By Julia Purdy
The time is not far off when the metallic jingle of coins being collected from downtown parking meters will go the way of the ice wagon. A black square post stands in front of the Opera House on Merchants Row; its twin stands six parking spaces away toward West Street. They are two of nine solar-powered digital parking kiosks, or pay stations, installed Wednesday, Aug. 17—four on Merchants Row and five on Center Street, the blocks with the highest parking turnover in downtown Rutland. Swathed in black plastic bags for now, they will go live as of Aug. 31, after the older meters have been removed.
The City’s decision to adopt parking kiosks stemmed from several factors, according to Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg. The “main impetus” was Rutland’s aging collection of wind-up mechanical meters dating from the 1960s. These are wearing out, and when they can’t be kept running by city worker Ricky Battles, they are rebuilt by a retired mechanic who travels the Eastern seaboard in a station wagon full of spare parts, which are no longer made, Wennberg said.
The mechanical models have been gradually replaced by electronic ones costing $400 apiece; the new kiosks have a price tag of $8,000, including the software. Still, the City sees many advantages to the switch: coin boxes will no longer need to be emptied, they are tamper-proof, parking revenues will be direct-deposited into the City coffers, and parking meter posts will no longer impede the sidewalk plows—”My number one goal,” quipped Wennberg. “The city treasurer is thrilled,” he added.
How it works
Operation is “no more complicated than an ATM,” Wennberg said. A video screen walks the user through the moves.
The user pays by credit/debit card and enters the license plate number, which then appears on a handheld device carried by the ticketing officer, giving the officer the time left on the meter. Parking rates will remain the same.
“It’s your car that’s getting the time, not the space,” Wennberg explained.
The downside is that the kiosk limits parking time at any one spot to three hours, and drivers will no longer be able to cruise the street looking for unused time.
On the convenience side, drivers can change locations during the three-hour window without losing money or feeding another meter. The kiosk will send a timely warning via phone app and users can add time from wherever they are, using the app. In addition, parking tickets can be paid electronically.
There’s also a bonus for merchants—downtown businesses can offer free parking to customers by providing a prepaid code.
Wennberg said the City solicited bids from several vendors and selected Cale, a Swedish developer of sophisticated automated parking systems, especially for cold climates.
For now, the nine kiosks, which represent about one-fourth of the total number of downtown meters, complete the project. The City plans to use the older electronic models as replacements for the mechanical models, which will be retired and may be sold into the used-parking meter market.
The City expects that the kiosks will pay for themselves in parking revenues and savings in maintenance and manpower in three to four years. The total cost is approximately $80,000 and the project is self-funded by the parking meter fund, Wennberg said.
By Julia Purdy