Parking meters payable by credit, debit card set to debut in January 2013

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Downtown drivers may soon be paying their parking meters with plastic, as implementation of the project is near approved to begin in January. 500 single-space meters and 10 pay stations are to be installed. (Brenna Grier/DD)

A project that would allow downtown drivers the option of paying for parking meters with a credit or debit card is in the final stages of Phoenix City Council approval and is scheduled to begin implementation in January 2013.

The city of Phoenix Street Transportation Department hopes to install credit-card readers on 500 single-space meters by Jan. 31, project manager Michael Hughes said. The plan also includes 10 credit-card-friendly pay stations that accommodate about 10 spaces each.

The project is not to exceed $500,000, an amount Hughes said will be taken from the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund and a 2006 bond.

The single-space meters, which the city plans to purchase from the vendor IPS Group, should cost about $340,000. The pay stations, from Parkeon, should cost about $160,000. The Street Transportation Department will request permission at the Nov. 28 City Council meeting to begin contract negotiations with the vendors.

Hughes said if the request is approved, the rest of the process should move quickly.

“We have told City Council our goal is to have final implementation completed by Jan. 31, so I don’t see it starting until the second or third week in January,” Hughes said. “But the IPS meters can be installed in two to three days and the pay stations, they say they can be installed in three to five business days.”

Hughes said installing the card readers for the single-space meters would be as simple as removing the current meter head and inserting a new one, but the multi-space stations could be more complicated. The stations are a new feature for downtown, and in some locations may take extra planning.

“Most of the locations for the pay stations, we want them located on city right-of-way,” Hughes said. “But you have to have ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance — there has to be room on the sidewalks for wheelchairs to get by. So it might take longer if we have to create their own cement pad.”

Hughes said the pay stations are being brought in to simplify parking in certain areas.

“You can pay at a pay station not located next to your space, so if you need to pay for longer you don’t have to walk all the way back to your car,” he said. “It cleans up the sidewalk a bit and consolidates maintenance for us.”

For some drivers, simply being able to pay with plastic is simplification enough. Scottsdale resident and ASU nursing school alumna Gina Kirkland is not downtown often, but said she has to make special preparations for parking when she runs errands downtown.

“I brought a bag of change my husband just happened to have,” Kirkland said. “I don’t normally carry change, so it would be nice to not have to worry about using quarters.”

Kirkland said she dislikes parking in garages for the short amount of time she needs to, and would rather be able to use her credit card for street parking.

“I would be open to it as long as I was convinced it was safe,” she said. “I’d actually prefer it.”

Kirkland’s situation is one the Downtown Phoenix Partnership has seen frequently since they began helping the city conduct user surveys about a year ago.

“Nobody carries $3 in change with them,” said Terry Madeksza, vice president of operations for the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. “The machines really are meant to be a convenience for people. They’re very user-friendly so the look and feel of the machines is a welcome change from what we have today.”

Madeksza said the partnership plans to launch a comprehensive outreach campaign around the beginning of next year to advertise the card readers and to help educate users in how to operate the machines. The Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors will serve as customer service representatives for those needing assistance with the machines, she said.

“The Downtown Phoenix Partnership is going to take on a positive voice for parking in downtown,” she said. “We’re going to reach out to the public and to our stakeholders when these meters come online.”

The implementation in January is the first phase of a longer-term project that would bring even more plastic-friendly meters downtown, although the next steps in the plan are uncertain, Hughes said.

“Phase 2, we don’t know yet,” he said. “At this point we’re hoping to be able to find funding.”

And funding could be a problem. In addition to purchasing and installation costs, the city must pay usage fees every time a customer pays with plastic. The city does not plan to increase the meter rate — currently $1.50 per hour — to absorb the cost of those fees, Hughes said.

For the single-space meters, the city must pay a gateway fee, which allows wireless communication with credit-card companies, a card processing fee and a convenience fee.

The pay stations have a similar fee structure but do not require a gateway fee.

All of the fees are charged to the city by the vendors, Hughes said. Users won’t pay extra fees unless they choose to pay via cell phone. The city won’t activate that service immediately, but Hughes said it will be available eventually.

The payment by cell phone fee is typically about 35 cents per use, Hughes said. All of the new meters will have that capability.

“It’s technology that people have long waited for,” Madeksza said. “That alone I think will make people use the machines.”

Contact the reporter at chloe.brooks@asu.edu

Correction: Nov. 20, 2012

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Michael Hughes as Michael Hammett. Hughes is the project manager for the new parking meters.