Magazine

For Charlotte, P by S is ‘Fashion Forward’

John Van Horn

“Clunky old parking meters? Puh-lease! That look is so 1990’s. 1990s. This fall, the Charlotte Department of Transportation’s Park It! office is unveiling a sleek new look on several of its Center City streets. New parking pay stations will replace individual coin parking meters at three uptown locations ...”
Thus began the flyer that accompanied pay by space to Charlotte, NC. The installation was the culmination of nearly two years of trials by the city’s Department of Transportation, working in conjunction with Central Parking, Charlotte’s on-street program manager.
The public relations piece took a page from Madison Avenue, stressing the “style and look” of the new equipment and playing on the season by using terms such as “fall fashion” and “the benefits of being fashion forward.”
According to Clement Gibson, the department’s special programs manager, they wanted an opportunity to provide a service to the community.
“We are installing the meters in areas whose residents and visitors are ‘technologically savvy,’” she said. “Initial reaction is all positive.
“What do they like most? Credit card usage. People just don’t carry a lot of change, and our rates are $1 an hour. With meters, it was coins or you were out of luck,” Gibson said. “The new machines take the cards, as well as coin and our Park It! tokens, and make it much easier for visitors to park in the central city.”
The city is installing a total of 42 machines, which will replace about 300 of its 1,000 meters. “We focused on high-traffic areas where the need was greatest.”
The units provide a cleaner streetscape, more options for parkers, and tremendous information availability with connectivity with the main office through a cellular/Internet network, Gibson added. “We know instantly when a machine is having a problem and can fix it. A broken meter waited until someone reported it.”
After the test period, users asked the city when installation was going to go forward. “They actually wanted the new equipment.”
Before the start-up, Gibson personally visited the merchants in the area to describe the new system and how it was going to work. “We wanted to be sure they understood what was happening and how it would positively affect their businesses. We also had agents in the area to help people with the new machines for the first two weeks. They served as ‘civic ambassadors’ and were extremely helpful during the transition
period.
“I will say,” noted Gibson, “that we had very few problems. There is always a shake-out period, but the public took to the new machines right away. We are becoming more technologically adept. We use ATMs, cellphones, pump our own gas, and even in some places check out our own groceries. Plus, Charlotte is becoming center of technology for the Piedmont area. Our residents embraced the new system almost
immediately.”
Although the manufacturers say the machines will replace up to 10 meters, the city averaged 6 to 7 meters per unit.
One nice feature, Gibson added, is that people can add time to their parking ticket if they desire. They take their receipt with them, go to any pay-by-space machine, enter the “add-time” number and the amount of additional time they want, and their parking time is extended. And there is no need to return to the car and leave the receipt on the dash.
“This adds to the convenience,” Gibson said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The solar-powered machines made for a less complicated installation. “Most of the areas are in direct sunlight, and of course Charlotte has great weather,” Gibson said. “However, we may have to hard-wire some of the machines that will be located in 100% shaded areas. As of now, however, there has been no problem with the solar power.”
Enforcement officers get a list of unpaid spaces on their cellular-enabled device (PDA, cellphone, etc.) and can go directly to spaces in violation and issue citations. They don’t need to check each space or each vehicle.
“My suggestion is that the credit card facility is the major convenience feature for the machines,” Gibson said. “There is less need for a bill acceptor if you have a credit card reader. It keeps the unit cost down and makes them easier to maintain. Although our installation is new, so far we are extremely pleased.”

Article Abstract from December, 2006




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