(photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Three weeks into the experiment, city officials are working out problems in operation and supply with 100 new high-tech parking meters that not only accept credit cards and coins, but also transmit real-time data to the parking gurus at City Hall.

Santa Monica officials launched the program the first weekend in April, installing 50 of the 100 meters, which were provided by the IPS Group as part of a demonstration program.

Those meters can be found on Main Street near City Hall, and on Ocean Avenue between Arizona and Colorado avenues.

The remaining meters, from the Duncan Parking Control Systems company, have not yet arrived said Don Patterson, Santa Monica’s revenue and operations manager.

Those will hopefully be installed on Second Street next week.

A lot on Main Street is also outfitted with a multi-space parking meter, which accepts credit card, coin and bill payments. That installation is separate from the demonstration project, and will be permanent.

Despite a roughly 2 percent charge by banks for the convenience of using a credit card, “smart” meters provide a slight increase in revenue to cities that use them, Patterson said.

“The biggest advantage is that the reporting of it is more precise, real time and accessible to staff,” Patterson said. “I can pull up on my laptop how many people parked there today, how much revenue it brought in and how many of those were credit card transactions.”

The machines also let maintenance staff know when they’re broken, which cuts down on the ability of unscrupulous parkers to claim that “the meter was broken” when they go to fight a parking ticket.

So far, parkers have shown a proclivity toward paying by credit card.

Approximately 30 percent of people who use the meters on Ocean Avenue have paid with credit card, while over 50 percent of the transactions on Main Street have been conducted with credit cards.

So far, the meters have received a mixed reaction from merchants, who were unhappy to find that the multi-space unit on Main Street only allowed credit card users to purchase time by the hour.

“Let’s just say they’re beginning to work out OK,” said Anthony Schmitt, head of the Main Street Merchants’ Association.

Now that city workers reprogrammed the meter to allow people to pay by the half hour, the meter fits into the merchants’ commitment to convenience, Schmitt said.

“They don’t have to hassle with the change,” said Schmitt, who said merchants are hoping City Hall installs a feature that allows customers to add more money to a meter by using smart phones.

That feature is not yet included, Patterson said, but it — along with the meters’ ability to feed into an online citywide map to tell visitors where they’re likely to find parking — could be in the cards, depending on cost.

The demonstration meters will be in place at least 90 days before city officials request bids from the two companies to install the remaining 8,400 meters.

The final deal is dependent on the City Council approving funding for the project in the upcoming 2012 fiscal year budget, Patterson said.

Those interested can comment on the meters by filling out a survey at smgov.net/parking.


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