High-tech parking put to test

Starting 4-11-05, the city of Houston is beginning a five-week demonstration of new meter technology. Seven vendors competing for the contract to install new parking devices across Houston are expected to participate in the trial period.
texas_parking_ass.gifMotorists parking their cars on parts of Fannin, San Jacinto, Congress and Preston in the northeast quadrant of downtown — adjacent to the county's courthouses and administration buildings — will encounter the new meters. All will accept credit cards and some also will provide change for dollar bills.

All but one of the vendors use a central meter dubbed "pay and display." One or two meter stations are installed per block. The machine spits out a ticket that must be displayed inside the windshield, providing visible proof of payment for parking enforcement officers. This type of equipment already is used in Galveston and many other U.S. cities.

Mayor Bill White vowed a year ago to improve on-street downtown parking, long the subject of complaints from drivers and businesses. After the trial period ends May 14, the city will evaluate each vendors' performance and name finalists for a citywide contract.

"If we are successful with this effort, we're going to make downtown a more friendly place, which will bring more people downtown," said Richard Lewis, acting director of the Municipal Courts, which oversees the Parking Management Division. "This is intended to test the functionality of the meters as well as to get the citizens' input into their experiences and what seems to work best."

The Houston Downtown Management District is participating in the demonstration. It has crafted a survey and hired a team to interview drivers after they've used the new meters.

"This is the first time I'm aware of that the city is using citizen survey forms to help it select a technology that the public uses on a regular basis," Lewis said. "We really want the citizens to take the time to give us their thoughts."

Each demonstration meter is connected to the Internet via a wireless network. That will allow the meters to instantly process credit card transactions. Lewis said a critical piece of the evaluation will be how well each vendor's network performs.

Cubic Parking System, with meters on Preston between Main and Fannin, has connected its equipment to headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia. The system can send an alert whenever a machine experiences a problem and a local technician can be dispatched. The solar-powered machines accept cash and credit cards.

Other vendors are ACS, Cale Parking, Clancy Services, Parkeon, Rhino and SGR Controls.
Texas Parking Association
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