Change may be good, but on the streets of Columbia, plastic is better.
Since Monday, some parking meters downtown have been accepting prepaid cards in addition to quarters, nickels and dimes.
“We want to give people a lot of options,” said Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Columbia Association.
So far, about 300 card readers have been installed in Columbia parking meters as part of the EZ Park program. On top of being more convenient than change, the cards also allow users to put unused time from the meter back onto the card by re-inserting the card before they leave.
Robert Tucker, president of the Central Columbia Association, said the program was long overdue. “I’ve been waiting for innovative ways to promote parking downtown,” he said.
Business owners hope that by giving away the cards, customers will want to come back downtown to use up extra prepaid time.
Tucker is going to provide cards to customers of his business, Tucker’s Fine Jewelry, 823 Broadway. He is in the process of getting 1,000 $5 cards, which customers will get free with any purchase.
Leigh Lockhart, owner of Main Squeeze, 28 S. Ninth Street, bought $40 worth of cards Tuesday. She plans on giving the cards to her regular customers.
In the seven years Main Squeeze has been downtown, Lockhart said there has been an “urban rebirth” in the area. She said this program will only make downtown more attractive.
“Some people have a stigma about parking on a meter,” Lockhart said.
Bill Lewis, parking supervisor for the city of Columbia, said meters along part of Ninth Street and on the MU campus were upgraded first. He said these are areas where the same people park every day, thus the program could be used daily.
Upgraded meters have blue and white stickers, with a large “P” denoting they accept EZ Park cards.
A budget for the next part of the program is still being drawn up, but the Municipal Parking Utility and the Special Business District are both committed to expanding the program. The city garages at the corners of Locust and Sixth streets, Cherry and Eighth streets, and Cherry and Tenth streets all currently use automated paying systems that could be upgraded to accept the EZ Park cards.
Card readers were installed over the past month, said Lewis. It took about 20 minutes to install each card reader, and $23 to buy the equipment.
In 2001, Columbia upgraded to electric meters, and bought units with a card slot in anticipation of future upgrades.
Cards may be purchased from the Columbia Public Works Department on the third floor of the Daniel Boone building, 701 E. Broadway, in amounts as large as $100.
Columbia Public Works had sold about 20 cards since Monday.