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Salt Lake City eyes high-tech parking meters

Mayor Ralph Becker wants to propel Salt Lake Citys parking-meter system into the 21st century, but the City Council has tapped the brakes, fearing the high-tech machines could be too glitchy and, at $4.5 million, too expensive.
The proposal: Replace the citys 2,100 coin-operated meters with 344 solar-powered stations that accept payment by debit card, credit card, even smartphone and do so in time for City Creek Centers March opening. The priciest option includes a cellphone application that would let drivers find out which downtown stalls are available in advance.

Sticker shock persuaded the council to hold off on inking any contracts. Instead, it greenlighted a 60-day pilot program to test 50 stations 25 that read hockey-puck-size sensors embedded at individual stalls to reach smartphones and 25 without. Based on how the machines perform, the council is expected to vote by years end on which system to buy and install early next year.

Both versions make it easier to pay, including adding time remotely through an automated phone payment. But scofflaws should know that wireless-tracking technology also makes it easier for the city to issue parking citations.

That seems to be part of the appeal of APARC Systems sleek, blue pay stations. They would send real-time signals to city computers, courts and hand-held devices carried by parking cops the second a vehicle violates its time allotment. That would enable parking enforcement officers to quickly write tickets, which could help keep the machines profitable. Violators could pay their fine on the spot at any station.

The Mayors Office says the parking upgrade should shatter the stereotype in the suburbs that it is difficult to park downtown. Becker expects it to be a boon for residents, visitors and businesses alike.

"The new system is vastly superior to the current, and archaic, single-space coin-operated meters particularly in convenience and ease of use and will lead to a much more positive experience for everyone frequenting our burgeoning downtown area," Becker spokesman Art Raymond said. "We also anticipate that the financial structure to install and support the pay-station system can be configured to be, at minimum, self-supporting."

The existing coin system generates $1.1 million a year. Beckers team cites studies that show other cities netting a 40 percent to 50 percent bump with similar high-tech systems, meaning Utahs capital could see its annual parking revenue rise to $2 million.
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