Quarters, dimes, nickels and plastic. New card readers installed on Columbia’s parking meters will give drivers a fourth option when they pay for parking.
The card readers are part of the 2004 city budget proposal released by the city manager in July. If approved by City Council next month, the proposal would fund the installation of 320 card readers, 600 prepaid cards and a card charger. Each card reader would cost about $23 and would fit into the existing meters.
Cardholders wouldn’t have to search under seats and floor mats for spare change. They could swipe the card and be on their way.
For the past 10 years, Columbia resident Steve Fletcher has been going downtown to Lakota Coffee Co. for coffee. He parks at a meter every day and keeps change for just that purpose.
“If I have an abundant amount of change in my pocket, I dump it in my truck,” he said.
However, Fletcher thinks the prepaid cards would be more convenient than coins. For one thing, cardholders will be able to reclaim unused time from the meters.
“A major benefit is that this card is such that, if you come back to your vehicle and have time left, you can stick your card in and get your time back,” said Bill Lewis, parking supervisor for the Columbia Municipal Parking Utility.
Fletcher likes this feature because it would allow him to put more than enough time on a meter without worrying about wasting money or running out of time and getting a ticket.
“A $5 ticket sure ups the cost of a cup of coffee,” he said.
The cards would also lighten the load for city employees, Lewis said.
“Coins weigh a lot,” he said, “and we have to make provisions for collecting those coins for all the weight that is created.”
The card readers would also give the city a better idea of how much revenue would come from parking because the cards are paid for up front, Lewis said.
Ideally, the cards would be purchased at standard dollar amounts from the Columbia Municipal Parking Utility. Cardholders could then go to the parking utility’s finance office to purchase additional time on the existing card, Lewis said.
Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Columbia Associations, said businesses would also benefit from the program because they could offer the cards to their regular customers.
“Right now there are businesses that have little bowls of quarters out on the counter for the customers,” she said.
Instead, Gartner said, merchants could purchase cards and feed the meters for their customers.
The card readers won’t be installed until after the City Council approves the budget proposal in September. The parking utility has recommended that the readers be installed in the meters in front of City Hall, on Ninth Street and on the MU campus.