Ike-damaged parking meters to be replaced

Free downtown parking, courtesy of Hurricane Ike, is coming to an end.
Galveston plans within the next 90 days to replace more than 900 hurricane-damaged parking meters and parking stations with 90 new electronic parking meters that regulate all spots on one side of a block, city spokeswoman Alicia Cahill said.

The new meters, operated by Ampco System Parking, will regulate the blocks between 18th and 26th streets from Harborside Drive to Postoffice Street, according to a proposed parking map.

Damaged meters south of Church Street, and those near the University of Texas Medical Branch, wont be replaced at least not now, Cahill said.

The meters also wont appear in front of downtown churches, Rosenberg Library or the county courthouse.

Were just excited because the installation of the new parking meters will restore downtown to the merchant area it is, instead of the parking lot it has become, she said.

Downtown business owners are excited about the new meters, which will bring with them parking ambassadors, parking enforcement officials educated in tourist information to help steer downtown visitors to island businesses and attractions, Lesley Sommer, executive director of the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport Partnership, said.

Well train these people about downtown and the island, in general, he said. The goal is to have these people armed with maps and information and when they see someone maybe struggling to use a parking meter, or someone who has questions, theyre there to assist ... The focus is not so much on fining people for a violation but rather encouraging better use of the system.

Under the citys agreement with Ampco System Parking, the company will maintain the meters and hire its own enforcement officers to issue the tickets.

The electronic meters which operate on a wireless network will automatically send signals to the enforcement officers when a space runs out of time so the officer can check to see whether a car is still there. However, downtown patrons can add more time to the meter from their cell phones, Cahill said.

Though Ampco will issue tickets, the city and the company will share revenue generated by the meters. Under a deal approved by council members in August, the city will hand over its parking meter profits to the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which must use the money to advertise the downtown area. Merchants and business owners have asked the city for years to reinvest parking meter money into downtown.

Council members agreed in August that the meters would operate seven days a week, but the city has yet to determine how many hours per day the meters would be turned on.

The new solar-powered meters will allow drivers to pay the $1.25 per hour fee with cash, change, credit cards or with their cell phones. Motorists will punch in a parking spot number when they pay, instead of printing out a sticker to display on their dashboards. The city is planning to house the meters in small kiosks that will contain information about downtown events, such as Artwalk, Cahill said. The meters also are designed so that they can be dismantled and removed before a hurricane arrives, Cahill said.

Its a great opportunity for downtown, Sommer said.

The city might consider installing meters in other areas north of Broadway, particularly in the medical branch area. The old meters will be removed in the coming weeks, and the city will crack them open to collect any stray change dropped in there by visitors unaware that the meters havent been working since Hurricane Ike struck Galveston on Sept. 13, 2008, drowning all the meters in a salty storm surge.
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