BY TORREY JOSEPH ARMSTRONG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published July 5, 2009
There is no need to save quarters to fill parking meters any more.
The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has introduced an initiative to make parking in Ann Arbor easier and more efficient with the installation of 25 new e-park stations on Main, Liberty, Maynard and State streets. The new machines were introduced on June 15.
Ann Arbor is now among the several cities — including Seattle, Milwaukee, Detroit and New York — that use the electronic payment machine technology.
The e-parks will cover nearly 150 parking spaces. Some of the main benefits to motorists include the option to pay with cash, debit or credit cards and the ability to add time to a parking space by phone.
Joe Morehouse, DDA deputy director, said the machines are powered entirely by solar panels, which save the equivalent of 3,400 9-volt batteries in energy per year.
Plans to add extra machines around the city are on hold pending more funding and positive reception of the machines from motorists.
Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, wrote in an e-mail interview that the number of stations could eventually reach 175, given sufficient funding and support from motorists.
“The installation of the first 25 gives us a chance to see if community members find the equipment easy to understand and use, which is helpful to know before committing to a larger purchase,” Pollay wrote.
A slight raise in the city’s hourly parking rate — effective Wed., July 1, 2009 — will provide some of the revenue to fund the purchase and installation of the original 25 machines.
Other funding comes from profits made by existing parking meters and structures, Pollay said.
“Each year, parking system costs increase by 3 to 4 percent, but it is impossible to raise rates until we reach an increment that can be divisible by dimes or nickels,” Pollay wrote, adding that the revenue from the e-parks will fund the construction of a new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue.
Morehouse said the plan to replace the old single-space meters originated after the DDA commissioned a parking study in 2007 and found that the old parking meters were starting to deteriorate.
“The street meters are nearly 10 years old and are starting to show signs of wear and tear, so they will eventually need replacement,” Pollay wrote.
Though DDA members are optimistic about the machines’ efficiency and ease of use, some motorists are cautious of the new system.
“The old ones were more straightforward,” Ann Arbor resident Lauren Franzblau said.
Larry Brayboy, an Ann Arbor resident and curbside bookseller on N. Main Street, was startled to find an e-park payment station placed directly in the middle of his normal selling location on Wednesday. He expressed concern over the machines’ susceptibility to weather damage and vandalism.
“I guess it’s nice that you can add time on the phone and all that, but they could be a future magnet for mischief,” Brayboy said. “They could become targets for graffiti. (The DDA) should consider how much it would cost to repair damage.”
Brayboy added that unforeseen repair and maintenance costs could raise hourly rates even more.
Nonetheless, Pollay said the new parking system is in the best interests of Ann Arbor motorists.
“Because the DDA is committed to making downtown parking as convenient for patrons as possible, they opted to purchase these pay stations rather than more meters,” she wrote.