(TNS) — Parking in Santa Fe has a new shortcut.
A downloadable smartphone application now allows residents and visitors to find one of the city’s 1,145 on-street metered parking spaces.
On the map that shows up on the user’s screen, lime-green pins mark where meters are not in use across the area surrounding the Plaza and over to the Railyard.
You can click, view the maximum length of time allowed for that space, drive over and, assuming you don’t find a vehicle squatting in front of a meter after its time has expired, you park, then pay. Done.
The app can also save users a trip: Instead of the dreaded walk back to the meter as it is set to expire, time can be added and updated remotely.
The city’s partnership with ParkMobile, which provides a similar service in more than 350 North American cities, helps solve a 21st-century wrinkle in one of the capital city’s longstanding and most vexing problems — how to manage and incentivize the behavior of downtown employees and shop owners who want to park near work and tourists who want to park near their destination while open spaces sit in city garages.
The program has been popular in its early phases, city officials said. During a “soft launch” week in early October, when the city began slapping lime-green notices on each of the downtown meters, the app was used almost 570 times — and that was without any advertising or public announcement beyond the stickers.
Santa Fe was added to ParkMobile’s network of parking areas at no cost to City Hall, city spokesman Matt Ross said.
Revenues from the meter fees remain entirely with the city. Users pay a 20-cent add-on service fee per transaction, which ParkMobile collects itself.
Increases in meter rates implemented in 2016 infuriated many downtown merchants, who said they were caught off-guard. Those rate hikes were intended, in part, to improve the turnover at the meters and push more automobiles into the city’s garage structures, especially those of regular parkers making longer-term stays. The city also saw increased revenue.
Although the ParkMobile app, available for both iPhone and Android devices, can notify users of an impending expiration of their meter and allows them to extend their time from their phone, the software has been programmed to honor time limits on the city’s meters.
“When your time is up, you can’t pay extra,” said Noel Correia, the city’s Parking Division director. “And you open yourself to being cited if an officer is nearby.”
Correia said the user’s license plate, which must be entered in the app, would not allow them to re-up with a new limit at the same space.
“This totally helps with the convenience,” Correia said, adding the city expected to see an average of 200 transactions a day on the app.
Bob Andreotti, director of the Downtown Merchants Association, said the app was an interesting idea but questioned whether added convenience for on-street spaces should take precedence over efforts to get more long-term or regular downtown parkers into city garages.
“To change or regulate the behavior of people parking, you have to have the right things in place to incentivize people,” Andreotti said. “What are the incentives for parking policy in general? … What we have is a situation where the parking division is implementing policy with, from what we can tell, no input from the merchants, and we don’t like that.”
Simon Brackley of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce said his impression was downtown business owners had largely come to terms with the 2016 rate increases but that more still needed to be done to encourage drivers to use garages. Still, he said, it’s a good problem to have.
“Our downtown is very, very dynamic,” Brackley said. “We’re lucky there are a lot of shoppers downtown. That’s part of the mix. We can charge a bit more than somewhere that has a dying Main Street.”
©2018 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.