Innovation and Cooperation Transform Parking in Bethlehem
By Tom Hartley
Bethlehem, a quaint, historic city in eastern Pennsylvania, successfully juxtaposes the old with the new. At the city’s core is a vibrant downtown area, separated by the Lehigh River, offering residents world-class dining, shopping and entertainment, set against a backdrop of Colonial-era hotels and historic buildings.
Known as the “City of Festivals,” Bethlehem hosts 10 major festivals and more than 150 smaller festivals throughout the year, drawings visitors – and as a result, vehicles – to the downtown area. The influx of motorists to these popular areas presents the Bethlehem Parking Authority (BPA) with common parking challenges such as educating the public on the available options and generating support for parking initiatives.
What is unique is the approach the BPA has taken to tackling these challenges, combining smart-parking technologies and a strategic partnership with the Bethlehem Downtown Business Association.
Smart-Parking Meters Deployed
In July 2011, the BPA installed 450 solar-powered, credit card-enabled single-space parking meters from San Diego-based IPS Group. The meters were installed in the north and south downtown business areas, in the heart of Bethlehem’s urban center. The meters enable users to pay for their parking with credit/debit cards and even their mobile phone.
What’s more, each meter is wirelessly networked to a state-of-the-art back office meter management system, which has allowed the BPA to monitor its parking assets in a more intelligent and efficient manner.
“The use of these meters has been transformational in Bethlehem,” said Tom Hartley, Executive Director of the BPA. “Enforcement staffing is at the lowest level it has been at in 10 years. Having multiple payment options enhances compliance, and affords us the opportunity to redirect our focus on service initiatives.”
The new meters feature a large LCD graphical display and can support graphics and text in any language. These displays allow customers to feature virtually anything on the display as long as it can fit within a 160 x 160 pixel bitmap.
Bethlehem, a city leading the way in implementing innovative parking technologies, was the first to capitalize on the graphics capability of the new meters, partnering with local downtown businesses, to offer free advertising.
The Apollo Grill, a popular local restaurant was the first business to be advertised on the meters. The ad was prominently displayed on the meters in the downtown area, featuring the Apollo logo, as well as information on its weekend brunch, and was –well-received by downtown motorists and business owners. The advertising will continue to be offered as a complimentary service to the downtown businesses in the near term.
However, Hartley, who is spearheading this new approach, said he hopes to grow the meter advertising into a successful revenue-generating initiative and may consider charging for the service once a certain level of demand has been reached. The advertising capabilities of the meters provide a unique partnership opportunity for the BPA and the Downtown Business Association. In addition, it provides a competitive advantage for the businesses advertising on the meters and drives repeat visits to the area while fostering economic development, Hartley said.
Perception of Parking
Being able to feature advertising, as well as the enhanced payment options, is helping the BPA transform public perception of parking from an often negative one to a positive. In addition to local businesses, the BPA partners with nonprofit organizations to promote upcoming events.
The meters have featured ads from the public library, as well as an announcement for the Bach Children’s Choir Christmas concert.
In terms of payment options, being able to pay with a debit/credit card or by mobile phone enhances the customer experience and reduces citations for parking violations. In fact, enforcement staffing levels are at their lowest level in 10 years due to the reduction in violations, which also promotes public good will for parking initiatives.
Partnering for Success
Bethlehem is a successful example of the marriage of technology and strategic partnerships to drive economic growth, foster better relations with patrons and businesses, and ultimately maximize the city’s parking assets.The introduction of smart-parking meters has increased revenue, decreased enforcement staffing requirements, and created unique partnership opportunities. Its success should serve as a model for other cities to replicate in the future.
Contact the BPA’s Hartley at email@example.com.
Learn more about this project at www.Ipsgroupinc.com.
Article Abstract from February, 2014