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Stockton, Calif., Council Mulls Smart Meter Pilot

Three tech-heavy options are being considered to boost waning parking meter revenue.

by Roger Phillips, The Record / December 4, 2017
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(TNS) — STOCKTON — Developer Dan Cort provided the mock applause two years ago after two homeless men were arrested for allegedly stealing nearly 100 downtown parking meters.

"I would just like to say on behalf of my company we're glad to see them gone," Cort joked in 2015.

But it does not appear as if Cort's dream of a meter-free downtown is likely to come true anytime soon. In fact, a discussion of the future of downtown parking meters is among the items on the agenda for tonight's special meeting of the City Council.

Following is a preview of the scheduled parking-meter discussion.

Recent history

The Great Meter Heist referred to by Cort was hardly an isolated event.

According to the city, there were 1,700 parking meters in downtown Stockton as recently as 2015. Since then, the meter population has plummeted to about 250. Meter revenue dropped by more than $180,000 in the 2016-17 fiscal year, the city says.

Officials have set a target of returning to 1,200 to 1,300 metered or paid parking spaces downtown. According to the city, there is no need to return to the 1,700-meter figure because some previous locations in outlying areas no longer need paid parking.

"A detriment to downtown businesses"

City officials say downtown time-limited parking is necessary to assure turnover of spaces, making it easier for visitors to park near businesses they seek to patronize.

"Street parking is intended for the short-term, hourly parker who has come to the downtown to support local businesses," Tina McCarty, who manages parking for Stockton, said last month.

A short-term fix has been a recent effort to better secure downtown's remaining meters. Last month, the city also announced a crackdown on parking hogs who overstay their time limits in formerly-metered downtown spaces.

Options moving forward

Users of Stockton's remaining meters currently can pay with coins or by using a smartphone app that was introduced in 2015. Staff will lay out three paid-parking options for the future for the City Council to consider after tonight's discussion-only agenda item:

  • Pay by plate: Parkers would enter their license-plate number at a nearby kiosk and pay with a credit card or cash. Parking enforcers would check for payment by smartphone.
  • Smart meters or credit-card-only meters: The technology for meters that accept credit card payments and also use the parking app is not new. Most Stocktonians likely have seen and probably used versions of these meters in other nearby cities.
  • Smartphone-only timed parking: Meters would completely disappear. The city would place signs at timed parking spaces explaining to users how to pay with a credit card or use the parking app.

It doesn't take a logician to figure out that meters that don't have cash in them are less attractive to thieves. But many of the newer technologies exclude would-be parkers who don't have credit cards or smartphones.

What to expect

Purchasing new meters would come at a cost, but the city says its Parking Authority already has available general-purpose funds as well as money that is allocated for technology upgrades.

According to a staff report, a pilot program using the three options that will be discussed tonight will be conducted in the near future.

©2017 The Record (Stockton, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.