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Your guide to Minneapolis’ parking-meter makeover

Minneapolis will go with the new single-space meters that take coins and credit cards in the East Hennepin business district.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Minneapolis will go with the new single-space meters that take coins and credit cards in the East Hennepin business district.

The parking public in Minneapolis currently has its choice of four different meter styles.

There are old meters — and really old meters — that only take coins. Then there are the new multi-space meters and the new single-space meters that take coins or a credit card.

Confused?

Don’t worry. By the end of summer most of the coin-only meters will be but a memory and we’ll be plugging meters all over town with our credit cards.

It all started two years ago, when the old and really old meters clearly needed to be replaced.  They broke easily and were expensive to service. The city got proposals for replacement meters from 16 companies and selected six of those companies to be part of a six-month meter test.

This being Minnesota, it only seemed fair to start the test in November. In June here, everything outside works fine, but when winter weather kicks in, outdoor conditions eliminated the chumps from the champs in the meter competition.

“They all kind of resisted 20 below,” recalls Traffic Engineer Tim Drew of Minneapolis Public Works. The winner in the multi-space category — there were four candidates — is a solar-powered system with a pay station in every block. 

The test included areas downtown where sunshine rarely hits the curb. The meters worked just fine.

“They weren’t the cheapest,” says Drew, but they hit the medium-range price. In all, Minneapolis will spend $6.6 million before the total three-year meter replacement project wraps up this coming fall.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, the parking meter “day of reckoning was at hand,” according to St. Paul Works spokesman Dave Hunt.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul will use the multi-space meters downtown.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul will use the multi-space meters downtown.

The initial replacement favorite was a single-space meter that took credit cards. In the fall of 2010, the city installed 50 test meters along St. Peter and Wabasha streets.

This being Minnesota, it didn’t take long to discover the meters didn’t work so well in cold weather. There was also a vendor charge for credit card use that the city wasn’t happy about.

“We were aware our counterparts in Minneapolis were experimenting,” said Hunt of the multi-space meter system tested in Minneapolis. After comparing test results, Hunt said St. Paul engineers “felt more comfortable” and decided to go with the same multi-space system selected by Minneapolis.

The St. Paul parking meter replacement program will begin in the spring and cost $1.395 million.  It will be a combination of the multi-space meters that take credit cards and single-space meters that will be coin-only.

Because St. Paul is purchasing its multi-space meters from the same company as Minneapolis, the two cities will be buying under one contract, the Minneapolis one, giving both cities a better price than under separate contracts.

Both cities will use the multi-space meters downtown. There are three things the parking public can kiss goodbye with the new system:

• Climbing “the snow mountain” to feed in quarters. No sadness there. All you get at your parking space is a number, which is on a post where the meter used to be. You can see the number from inside your car. How civilized. Then you walk to the nearby pay station,which the city will keep shoveled out.

• A bag of quarters kept your glove compartment. Or am I the only person with a bag of quarters?

• Free time left on a meter by someone else. It will still be there, but it will harder to find.   “Trolling for additional time is tougher,” says Drew. That’s because you will not find any free time on your multi-space parking location until you punch in your number at the pay station.  

St. Paul will be using the new electronic version of the coin-only meters outside of downtown along University Avenue and at the state Capitol.

Minneapolis' oldest meters that only take coins.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Minneapolis’ oldest meters that only take coins.

Minneapolis will go with the new single-space meters that take coins and credit cards in the East Hennepin business district and in other areas with 10 meters to a block — which Drew describes as “10 opportunities to break down.” 

New coin-only meters will be a very limited part of the parking system showing up in isolated areas of less than 10 meters.

Both cities will be enforcing the parking meters with smart phone technology that will tell ticket writers that a meter has expired. Under the current system, meter monitors know only if there is time on the meter or if the meter has expired. They don’t know if you have been illegally parked for an hour or five minutes.

With the new system, they will know exactly how long you have been illegally parked when they stop by to get your plate number. Chances of talking your way out of the ticket are diminished.

One final tip:  You want to keep the receipt.

Two reasons: The receipt tells you the parking space number for which you have just paid and the exact time the meter expires. Make sure you paid for the space in which you have parked. If not, pay again and this time, get it right.

And remember that the expiration time on your receipt is the time the enforcement person will be alerted to a meter violation.

One final note:  As we all strive to eliminate credit card debt, we apparently love paying for parking with our magic plastic cards.  So far in Minneapolis, 75 percent of the meter revenue is coming from credit cards.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 12/20/2011 - 12:53 pm.

    I don’t mind the new parking meters if they are fairer, more reliable, more honest, and make money for the municipalities using them. However, I do mind mind using the plastic [credit/debit] card(s) for security, identity &/or privacy reasons.

