Beach town's meters' days are numbered

The familiar gray meters are once again being bolted to their poles, but town officials say their time has expired.
Starting June 1, the meters in Bethany Beach will be replaced with 17 electronic pay stations, which will allow visitors to use their credit cards to pay for parking.

"I don't think anyone's going to miss them," said parking enforcement officer Steve Grames.

While the new system may lead to Grames fielding a lot of questions from beachgoers this summer, he said it should be more convenient for visitors and require less maintenance.

Bethany Beach is the latest town to make the transition to electronic meters, as resort communities upgrade parking systems in preparation for the busy summer season.

Richard Malone, deputy director of Public Works for Ocean City, says the new stations require just as much maintenance as the old meters. The only difference is the type of problems that arise.

While the salt air tended to corrode the mechanical device in the old meters, causing coins to become wedged inside, he said the new ones are sensitive to nearby lightning strikes, power surges and water.

But the stations are also prone to major hiccups.

Rehoboth Beach City Manager Greg Ferrese said his town, which installed pay stations as part of its 2006 streetscape project and added credit card capability in 2008, has not had a smooth transition.

Starting July 4 last year, the machines had problems transmitting credit card information to Town Hall, he said.

Dave Henderson, the city's information technology director, said the pay stations transmit credit card information through a secure cell phone connection.

"Just as it is with a cell phone you have in your hand, if you go out of range, you don't get to talk," he said.

When the system became overloaded, Henderson said the pay station stored the credit card information internally instead of instantly charging the customers.

To rectify the problem, Henderson said AT&T is installing a new cell phone tower atop the Henlopen Hotel.

Bethany Beach Parking Supervisor Bill Dowdell said his town's new system will be phased in over the next two summers, with the final 17 machines being installed along Garfield Parkway in 2011.
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