by Clint Burgess

Technology has changed our lives so thoroughly that now it has even put the bite on parking meters. All along the strip in front of River Park Square, curious little green machines have popped up and sent the parking meters of yesteryear packing. The new Pay to Park machines are up and running. They may be coming to a street near you.

Mayor Jim West and other city officials had seen the technology used in other Northwest cities, including Portland and Seattle, and thought the machines might be a good fit for Spokane. Parkeon is the company that makes the Pay to Park units and is allowing the city to give the machines a whirl for 90 days. After the trial period, the city will assess their usefulness. The city's public information officer, Marlene Feist, says this will involve a variety of considerations. "The elected officials will make the ultimate decision, but they will include input from the meter folks as well as area citizens," says Feist. The green parking meter machines have performed well in Seattle, so it doesn't appear they'll be leaving here anytime soon.

The replacement of the meters may have benefits, but is Spokane ready for this kind of change? There is a noticeable difference to the streetscape stretching from Howard to Lincoln along Main. "The aesthetic of downtown is just better," says Feist. "You don't have that picket fence effect with these as you do with the current meters." Another positive of the Pay to Park machines is that they are user-friendly and make paying for parking a more efficient process overall. "The biggest benefit is the customer convenience," Feist points out. "People sometimes get tickets because they don't have change. That's not the case with these -- they take change as well as credit or debit cards."

There are several reasons these new meters should work for our city. The major barriers are the cost of adding the new technology and whether citizens will embrace the idea. Spokane resident Marry Ann Murphy was a first-time user of the apparatus and was able to complete her parking transaction with ease. "I think parking is one of the reasons people don't come downtown," Murphy says. Getting consumers to the downtown core is one matter that is starting to solve itself with all the options area residents have for shopping and entertainment. Finding a place to park could be a little less painful with the addition of these new meters. As the city moves through this trial period and ultimately works out the kinks in the plausibility factor of this venture, funding is the major hurdle.

The city will need about 77 units to address the need here. The units cost an average of $8,000, putting a price tag of about $600,000 on the little green machines. Regardless of how much positive feedback elected officials get, it will prove difficult to find those funds in an already strained city budget. (In cities that have added the kiosks, however, income from parking has grown.) There is the possibility of raising parking violation fees to partially offset the cost, but Feist says there are no plans for restructuring of fees or rates. Forward progress requires forward thinking and this is an idea that could get other projects jump-started here. Murphy feels that the machines will a welcome addition to downtown. "I love coming downtown," she says. "Any way that you can get more people down here is a good thing."

Publication date: 03/17/05

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