No grace for expired meters

The latest computer technology could kill any chance you have of squeezing a few extra minutes out of your parking meter time.
As early as next week, city of Savannah parking enforcement officers will have handheld devices that will monitor about 50 prime parking spaces downtown.

Ding! The second a meter expires, a green dot on the computer screen will turn to red, signaling the officer to follow the map and get to the overdue meter to write a $15 ticket.

Increased efficiency is driving the citys interest, officials say.
I realize people think parking service officers have a magical, cat-like ability to know when a meter is in violation, said Sean Brandon, the citys director of Mobility and Parking Services. Our studies show the majority of expired meters arent ticketed. Were driving around taking educated guesses at where expired meters are.

Only about 30 percent of expired meters get cited, Brandon said.
Michael Lepper, president of the Downtown Business Association, wishes more daily commuters would use free or low-cost parking lots such as those available at Hutchinson Island. That would free up a lot of parking.

The thought of faster ticketing isnt a tourist-friendly one for him. He thinks parking enforcement already is pretty aggressive.
Were supposed to be the gracious Southerners, he said. Are we really sending the right message?

Before too much panic sets in, we should mention this: The city is only in the test phase and hasnt decided whether the cost of the computer-monitored parking spaces is worth the expense.
If the system is installed, it also could offer a cool feature for the public: The Web-based monitoring system would allow drivers hunting for a parking space to access the site, even from a cell phone, to check the map and see where available parking is. Available parking spots are noted with gray dots.

Another interface aspect, which is not even being tested here yet, would allow people to pay for parking services from accounts that could be accessed by phone.

Parking Services is only about 10 days into a 90-day trial, Brandon said.
We still have a lot to test on this, he said. We have to see, fundamentally, whether this will work.

The technology

It works like this: A loop sensor embedded in the pavement signals the meter when a car has parked. The meter records how much money is put in the meter and at what time, which eventually is transmitted by wireless signal to city computers.
Cost is a big factor. The system will cost between $30 to $60 per parking space per month, he said. The city wouldnt expect to hook up each of its estimated 1,800 meters, but would focus on the more congested areas downtown, such as Bull Street and around Johnson and Wright squares.
Gary Hall, owner of the Wright Square Cafe on York Street, doesnt think better monitored parking would help with turnover. People who need to park are going to stay until their business is done and deal with a ticket if they get one, he said.
He understands the need for efficiency, but hes not sure he agrees with a computerized system.
It just seems like theyre setting up whoever is parking there as opposed to randomly looking for expired meters, he said.
Rachel Jacobson likes the idea of a public-access site that would show available parking spaces. Thats something she would use, she said.
But, she too, found the computer monitoring a bit unfair.
Thats kind of disheartening, she said. Because its human nature that youre going to be a few minutes late. As long as youre making an effort to feed the meter, they should give you some leeway.
Vernon Blake of Savannah says hes downtown about five days a week on business. Computer-monitored parking would make him more likely to ride a bike than bring a car downtown, he said.
Theyre charging too much for parking tickets as it is now, he said.
Parking meter revenue for 2010 is projected at $2.025 million, an 11 percent increase from last years projected $1.8 million. Thats due to an increase in meter rates in one part of downtown.
Parking citations also are projected to close more than 16 percent higher by the end of the year, at $2.5 million, primarily because vacancies from 2009 were filled.
City of Savannah
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