Tech-savvy parking meters

Parking in downtown New Haven just got easier, smarter and greener.

Last week New Haven’s Department of Transportation replaced 48 old, mechanical parking meters with new, credit-card accepting, wireless meters as part of a 90 day trial run. While the meters are solar-powered, they are attractive for city officials because they collect data on parking usage and allow for more payment options for parkers.

New Haven’s new parking meters will let drivers pay with credit card.
New Haven’s new parking meters will let drivers pay with credit card.

This new system also enables city officials to exercise “dynamic parking,” said Jim Travers, Interim Director of New Haven’s Transportation Department.

“Dynamic parking says don’t put everyone on the same playing field,” he said. The meters allow city officials to collect data on parking spot usage in various parts of the city, allowing the officials to encourage parking in lower-usage areas by lowering the rate or extending the duration. Data is collected through a website run by the IPS Group, a global engineering and manufacturing company.

In an effort to convince New Haven city officials that the new meters are worth the switch, the corporation is providing free trial meters, which typically cost $495 apiece.

With the meter data transmittance, Travers said he can sit at his desk and see which meters need to be fixed, emptied, and how often each is used.

The benefit for parkers is that carrying a pound of change may soon be a thing of the past. Since the meters were installed on Jan. 11, 27 percent of parking fees have been paid with a credit card, Travers said. And based on reports from other cities using the new meters, he added, credit card usage will go up the longer the meters are installed.

Because the city chose to absorb the credit card processing fees rather than pass it along to parkers, Travers said, the minimum charge when paying by card is $1.50 or a full hour of parking. At this time, the meters only take Visa, MasterCard and Discover.

Travers added that parking violations might decrease with the added payment option. “If more people pay and violations go down, it will be a wash for the city and good for the citizens,” he said.

Downtown store owners are welcoming the possible new addition to the area.

Several merchants on Chapel Street said that they were constantly being asked to break bills. Gene Dostie, the manager at Derek Simpson Goldsmith on Chapel Street, said that he always has to remember to have extra quarters at the store. With the new meters sitting just outside his storefront, he seems happy, pointing out that paying with credit card is not only easier but will hopefully encourage people to stick around downtown longer.

“With quarters, you’re just throwing in the bare minimum,” he said.

Joe Lentine, the Owl Shop’s master tobacconist, expressed support for the new meters, saying, “I’m for whatever is more convenient for my customers.”

Besides Chapel Street, some solar-powered meters were installed near the Broadway shopping area, Travers said.

The city will make a decision whether or not to keep the meters or to invest in more when the 90-day trial period ends in early April.

The dynamic parking model was developed by Donald Shoup ’62, GRAD ’68, an urban planning professor at UCLA and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

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