The On-Street Parking Solution: Which Option is Best for You?

Will your problems be solved with the implementation of new parking meters, central pay stations, pay-by-phone, all of the above, or none of the above? What is the best parking solution?

Another day, another article that touts how a city is unveiling parking stations to replace parking meters. Flip to the next article and you likely will see that there is a campaign in a different city to remove failed parking stations.

Notice in the title, we didn’t say which option is best, we said which option is best for YOU. It’s not surprising that we keep seeing a trend with reversion back to the basics.  All too often we are speaking to parking providers and find that they are currently bombarded with a plethora of options that are positioned as being the end all solution. With good intention and promise, the providers quickly provide for the capital outlay and adopt the solution. Life is good now right? Well…maybe not. Before you know it the solution that was going to be the best thing since sliced bread is not getting the reception that you thought it would.

The common theme we find is that decisions are being made without regard to the actual needs of the community and instead are based on the perceived needs of what they think folks need.  Providers should thoroughly research their community’s specific parking needs and understand that there will never be ‘one size fits all’ solution appropriate for any and every situation.

The adopted solution should also cover the objectives of all key constituents (residents, businesses, visitors, government). Which leads to the question: what are the key long-term objectives? Herein lays the challenge. Each party has slightly different goals.

  • Residents and businesses would prefer parking be free and convenient (wouldn’t we all!)
  • Visitors just want to be able to quickly locate parking and get near their destination with ease
  • Providers want to maximize revenue and increase efficiency

Regardless of what solution you decide to adopt there will be a set advantages and disadvantages that inevitably will lead to complaints. Knowing what these are and how to navigate against the headwinds will help. Based on our conversations with a broad base of providers (municipalities, universities, and owner/operators) we have compiled a list of things to consider before going down the path of any one option.

Central pay stations / kiosks

Advantages

  • Adds electronic payment (if enabled for credit card acceptance)
  • Dollar bills and coins are sometimes accepted
  • Increases convenience for parkers
  • Eliminates meter heads that blanket city streets
  • Potentially increases revenue and monitoring efficiency

Disadvantages

  • Large capital expenditure ($5K – $20K depending on vendor and type)
  • Requires spaces to be numbered unless you do pay and display (see note below)
  • No alternatives to park if the machine malfunctions or breaks due to vandalism
  • If cash is accepted “No Change Given” is likely
  • Cost of running the machine and ongoing maintenance / repair
  • Machines quickly get outdated fast

Note that if you do implement a pay station do not make it pay and display i.e. requiring the users to walk to a kiosk, pay for time, walk back to the car and place a receipt on the passenger side dashboard. Simply said, it sucks.

New electronic meter heads

Advantages

  • Adds electronic payment
  • Increases convenience for parkers
  • Potentially increases revenue

Disadvantages

  • Large capital expenditure ($400 – $700 per meter head)
  • No real efficiency gained – still have to monitor each meter and collect cash
  • Cost of ongoing maintenance and repair

Pay-by-Phone

Advantages

  • Adds electronic payment
  • Low or no capital costs
  • Increases convenience for parkers
  • Potentially increases revenue and efficiency
  • Easily integrates into existing infrastructure

Disadvantages

  • Not everyone carries a cell phone (hard to believe)
  • Integration required if existing hardware is in place
  • Added component to monitoring

With inflation on the continuous rise, the migration to some sort of electronic payment is inevitable…there is only so many quarters and dollars you will stuff into a meter or kiosk!

In the end, it all goes back to doing what is right for meeting long-term goals / objectives of all parties. The right solution could involve any combination of the aforementioned alternatives but will depend on your situation and pressure points. Everyone has good intention but sometimes we fail to do what we should all be doing first: listen