    In my car, I keep dollar and quarter coins for parking meters. The coins are also good for toll booths for when I travel the various states’ turnpikes. Since my vehicle doesn’t have ‘disabled’ license plates I also have a (MN) National Standard Disability Placated for windshield display. When traveling about various towns and states have various regulations regarding disability parking coins are a necessity for meters where necessary.

    Every time a plastic debit/card is used for a meter somebody has to pay for using the plastic. More than likely the card-holder has to pay the usage charges. On a limited budget that use is not cost effective for the holder besides making the parking fees cost more. No Bargains or convenience there!

    Now comes the clincher: Since these meters are supposedly hi-tech, smartphone, &/or Wi-Fi not only does the municipality or its parking meter contractor know the time or expiration period involved but you could be ticketed not just on scene but by mail.

    What is preventing this electronic parking enforcement from being hacked into? Or, even put on WikiLeaks et.al.? If the US DOD, at times, can be ebreached or classified DOD surveillance drones hacked and brought down then what’s stopping some local hacker from ebreaching the parking meter systems? There is a lot of proprietary and private credit/debit card information accumulated in this system. Now do coins look that inconvenient in light of these caveats?

    Until an airtight foolproof electronic system for parking meters is devised I will still use coins not plastic! The parking receipt benefits are great and I will definitely keep my parking receipt(s) for IRS or legal reasons.

    Besides there are nearly $2 Billion in dollar coins sitting in US Treasury vaults just waiting to be used for parking meters, vending machines, and tooth fairy pillow donations etcetera. Why use the plastic credit or debit cards when coins are cheaper and easier to use over the long term? (Don’t forget) The Tooth-Fairy loves coins too!!!

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/20/2011 - 02:26 pm.

    Time to get a reloadable debit card, I guess!

  3. Submitted by Lawrence Lockman on 12/20/2011 - 02:50 pm.

    I still carry a bag of quarters.
    Have you used the new multi-space meters? I despise them!
    It has not even gotten very cold yet, but on “cool” windy days it is very unpleasant.

    I frequently have to wait in line behind people who can’t figure out the directions or who have forgotten their space number. (I also had trouble figuring out the directions at first.) When the sequence of entering data begins there is a long delay between steps. Finally, after a final wait, the receipt prints out.
    The meters I use are near MacPhail Center for music. Some of the blocks are very long. If I park near MacPhail I have to walk back half a block to get to the payment box and then return to my car to get my instrument, etc. out.
    Please consider a follow-up article describing your personal experience with the various meter types. Perhaps MinnPost will treat you to the parking fees.

  4. Submitted by Jim Hartmann on 12/20/2011 - 03:14 pm.

    How about giving the consumers the benefit of the smart phone technology by, 1. letting us pay for our spot from the comfort of our car. 2. Notifying us when our spot is expiring so we can electronically plug the meter with more money without leaving our chair at the bar?

  5. Submitted by Chris Betcher on 12/20/2011 - 04:02 pm.

    #4: This system is already available through a company called IPSGroup. (I have a friend who works there and she was telling me about it last year.)
    I was really hoping to read they this was the system Mpls and St. Paul had picked. I guess we’re not so lucky.

  6. Submitted by Ben Elliott on 12/21/2011 - 10:15 am.

    After I read this article, all I could think was that the citizens of Chicago were essentially robbed.

    It seems completely unreasonable that street parking rates did not increase over the past two decades and suddenly the city of Chicago was confused as to why the parking revenues were not able to cover the cost of new meters. Simply increase the rates? Seems logical. $20 million annually seems really low. The article reports that 35,740 parking spaces were essentially sold (for 99 years). Doing the math: $20 million/year on 35,740 parking spaces means that city-owned parking went for on average $560/year!

    As far as the $563 million price tag, the city of Chicago agreed to, remember that this is the price for 99 years. Assuming inflation, a dollar today is worth far more than a dollar will be worth in 99 years. Therefore, the compounded future value of $563 million, at a 3% rate, in 99 years means that the city could have nearly $11 Billion at the end of 99 years – if the city didn’t spend it. However, the city will not be able to save these funds from being spent. The city will likely use the money to solve short-term budget issues, as others have commented.

    In the end, I believe the city should have simply incrased parking rates (since rates had not changed in 20 years) and then purchased new meters neighborhood by neighborhood. Within a few years all the spaces could be modern and the city would have retained the asset and future flexibility.

  7. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 12/21/2011 - 03:28 pm.

    They also make dynamic pricing easier. I accidentally used one for something like $2/hour once.

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