Downtown Parking Task Force explores parking technologies to maximize revenue

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | 10:24 p.m. CDT; updated 8:53 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 28, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Downtown Parking Task Force, created in July by Mayor Bob McDavid, is investigating new parking technologies to increase parking downtown and maximize revenue.

"We're looking at what will give us the best return for our investments," said Adam Dushoff, a member of the task force. 

McDavid appointed the task force to explore not only new technologies but also the parking rate structure downtown and how to better market parking garages. He and fellow council members worry that the Parking Utility doesn't bring in enough revenue to pay off the bonds used to finance construction of garages, particularly the new garage at Fifth and Walnut streets.

Here's a list of different parking systems that are available in Columbia or could be in the future: 


What it is: A type of ticketing machine that can oversee multiple parking spaces at once.

Columbia uses a pay-by-space system at the parking garages at Fifth and Walnut streets, Tenth and Cherry streets, Sixth and Cherry streets, and Eighth and Cherry streets.

How it works: Drivers park in a numbered spot and then walk to a nearby pay-by-space machine. They enter the number of their parking spot into the machine and pay for time in that spot. Drivers carry their proof of payment with them, and a parking attendant checks the machine for payment.

Cost: Columbia paid about $12,500 for its pay-by-space machines, not including installation, said James Settle, supervisor of Columbia's Parking Utility.


  • Drivers pay for their parking spaces up front.
  • Pay-by-space machines provide one central location to pay for parking in many spaces.
  • Pay-by-space machines can be set up to accept payment by credit card or with cash. Although Columbia's pay-by-space machines do not accept credit or debit cards, they do accept EZ Park prepaid debit cards. If there's time left on the ticketing machine when drivers are ready to leave the parking garage, the time remaining can be refunded to the EZ Park card.


  • A driver must remember the number of his or her parking space when paying the machine. “This is the biggest problem we have,” Settle said of people putting in the wrong parking space number.
  • Drivers must return to the garage if they want to pay for more time in their parking space.
  • When attendants print out lists of expired parking spaces, they must go to each car to write a parking ticket. Sometimes, a driver parks and pays after the list of expired spaces is printed but before the attendant has checked the space. This can cause false tickets, said MU Parking and Transportation Director Jim Joy.


What it is: A type of ticketing machine that can oversee multiple parking spaces at once. Pay-and-display machines are used in the Hitt Street and the Turner Street garages at MU to control 1,427 parking spaces, Joy said.

How it works: Drivers park and walk to a nearby pay-and-display machine. After the driver pays for a certain amount of time, the machine produces a ticket for drivers to display on their dashboards. Parking attendants must then manually check the tickets to see whether drivers have paid for their parking.

Cost: About $10,000 per machine, according to MU Parking and Transportation Services. That does not include the cost of installation or for software that must be purchased with the first machine.


  • A person can pay for parking by credit card or cash. Most students don’t come to campus with pockets full of change, Joy said. “The credit card option has helped tremendously.”
  • A single pay-and-display machine can take payment for a large number of parking spaces or be used for on-street parking blocks.
  • “I can pay as I go,” said Cory Claywell, an MU senior who uses pay-and-display parking about twice a week. He said he didn’t buy a parking permit so he can have the flexibility of paying for parking only when he needs it.


  • Drivers must walk back to their cars to display the tickets on their dashboards. Yet Joy said he's had close to zero complaints regarding this aspect of the pay-and-display system. He said most people actually feel safer having proof of their payment displayed on their dashboard.
  • Pay-and-display machines don’t allow drivers to add extra time to their tickets. Instead, a driver must buy another ticket, which starts at the time of purchase. Drivers sometimes are being ticketed as they return to their cars after buying another ticket.


How they work: Boom gates are physical barriers that block entrances and exits to parking lots and garages. Boom gates usually work in conjunction with electronic ticketing machines, which give tickets citing the time of entry to drivers entering the garage. Payment is collected on the way out via automated machine or manned booth.

Cost: Between $1,100 and $2,600 for the gate and $3,900 to $6,000 for an electronic ticketing machine, said Lea Mackay, purchasing manager of American Parking Equipment.


