Downtown Boise garages easing into machine payments

Despite early confusion, the people who manage parking say the new system will shorten exit lines in the long run.

sberg@idahostatesman.comMarch 25, 2014 

Technology kinks have been the main hiccups so far in a shift to self-serve payment at Downtown Boise's parking garages, says the agency that owns the facilities.

Making sure payment-card readers work properly and that computers store payment and parking information correctly are two of the bugs the agency needs to work out, said John Brunelle, executive director of Capital City Development Corp. Eventually, he said, the new pay-by-machine system will help people get out of the garages faster.

CCDC, Boise's urban renewal agency, owns the garages.

"The idea is to make it more user-friendly, but obviously there's a transition because it's new," Brunelle said.

CCDC started machine payments early this year at the Eastman Garage at 848 W. Main St., and in early March at the City Centre Garage just south of The Grove plaza.

For now, Brunelle said, customers have the option of paying an attendant in payment booths or paying by machine.

Here's how the pay-by-machine system works: You enter the garage and receive a parking ticket as before. You park and go about your business. When you return, instead of going right back to your car, you first pay the amount you owe at a kiosk near the garage's elevator. The machine spits out a receipt, and you have about 20 minutes to leave.

As you leave the garage, you insert that receipt into an exit machine. The machine accepts the receipt, raises the exit barrier and allows you to leave. If there are any problems, you can hit an intercom button on either the payment or exit machine to summon help.

With the Treefort Music Fest in town, this past weekend was a good test of the new system. At times, some drivers seemed confused, lengthening lines that the extra Downtown traffic had already swollen.

Between now and mid-summer, Brunelle said, CCDC hopes to install automated payment systems in its other four Downtown garages, one garage at a time to minimize confusion.

The busiest garage, Capitol Terrace at 770 W. Main St., will be among the last, Brunelle said.

"We're waiting to do that one until we're experts with our own equipment and installation process," he said.

Getting people out of the garages more quickly is the main reason the agency is making the change.

This year at least, Brunelle said, CCDC doesn't expect to lay off any of the people who process payments and may hire a few to help guide customers through the new system while it's still new.

Next year, he said, the agency may eliminate some positions.

Another likely change: eventually keeping the garages open 24 hours and requiring parkers to use the payment machines when the booths aren't staffed. The Eastman and City Centre garages are already open 24 hours a day.

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