New innards make Columbia parking meters more user-friendly

Sunday, March 6, 2011 | 6:52 p.m. CST; updated 4:03 p.m. CST, Monday, March 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — You'd be hard pressed to tell by looking, but downtown parking meters are getting modernized from the inside out. 

The city is in the process of putting new mechanisms inside downtown meters that make them more sensitive to coins and have a bigger slot that accepts dollar coins. They are also programmed to take the next generation of EZ Park debit cards.

While the mechanisms inside the meters are new, their outward appearance remains the same.

“The original parking meters are just wearing out," Columbia Parking Supervisor William Lewis said. "We are upgrading, and we have been doing this for three years now as we move toward the most recent model."

The parking utility received 829 new parking meter mechanisms in December and is progressively replacing the old ones, Lewis said.

Tiffany Heibel, a parking meter repair technician, said the parking utility has received some complaints about meters not reading or registering coins. These problems should be fixed with the new models. Each mechanism cost $135, for a total cost of about $112,000.

Lewis said that the new mechanisms would not all be installed in the same area. Instead the city will replace the mechanisms gradually, starting with the oldest meters. The new insides have been installed on meters in the 600 block of Walnut Street.

Meters on Ninth Street will get the new mechanisms in the next month, Heibel said.

The long-term goal is to replace every parking meter in the city.

“If we were able to receive 800 new mechanisms each fiscal year for the next two years, then we will be able to replace all of them,” Heibel said.

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