  • Provides a physical barrier, so that if left down, drivers can’t exit the garage without paying.
  • Although this system might require a booth attendant to collect payment at the garage exit, it saves money on parking attendants, Settle said.


  • Suitable only for parking garages or surface lots, not on-street parking.
  • Effectiveness depends partly on whether the gate is left lowered at all hours or only during certain hours of the day. For example, if the gate is down only between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., drivers who leave after 6 p.m. can skip out on payment.


What is it: Used in conjunction with boom gates, chip coins are about the size of a poker chip and are used to monitor the amount of time a driver leaves a car parked in the garage. There are no chip coins used in Columbia, but the task force has mentioned researching this technique.

How it works: At the entry of the garage, the driver receives a coin that has a chip encoded with the time and date. When exiting the garage, the driver will return the chip to the pay station. The driver then pays for the amount of time he or she parked based on the information stored in the chip. After returning the coin, the information on the chip is erased, and the coin can be reused. 


  • The coins are reusable, so there is no waste.
  • They allow the driver to stay parked without worrying how much time is left on a meter.


  • Chip coins are only feasible in garages that have boom gates or another form of barrier at the entrance and exit. 
  • They do not provide a solution to meter technologies or on-street parking.
  • Drivers can lose coins.


What it is: A traditional parking meter is used to monitor the amount of time a car is parked in a specific parking space. Coin meters are used throughout most of downtown Columbia.

How it works: A driver chooses a parking spot, usually on-street parking, and pays for the amount of time needed with quarters, dimes or nickels.

Cost: Columbia pays around $370, Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said.


  • The cost for coin-only meters is low because Columbia already has 2,001 installed, Stedem said. The city would not have to invest in new technologies if the task force chooses to keep the coin-only meters. All city coin meters also take EZ Park cards.
  • There is no disposal waste. The meters display the amount of time the driver has left rather than a ticket displayed in each driver's windshield. 
  • "I only think it's useful when you only have to park for a half hour, so you are not putting a 50-cent charge on a debit or credit card," Kristen Fishback of Columbia said.
  • Parkers are able to park directly on the street they wish to, as opposed to a garage blocks away.


  • There are high operating costs. As old models are being discontinued by manufacturers, the city must buy new models instead of simply replacing the broken parts on old models. "We are using the old models until we can no longer repair them, but after that we must replace them with new models," Stedem said.
  • Effectiveness depends on parking attendants. Attendants must monitor each meter to see whether the driver has actually paid to park.
  • Parkers must use coins to pay. "Who carries change around? No one," Fishback said.
  • Parkers must be aware of how much time they have paid for and return to the meter as soon as the time is expired to avoid receiving a ticket.


Image courtesy of PayByPhone

What it is: A parking technology drivers can use to defer payment to a credit card by calling or using a smartphone application to contact a pay-by-phone service provider.

Pay-by-phone techniques are not used in Columbia, but the task force is researching the costs the city would incur and the benefits citizens would receive.

How it works: According to Parkmobile, a leading pay-by-phone provider, parking with this method takes three steps:

  • Pull into a pay-by-phone marked space.
  • Use the mobile application or call the service provider to activate the parking session. The driver must provide the parking space number. 
  • Drivers receive a text, email or call when there are 15 minutes left in the parking session. At this point the parker can return to the car or use the phone application to add time to the parking session. 

Before parking at the pay-by-phone space, drivers must complete a one-time registration with the service provider. The phone number for that provider can be found on pay-by-phone space meters, and smartphone applications can be found online at the service provider's website.

Payment is charged to the driver's credit card at the end of the parking session. Each driver is registered by license plate with the service provider. Their license plate and parking session information are automatically entered into a database, which gets sent to the parking officer's handheld device. Parking officers can use the handheld device to scan or manually enter the license plate number and verify whether the driver is in a parking session and whether that session is expired.

COST: Todd Compagna of PayByPhone said the service provider would simply place signs and phone numbers on spaces the city wishes to make pay-by-phone.

However, Stedem said that while newer models of traditional meters might support pay-by-phone technologies, some of the older models Columbia has would require upgrades. She didn't know how much that would cost but said the city would have to set up online banking and a contract with a pay-by-phone service provider.

