With clouded displays and finicky coin slots, downtown Decatur’s old parking meters could be a pain. Much worse is the scramble to come up with a handful of quarters at the last minute. But starting June 24, downtown parking got a little less frustrating.
All of the city’s 300 downtown parking meters were switched to electronic meters, some individual and some at centralized kiosks. The meters will continue to take coins–if you’ve got them–but will also accept major credit and debit cards and have a pay-by-phone option. There will be large “Pay Here” signs directing motorists to the kiosks.
“I have spent the last three months just trying to keep these meters functional,” said Tony Parker, parking manager for the city of Decatur. “They are at the end of life. They’re antiquated, the technology is antiquated. Either we replace all that with the same technology or we do what everyone else is doing and take a giant leap forward with the multi-space pay stations.”
As with any system, there’s the element of human error. Parker said on the first day of operation he responded to three machines where dollar bills were shoved in the coin slots.
“The beauty of this system, though, is I get an alert that says ‘machine 20 is not accepting coins, you need to go fix it,’ so that’s where I went first thing this morning,” he said.
Unlike the old machines, which, if broken, had to be espied by Decatur PALS (Parking, Assistants, Liaisons with Merchants and Safety) workers, and were unable to accept payment until fixed, the new machines continue to take credit cards or dollar bills if the coin slot is non-functional.
“We have had so many people tell us they want the ability to pay by credit card instead of having to find coinage,” Parker said.
According to the city of Decatur parking website, meters are not meant to be a form of revenue for the city, but rather prevent long-term parking in valuable spots near downtown businesses and restaurants. Metered spaces are available on the following downtown streets: Clairemont Avenue, Ponce de Leon Avenue, Ponce de Leon Place, East Court Square, Swanton Way, Sycamore Street, North McDonough Street, and parts of West Trinity Place, Church Street, and near Decatur Hospital. The cost continues to be $1.50 per hour.
“One of the things I like about how the city does parking is it allows for turnover,” Parker said. “It allows for a whole new group of people to come in and eat lunch, or a whole new group of people to go to the little shops, instead of someone parking on East Court Square and working in the courthouse. We’ve lost that space where you or I could park and go to Brick Store, or Little Shop of Stories or Starbucks.”
Meters are enforced Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a two-hour limit. With the old meters, it was possible to park for two hours at one spot, come back, move the car, and pay for another two-hour slot. Not anymore. The new electronic meters require users to input their license plate number and, once the two hours are up, there is a two-hour moratorium on parking in on-street metered spots.
A more cost-effective and easier option for longer term parking is the city’s many parking decks–if you can find them.
“No one realizes that there’s all this off-street parking,” Parker said. “It’s on the website, and we have signs all over the city. You have decks, two within walking distance of where I sit right now. If you want to come here for six hours and spend the day here, we have to figure out a way to educate people on how to do that.”
The city will be removing the old meters in a few months, Parker said. He hopes the electronic meters will carry Decatur through the next two decades.
“This is the state-of-the-art technology for today, so in 20 years we’ll have something newer and better. But for right now, it’s so much better than where we were; it’s so much easier to use.”
This article originally appeared in The Champion Newspaper.