Portland is putting in 36 multispace parking pay stations in the Old Port this month, adding to 18 machines that were installed last year.
It’s part of a four-year plan to replace many traditional parking meters with technology that’s designed to make parking easier without reducing the $2.1 million collected each year from people who park on Portland streets.
City officials say they’re getting mostly positive feedback about the solar-powered kiosks, which take credit and debit cards as well as coins. People who have used them gave mixed reviews.
Jim Krebs likes the pay stations, which look like free-standing automated teller machines. He lives in Portsmouth, N.H., and works at the University of New England in Portland. On his way to a meeting in the Old Port on Friday, Krebs chose to park on Middle Street, near one of the new kiosks, so he could use a credit or debit card.
“I had no cash on me today, so I had to look specifically for one of these,” Krebs said. “We have them everywhere in Portsmouth and they’re great. Much easier.”
Others were less impressed.
Betty Jo Holden of Elton, La., was visiting the Old Port on Friday as part of her 60th birthday tour of Maine with her son and daughter. After sizing up one of the new pay stations on lower Free Street, Holden put four quarters in the machine and got a ticket receipt showing that she had paid for an hour of parking. She put the ticket on the dashboard of her rental minivan.
“I’m not using my debit card in a machine like that,” Holden said. “I don’t trust them.”
John Peverada, the city’s parking manager, said he has heard few complaints about the pay stations, which comply with the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council for account data protection.
“Most people are loving it,” Peverada said. “They’re happy (the kiosks) take credit or debit cards. Some people say they didn’t know they had to pay, but there are graphic signs that make it pretty clear.”
Peverada said the city is making the switch to pay stations because the machines create a cleaner street scape, promote easier snow removal and may allow more vehicles to park along the curb, depending on their size. Also, the ticket receipts can be used at any meter in the city for the time stamped on the ticket, so a driver can move a vehicle to another space on the same receipt or pass a receipt to someone else.
Street parking generates nearly one-third of the $6.5 million collected by Peverada’s department, which includes parking garage revenue and fines for parking violations. The department spends $1.9 million on parking maintenance and operations, including parking enforcement officers and school crossing guards. The remaining $4.6 million supports other city services.
The city paid $9,000 for each kiosk, including installation, street signs and a two-year warranty, Peverada said. To be cost-effective, each machine must be installed where there are at least seven parking spaces in a row. Traditional parking meters will be maintained where there are fewer than seven spaces.
Each kiosk costs about $2,000 a year to operate, including credit card service fees and cellular connections, Peverada said. However, the pay stations bring in more revenue than traditional parking meters, he said, because they make it easier for people to pay and have a $1 minimum. So, the $36,000 cost to operate 18 kiosks during the first year was offset by the additional revenue they collected, Peverada said.
The first machines were installed along Commercial, Federal, Fore and upper Free streets in the Old Port, as well as Brackett, Chadwick and Bramhall streets near Maine Medical Center in the West End. That phase cost $200,000 and included 200 spaces, Peverada said.
This month, the city is installing 36 machines along Commercial, Congress, Cotton, Dana, Exchange, Federal, Fore, Market, Middle, Pearl, Preble, Spring and Temple streets. The second phase will cost $315,000 and include 314 spaces, he said.
The third phase, to be done in 2014, has yet to be approved or funded by the City Council. It would add 37 machines for 355 spaces and would complete the installation of kiosks in targeted areas downtown and near the University of Southern Maine campus, Peverada said.
The fourth phase would happen in 2015 and focus on the Bayside neighborhood, if the council approves.
Bob Ker thinks the pay stations are a good idea. He is co-owner of Find, a secondhand clothing boutique on lower Free Street.
Ker said customers have expressed frustration in the past about dealing with the meters in front of his store.
“I think people will be more likely to stop now,” Ker said. “Meters are tricky. You need to find the right spot and you need to have coins.”
Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney, used coins at a new pay station on Middle Street because she had them Friday. She said she’s glad to have the option to use a credit or debit card, “but I don’t like having to walk back to the car to put the ticket on the dash.”
Catherine Lo and her daughter, who live in Portland, put coins into the machine on Middle Street.
“I miss the serendipity of finding time left on a parking meter or leaving time on a meter for someone else,” Lo said. So when she returned to her car with 26 minutes left on her ticket receipt, she passed it to someone else.
On his way to visit an Old Port gallery, John Donnelly of Freeport used his debit card at a new parking kiosk on Temple Street. In his car was a “bucket of quarters” he keeps for meters.
“I’m old school,” Donnelly said, “but this is fine.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @KelleyBouchard