Gary Smith, director of Transit and Parking at the University of Arkansas, said that university recently implemented pay-by-phone parking and paid nothing to do so. He said ParkMobile provided all the signs and information. The only part the university paid for was training the parking officers.

Compagna said parkers pay 35 cents per transaction plus the parking fee.


  • Allows drivers to extend the amount of time they wish to park without returning to a meter. "If you paid the meter before, you had to remember when your time expired," Smith said. "If you went to a meter and it ran over, your only option was to go to a meter and pay again. Now, you can add more time right from your cellphone."
  • Allows drivers to defer payment to a credit or debit card.
  • Enforcement is more efficient than with traditional meters. "With Parkmobile, everything shows up on the handheld," Smith said. "So the parking officer doesn't even have to go to the meter. It saves trips back and forth, so they can stay right in the parking area. It should speed up enforcement and make it more accurate."


  • Not everyone has a mobile phone, so the technology would not benefit all residents.
  • Effectiveness depends on the level of enforcement. 

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Gerald Shelnutt September 28, 2011 | 7:39 a.m.

Oh I'd build another parking garage on Short Street.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer September 28, 2011 | 9:31 a.m.

The Missourian would like to hear from the community on this issue. Which plan seems smartest to you?

— Joy Mayer, Columbia Missourian director of community outreach

(Report Comment)
Kate Everson September 28, 2011 | 9:40 a.m.

Hi! This is Kate Everson, a reporter with the Columbia Missourian.
We received a call this morning reminding us of a parking option we didn't cover. The EZ Park Card is a prepaid card that can be used at the meters or any of the four parking garages downtown. You can purchase an EZ Park Card at Columbia City Hall, the Boone County Government Building, the University of Missouri's Turner Parking Garage or any of the three Cherry Street parking garages. For more information, visit downtown's parking page at

(Report Comment)
Gerald Shelnutt September 28, 2011 | 10:09 a.m.

I really don't care what they do. Downtown is so screwed up I wrote it off several years ago. Silly parking (back in), cameras, extra tax, crazy drivers (u-turns), jay walking. Inconsiderate bike riders, delivery trucks blocking traffic.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 28, 2011 | 10:57 a.m.

Just wait until most vehicular traffic is banned from "The District" for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedways.
Then, it won't matter how you pay for parking in these garages.
You'll just be happy to find a spot.

(Report Comment)
Ryan macker September 28, 2011 | 12:07 p.m.

I think that Paymobile could work if used in conjunction with the current coin meters, especially if installation is paid for by the company. Not everyone carries a phone, so a multi-pay scheme would be a necessity. The Coin Chip idea could solve no-pay customers at 8th & Walnut, but losing the coin would be a hassle, and how would someone be able to leave without it? The system there should strongly suggest leaving it on the dashboard to avoid that situation. I've used the Pay & Display and the Pay by Space, and I don't really like either, though I'd like the Pay by Space better if credit/debit cards were accepted. I've also used the EZ Park card before, and found it to be cheap and full of bugs. Sometimes the meters or pay machines don't let the card into the slot, and MU meters don't accept them. Not long ago, when trying to refund the time back to my EZ Park card, the meter froze up and I lost all the remaining value to the meter. Not so EZ then, is it? Then again, nor is finding a solution to downtown parking.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 28, 2011 | 12:51 p.m.

Gerald, the back-in parking experiment is over according to what I heard on the radio last week (can't recall who delivered the news though).

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle September 28, 2011 | 1:08 p.m.

I'll vote for being one of the inconsiderate bicyclists who will eventually get exclusive run of The District, for free. :-)

For all the poor suckers who lack my superior elitist privilege, I would strongly recommend implementing a "pay by mobile device" option *on top of* whatever else is already there for those few and growing fewer without mobile devices. For new installations, non-mobile payment options will still be needed. I suspect the best specific non-mobile payment option depends on physical location parameters.

(Report Comment)
Allison Seibel September 29, 2011 | 9:56 a.m.

I think the Pay by Phone option would be PHENOMENAL. Especially for students, I don't know anyone who has $5 worth of coins to put in meters while they're on campus for class, including myself. That would be so convenient and helpful...everywhere I look students have iPhones and so I think it would benefit a majority of the student body. It would save me a lot of money on parking tickets...

(Report Comment)

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