No more parking on someone else's dime

New sensor-equipped meters in Boise will know when you leave your space - and when you overstay your welcome.

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comJuly 22, 2013 

The city of Boise is installing about 200 new parking meters this year with sensors to reset the meter when a car pulls away, removing any paid-but-unused time.

MARK TURNAUCKAS VIA FLICKR

  • WHAT VEHICLE SENSORS AND SMART METERS DO

    - Record when a vehicle enters and leaves a parking space, including time, day and length of stay. The city can use this information to determine high-demand use and locations.

    - Send out an alert to the meter readers' smartphones or tablets when a meter is about to expire, has expired or malfunctions. The city says it will not utilize that technology at this time.

    What they cannot do

    - Obtain or record vehicle or driver data.

    - Use credit or debit card information to automatically charge for the cost of additional meter time or a parking meter violation.

    What's the timetable?

    Over the next four years the city plans to replace 811 meters with the high-tech meters with in-pavement vehicle detection sensors. Each set-up costs about $800.

    The city plans to re-use the old meters by installing them in what are now no-fee two-hour parking zones in the Downtown area, including around Concordia Law School and Trader Joe's.

    The hearing on new parking hours, fees

    The City Council will hold a public hearing at noon Tuesday at City Hall on increasing the parking meter fee from $1 an hour to $1.50 for the first hour and $3 for the second hour with a two-hour maximum. The $15 expired meter fine will not be increased.

    The city also will consider charging people to park in metered spots until 8 p.m. and on Saturdays. Right now, it is free to park in those spots on weekends and after 6 p.m. weekdays. This would apply to all metered spaces between Jefferson, Myrtle, 5th and 10th streets.

    If approved, the changes could go into effect by the end of August.

An earlier version of this story listed the wrong time for Tuesday's Boise City Council hearing on increasing parking meter fees. The public hearing will be held at noon.

While not on par with winning the lottery, pulling into a downtown Boise parking space and finding time on the meter could be called one of life's small pleasures.

That's coming to an end.

This year, the city is installing about 200 new parking meters with sensors to reset the meter when a car pulls away, removing any paid-but-unused time. The sensors also will prevent refeeding the meter beyond the maximum time or - sorry, sneaky sidewalk cafe user - pushing the free 20-minute button more than once.

Wait, there's more: The City Council on Tuesday will consider increasing fees from $1 an hour to $1.50 for the first hour and $3 for the second hour. It will also look at more hours when you have to pay to park: on Saturdays - now free - and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.

The good news is the first 20 minutes will continue to be free and all meters will allow up to two hours and 20 minutes, a one-hour increase. And no more scrounging under car seats for coins: the new meters also will take credit/debit cards and, in the future, may be adapted to take payments via smartphones, as Boise State's new meters do.

To accomplish this high-tech stuff, the city will install with each new meter a vehicle-detection sensor, a hockey puck-like device embedded a couple inches into the pavement at each parking space that sends notifications when a car enters or exits the space.

This is where the city's got a little hitch in its gait.

ACHD streets, Boise parking meters

Under state law, all downtown Boise streets, curbs and sidewalks are Ada County Highway District's responsibility except for state-owned highways (Myrtle and Front streets and Broadway Avenue) and a two-block stretch of 8th Street under the control of CCDC, the city's urban renewal agency.

State law gives cities control of parking meters and revenues. The city must maintain the meters and not encroach into the roadway.

The sensor flap started in March when a broken water line flooded Bannock Street between 8th Street and Capitol Boulevard. ACHD learned from the city that it had embedded sensors in the pavement of some of the parking spaces.

The next day a Boise employee sent an email to ACHD: "This conversation led us to wonder if the ACHD was ever informed about this new technology so I didn't want to delay any longer." The employee informed ACHD that 10 sensors were "in the ground already" and the city planned to install another 800 over the next four years. "Basically it's probably best to ask: does the county give us permission to put these sensors in the road?"

On May 30, ACHD Deputy Director of Engineering Bruce Mills emailed the city: "I believe you have now been made aware that you will need permission from ACHD to install any items in our right-of-way."

On June 11, the city began installing the sensors. An ACHD inspector stopped the work the next day because the city did not have a permit or ACHD permission.

Boise spokesman Adam Park said the city started installing the sensors on June 11 "because that was the period that the vendor was available to do the work and because we had already satisfied the legal obligation to notify ACHD that we were installing them."

The highway district disagrees. "ACHD was not formally made aware of the installation of the in-pavement sensors," in April 2012 or last month, spokeswoman Christine Myron said.

Park said the city's interpretation of state law is it can install parking meter equipment anywhere within the right-of-way. ACHD says it wants a formal agreement with the city.

"Though the city still maintains that the agreement is not required to install the sensors, the city elected to proceed with an agreement in the interest of good partnership and to ensure that both agencies were on the same page regarding the new meters," Park said.

Under the proposed agreement, ACHD won't charge the city to embed the sensors, but it does say the city is responsible for maintaining the sensors, including removing and reinstalling them when ACHD repairs or resurfaces the roadway.

At a 6 p.m. Wednesday public hearing, the ACHD Commission is scheduled to consider the agreement.

Better parking, not more revenue

Boise installed its first downtown parking meters in 1940. By year's end, $22,500 in nickels and pennies (12 minutes for a penny, an hour for a nickel) had been collected from the 500 meters.

Today, more than 1,200 meters collecting $1 an hour bring in about $620,000 annually.

In May, the city received its first shipment of 194 high-tech meters and sensors, manufactured by IPS Group. These sensors will be installed around the State Capitol, City Hall and BoDo.

The city says the fee changes and new meters are not about increasing revenue, but about increasing the turnover of prime downtown parking spaces and encouraging long-term parkers to use parking garages. CCDC owns and operates six downtown parking garages with about 2,600 spaces. Parking in these garages is free for the first hour and $2.50 for each additional hour.

The new meters - which zero out each time a car leaves a space - also are aimed at curbing scofflaws who re-feed the meter or abuse the free 20 minutes.

But according to IPS Group materials, resetting the meter when a car leaves "generally results in increased revenue of 20 to 40 percent."

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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