Monday, May 13, 2013

New Downtown Parking Lot Won't Get Smart Meters This Year

By Christina Georgiou

The City of Easton's newly acquired parking lot on North Fourth Street will likely open by June, but patrons of the lot will need to bring an ample supply of quarters if they intend to take advantage of the 10-hour time limit.

That's because Easton officials said at last week's city council meeting that they don't have enough smart meters, which accept credit and debit card payments, to spare to cover the 40 spaces the new lot will provide.

It will cost $20,000 to purchase enough of the solar-powered devices to furnish the new lot with the smart meters, as they are $500 apiece, said Mayor Sal Panto.

"We wanted to put them in there, but we just don't have the cash," the mayor said.

At the $1 per hour rate, those parking in the new lot will need an entire roll of quarters to take full advantage of long-term parking in that location. There are few shops in the immediate vicinity to provide the coins too, though it's doubtful most  merchants regularly carry that many to give out.

City administrator Glenn Steckman said it's possible a few spare smart meters might be reallocated to the lot this year.

"Right now, we could probably do a handful (of parking spots)," he said.

Adding a multi-spot payment box that does take card payments is a vague possibility at some point in the future, but Steckman said he doubts that is an ideal solution.

"After what we went through with the multi-space box on South Third Street, I'm not sure," he said. "I will tell you that we may come back next year and ask for more credit card meters, but it probably won't (cover all the places Downtown they're wanted.)...We'd like to do this in phases."

Steckman suggested a solution for the new parking lot on North Fourth Street for now might be to rely on it less for city visitor parking.

"We may also recommend that part of this lot be converted into a residential permit parking lot, and that would help," he said.

Steckman said that the current residential parking permit system allows residents to park on the street, where there are smart meters, and the city loses revenue when that happens.

"If a spot is being parked at by someone with a (annual) $100 residential permit, there's no revenue from that meter for a day or two," he said.

Credit and debit card payments at curbside meters are providing a substantial amount of revenue for the city, Steckman said, adding that $10,471 was collected via the method last month.

Panto noted that the annual rate for Downtown residential parking permits hasn't been raised in about 25 years. He also suggested the system should be changed to allow permit holders to park anywhere in the Downtown district, instead of specific zones, as the system currently allows.

"Originally, the program zoned based on where people were living, but now people are living everywhere Downtown, and some of them can't park," Panto said.

The mayor also said the city needs to put more effort into getting the word out about its new parking program for those employed Downtown in the evenings, which provides workers a discounted rate of 50 cents an hour in the parking deck on South Third Street after 5 p.m.

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