About a year and a half after being installed, e-park meters in downtown Ann Arbor have been saving the city thousands of dollars annually.

In June 2009 25 electronic meters were installed in Ann Arbor. Today, the city has 75 meters around the downtown area, covering 517 parking spots. The expansion of the meters is part of a parking meter replacement plan by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and mirrors recent parking measures in other cities.

DDA Deputy Director Joseph Morehouse said in an interview in October that each e-park unit, manufactured by Digital Payment Technologies, covers six to 10 spots. The new meters are also solar-powered, as opposed to the older coin-operated meters, which run on nine-volt batteries.

Though each e-park unit costs $10,500, Morehouse said he believes its ability to run on solar energy will actually be “cost effective” for the city in the long run. He estimated that the 75 e-parks will save the Downtown Development Authority about 1,034 batteries for parking meters and approximately $3,700 per year.

Morehouse said the e-parks were also a necessary replacement of the coin-operated parking meters, which were eight years old and not functioning properly.

“We (were) starting to see failures,” he said. “We needed to replace them.”

Morehouse added that the e-parks are much more versatile than their predecessors. The previous parking meters only accepted coins, but Morehouse said drivers can now pay with coins, debit cards, credit cards or an e-park smart card — a pre-paid card specifically for the e-park meters.

Though the price of parking generally increases annually, Morehouse said the increase isn’t due to the e-park meter program. The current price is $1.20 per hour, according to the DDA website.

A DDA study has shown that 58 percent of parking payment transactions made so far with the new e-park meters involve credit cards, Morehouse said. For a 35-cent convenience charge, patrons can also add time to their meter with a phone call and receive a text message when their time runs out.

The e-park also automatically notifies Republic Parking System — the company responsible for all small Ann Arbor metered lots as well as on-street parking meters — when the change box is full, when it’s running out of paper for receipts or if it’s malfunctioning, Morehouse said.

Morehouse said the majority of the public response to the e-parks has been positive, but there have been a few voices of dissent.

“As with anything you would install that’s new, yes, there have been complaints,” Morehouse said. “There have also been compliments. We’ve done a survey where over 85 percent of the people liked it.”

Morehouse also said that while some Ann Arbor residents initially speculated that the meters would be susceptible to vandalism, he added that there have only been a few instances of spray paint, which was cleaned at no additional expense to the city.

Rackham student Elan McCollum said she has used the e-parks before and has “mixed feelings” about the system. While she said she likes not having to keep quarters on hand, she said it’s frustrating that the electronic meter doesn’t display how much time is left at a particular parking spot and doesn’t allow the subsequent driver to use any leftover minutes.

McCollum also said she was unaware that she could use her phone to add time to the meter, and said she would likely not use this service because of the convenience charge.

Jerry Schommer of Port Sanilac, Mich., a third-time user of the e-parks downtown, said he found e-parking to be an “innovative and convenient way to do parking,” but thought it might be bad for people in a hurry.

Morehouse also said he feels the e-park system is not designed to facilitate a quick transaction.

“The person who used to pull up, jump out of their car, throw a quarter in the machine, go in and get a cup of coffee — this isn’t for them,” he said. “It gives people the options on time (and) the options on payment.”

Though the e-parks are relatively new to Ann Arbor, other cities are also adopting the new alternative to parking meters. East Lansing, Mich. recently joined the list of cities now using electronic parking. Other cities include Detroit, Seattle, New York City and Milwaukee, Wisc.

Tim Dempsey, director of the Department of Planning and Community Development in East Lansing, said in an October interview that he feels the biggest obstacle in integrating the city’s new parking meters is familiarizing people with the system. Nonetheless, he said the e-parks have “been well received.”

Dempsey said he supports the expanded methods of parking payment and thinks the technology benefits both the residents of East Lansing and the city. He added that while residents complained about broken meters in the past, the new e-park system communicates with the city to inform officials when a meter is broken.

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