Transportation

Smarter Parking Meters Planned for Erie, Pa.

The new system will allow drivers in certain high-use areas to pay at state-of-the-art kiosks that will send text alerts when metered time is expiring.

by Kevin Flowers, Erie Times-News / June 13, 2018
Shutterstock

(TNS) — Erie, Pa.'s parking meter technology upgrade will get its long-awaited jump start this coming summer.

The Erie Parking Authority's board of directors on Tuesday signed off a contract between the authority and Meter EZ for pay-by-phone technology that allows users to buy meter time with the aid of phone app at designated single-space parking spots or surface lots.

Raymond Massing, the Parking Authority's executive director, also told board members that he is finalizing plans to place two new state-of-the-art parking kiosks along West Sixth Street, between Peach and Sassafras streets, by July.

The kiosks will be located in the high-use test area outside the Erie County Courthouse. The machines can accept payments from coins, cash, credit cards or prepaid cards.

One kiosk can cover a number of parking spaces, and the machines can also send text alerts if someone's meter time is expiring. Those using the downtown kiosks will input their vehicle's license plate number when buying meter time.

Both moves are part of the Parking Authority's plan to implement widespread upgrades, primarily downtown, to modernize the way residents and visitors pay for parking in Erie.

Massing said the systems will also be much more convenient for users than the city's coin-operated meters.

The improvements also align with Erie Refocused, the city's long-term development plan, as well as Erie's smart-city initiative, which is spearheaded by the Erie Innovation District. It seeks to use sensors and different forms of electronic data collection to supply information that is then used to efficiently manage assets and resources.

Massing said the contract with Meter EZ — which created the customized pay-by-phone app for the Parking Authority — must be reviewed by the authority's lawyer, James Marsh Jr. The app should be available to the public within 45 days, Massing said.

Meter EZ will be paid between 20 cents and 40 cents per transaction, depending on how users pay for parking.

"July was always my time frame," Massing said. "These are things that have been a long time coming at the authority and for the city."

The pay-by-phone technology can also send a text message to a person's cell phone if their meter time is running out and more time needs to be purchased. The technology can also be used at sites with existing meters because Parking Authority enforcement employees will be equipped with hand-held devices that can tell them quickly if a vehicle has used the app to pay for parking.

Massing has said the upgrade plan will replace many but not all of the city's 1,400 coin-operated parking meters.

Flowbird, a parking technology company, is providing the two kiosks that will be tested near the County Courthouse at no charge, Massing said.

"We will evaluate the usage and how they function, and then make a decision on how to move forward," he said.

The Parking Authority also continues to work on plans to add new computer software, tied into the Parking Authority's offices and City Hall's parking ticket office, that will track parking tickets and related information. That system would also be linked to apps, kiosks or parking enforcement officers' hand-held devices.

Anthony Snow, chairman of the Parking Authority's board, said the upgrades are long overdue.

"I am extremely pleased. This has been in the works for years," Snow said. "We have the technology to do this, and it's going to be a tremendous help to the people."

City Councilman Cas Kwitowski, the panel's liaison to the Parking Authority, added, "We promised this a long time ago to the public. ... We're a lot closer now than we were three or four years ago."

Massing has said the exact cost of a large-scale upgrade of the parking meter system, over several years, could be as much as $2 million. The upgrades would be paid for, in part, through higher fines and penalties that will take effect July 1.

The changes have been approved by Erie City Council.

The Parking Authority could also contribute roughly $300,000 of its reserve funds to the upgrades and could borrow additional money to help pay for the improvements.

©2018 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.