently,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool.”

<i>Parking violations go up</i>

Drivers who park at meters or other time-restricted areas of Santa Monica should be mindful of a new law that raised the violation fine from $47 to $50.

The change came as a result of SB1407, a legislation by former Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata that will raise an estimated $300 million annually toward a court construction fund, which will be used to pay for building, renovating and maintaining facilities across the state.

The bill mainly increased fees and fines for a range of court uses, including for lawsuits, traffic school and tickets.

The parking ticket is estimated to bring in about $24.86 million a year, said Philip Carrizosa, spokesman of the Judicial Council of California, which supported the bill.

While the changes were supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, local governments weren’t notified of the increase on time, allowing them to postpone the enforcement to Feb. 1, said Pamela McGarvey, the acting revenue manager for City Hall.

The local violation of $50 includes a variety of state-mandated fees, including one by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The base violation was set by the City Council as part of a fee study that is conducted every five years, McGarvey said.

Santa Monica actually has one of the lowest violations in a four-city area that includes Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Los Angeles.

“We’re lower,” McGarvey said. “If you look at L.A., they just had big increases.”

<i>Teddy Leshnick contributed to this report. </i>

melodyh@smdp.com

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