Ninth Street multi-space parking meter test ends early

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | 4:57 p.m. CDT; updated 7:11 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Dale Padsten, an employee of Access Parking Systems in Chicago, sets up a new digital parking meter on Ninth Street near Booches, Feb. 2, 2012. Another meter has also been setup outside Sparky's for testing.

COLUMBIA — Roughly two months into its 9o-day trial, the City of Columbia Public Works Department has stopped using the two multi-space parking meters on Ninth Street from the area between Broadway and Locust Street.

"There was a host of problems with the parking meters and an awful lot of complaints," Skip Walther, chairman of the Downtown Parking Task Force, said. "And from there, the decision was made to take the meters out and put the original meters back in."

Initially, the silver boxes on both sides of Ninth Street were part of a pilot program initiated by the Downtown Parking Task Force.

The program was set up to test various methods of on-street payment for parking such as by credit card and cell phone and to measure the willingness of patrons to use a multi-space parking system versus single-space meters. 

There were numerous problems reported with the two units, according to a Public Works news release.

"The city staff had to change out the internal wiring of the meters a few times," Walther said. "The working mechanism of the parking meters was just not reliable."

There were also many problems with the machines jamming and not accepting coins, Jill Stedem, a spokeswoman for the city's Public Works Department, said.

The main initiative of the multi-space parking meter was to create convenience for Columbia citizens, Walther said. 

"I have personally seen people experience difficulties and waiting in a line three or four people deep," Walther said. "If you have to wait in line 5 or 10 minutes, that is inconvenient."

In addition, many citizens were frustrated with having to remember their parking spot number and the distance they were required to walk from their vehicle to the meter pay station, Stedem said.

"The pilot was scheduled to run through the first part of May," Stedem said. "The feedback from citizens and surrounding business made us decide to end the test period early."

Single-space meters from IPS Group Inc., which were installed about a month after the multi-space meters, are still in the process of being tested on Ninth Street from Locust Street to University Avenue. These meters will remain throughout the entirety of their 90-day test period, Stedem said. 

Once the test pilot for the single-space meters concludes, the data and results will be sent to the Downtown Parking Task Force.

"When we receive the data, the task force will sit down, evaluate and make a determination on whether it makes sense for the city to invest in single-space meters," Walther said.

The task force will examine the data to see if the convenience of paying by credit card or cell phone warrants the city's purchase of the new meters, Stedem said.  

From there, the task force will determine the changes that need to be made to the on-street meters, as well as account for the budgeting of these new meters, according to the press release. 

"The task force has learned a valuable lesson through multi-space meters," Walther said. "I think it's fair to say there's virtually no chance we would recommend the use of multi-space meters on Columbia streets." 

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