Meters turn parking spots into bonanza

Solar-powered sidewalk sentries kick up city's intake by 45 percent

Portland's new SmartMeters are proving pretty smart when it comes to collecting money.

The solar-powered parking meters popping up around town since last fall have helped spur a 45 percent increase in the average daily revenue generated by each metered downtown parking space.

'They're up,' said Ellis McCoy, the city's parking operations manager. 'But it doesn't surprise me. All the states using this technology have seen an increase in collections.'

SmartMeters are the new green towers replacing many of the old coin-operated meters around downtown, a process that officials say will save the city money. SmartMeters take credit cards and soon will accept city-issued debit cards.

In the five-month period ending Jan. 31, each of Portland's metered parking spaces generated an average of $5.96 a day, up from $4.12 over the same period a year earlier.

Why? Well, first there's far less downtime for the new meters. The coin-operated machines were more prone to break down, which took them out of service Ñ a delight to drivers that came at a cost to city coffers.

An expected drop in parking citations hasn't materialized. The numbers show citations up slightly citywide, from 101,000 to 104,000, in the six-month period ending January 2003.

Portland started installing the meters last September, and it now administers 1,080 of the 6,100 spaces in the downtown core. Ultimately, the SmartMeters will replace all of the old downtown meters when there are at least three spaces in a block. Where there are only one or two spaces, the old machines will remain.

Public reaction generally has been good, city officials say. Early on, the city double-charged some credit cards, but the problem was detected within three days and the credit cards credited before any complaints were received, said Mary Volm, spokeswoman for the Portland Office of Transportation.

In addition, some motorists didn't understand at first how to use the self-adhesive receipt, which needs to be attached inside the window on the curb side. Some objected to walking down the block to the meter, and others complained that they no longer could take advantage of free time left on a meter. But the receipts from the new meters can be used at another meter Ñ mechanical or SmartMeter.

'You can go anywhere to any kind of meter and park for the rest of the time allotted on your receipt, for as long as the meter allows,' Volm said.

Some motorists are still uncomfortable with the new routine. Steve Berry of Northeast Portland said he doesn't like using a credit card and finds the process awkward.

'It took me a few minutes to figure it all out,' Berry said after parking his car on Southwest Third Avenue this week. 'The whole thing is unnecessarily complex.'

Use of credit cards, however, is more popular than city officials expected. A full 42 percent of the transactions involve credit or debit cards, far more than the 15 percent or 20 percent the city had expected to see in the early months.

Contact Don Hamilton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..