High-tech parking meters a hit with city and users

You maneuver through downtown traffic, navigating the maze of one-way streets, dodging pedestrians, waiting impatiently at the trolley crossing all to circle back to a metered parking spot and discover the two nickels and three dimes you dug out of your pocket wont buy you the time you need.
One option: Walk two blocks maybe more to a convenience store, buy a pack of gum and ask for change in quarters; inconvenient, particularly if youre in a hurry.
Its more likely youll take your chance with the cold, unforgiving meter maids. Park it and pray.

Either way, parking a mundane, everyday task becomes an irritating process; unless, of course, youve parked in a space with an IPS Group high-tech meter that the city is testing in a pilot program.

The wireless, solar-paneled meters developed by IPS Group, a San Diego parking and telecommunications business started in 2000, allow users to pay with a credit or debit card.
So far, the high-tech meters have increased revenue, decreased labor and produced valuable data for the city just the kind of results on which the IPS Group sells its product.

Unlike old, battery-powered models, the high-tech meters allow users to pay with coins, a credit card, or a reusable, rechargeable parking debit card.
IPSParkingMeter.jpgThe systems meet the Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards and IPS is a level-one PCI-certified vendor, said Chad Randall, chief operating officer of IPS. Once a card is swiped, it is encrypted and authorized. The meters do not store full credit card information and the information is not kept on file in IPS data.

Drivers and merchants in the uptown and downtown districts where the pilot meters are tested like the convenient, pay-by-card feature and, parking citations in the pilot spaces decreased 44 percent, a recent report says.

From the city and a business standpoint, anything that makes it easier to accommodate parking is an advantage, said Carol Schultz, the executive director of the Uptown Partnership, the uptown community parking advisory group. Twenty-four of the meters in the pilot program were placed on 4th Avenue in Hillcrest. Others were placed in high-traffic areas downtown.

According to a city report by the citys parking revenue collections manager, the IPS Groups high-tech, single-space meters proved more reliable, required fewer collection resources and produced more revenue than single-head meters at the same locations.

Revenues where the IPS meters were tested increased 11.5 percent, malfunctions decreased by 65.7 percent, and collection time per meter decreased by 46.3 percent, the city reported.

Especially now, given the economic situation so many cities are facing, this provides the opportunity to upgrade technology that is way out of date; provide additional convenience to the customer; to take advantage of green technology; all at a price so much cheaper than the other technology, Randall said.

Old meters are battery-operated and batteries are replaced every six to nine months. It is labor-intensive to repair them or to retrieve data; and its a guessing game when the meters are full and money needs to be collected.

The IPS high-tech wireless meters are powered, primarily, by solar energy and a rechargeable battery, and are equipped with a backup battery. IPS has also created a system to allow cities to access real-time information through a Web-based service to read meter revenues, chart a meters use and receive maintenance alerts.

IPS Groups meters are priced starting at $495 per space; a multi-space kiosk which requires users to print a ticket and place it on their dashboards would cost nearly twice that per space, Randall said.

The technology for todays most advanced parking meter, Randall says, was developed from the technology IPS used to create cellular payphones, which are installed where the infrastructure for traditional payphones is not in place or too costly.

Payphones and parking meters are similar, Randall said. Parking meters like payphones validate coins and transmit data wirelessly.

IPSs high-tech meters are in San Francisco, Washington D.C., and throughout Southern California; now its hoping its pilot program in San Diego leads to a sale.

Randall said, so far, IPS which began marketing its high-tech meters three years ago hasnt sponsored a pilot program that didnt lead to a city purchasing the meters.

Were very keen to make San Diego a showcase of parking technology, Randall said.
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