by David Stanowski
19 December 2007
Many people hate the downtown parking meters, which makes it a distasteful experience for them to visit our most vital commercial area. Since retail sales, in the City, are already below par, it doesn't help the situation if potential customers have a built in bias against downtown Galveston! The obvious solution seemed to be to get rid of the parking meters, but after talking to downtown merchants, and investigating what other cities are doing; it is now clear that removing them isn't the answer.
Many downtown areas are finding that if street parking is free, the people who work and live in the area use so many parking spaces that they displace potential customers. For this reason, it does seem to be necessary to charge for street parking to price these people out of most of the available parking spaces. Some potential customers will always be lost, because of paid parking, but the real problem is the inconvenience of the present system.
Currently, an anticipated trip downtown requires a search for a sufficient number of coins, and then either an accurate estimate of the length of the stay, overpaying for the time used, or repeated trips back to the meter to add money. In addition, some parking meters don't work properly, so after jumping through all these hoops, a driver still might be greeted by a ticket, on their return.
There must be a way to use technology to eliminate these inconveniences, much like E-Z pass has created an alternative to the old-fashioned method of collecting tolls.
Many tollway users are more concerned with the time wasted stopping at toll booths than they are with the tolls. A similar situation now exists with the current parking fee collection system in downtown Galveston.
A company called Photo Violation Technologies has solved all of these problems with their new parking meters! These meters employ solar panels and computer technology, and are centrally controlled over a wireless network. They use sensors to register when a car enters and when it leaves a parking space, and their cameras record violators, and AUTOMATICALLY issue a ticket!
These meters accept payment by coin, credit card, debit card, pre-paid cards, and phone. This eliminates the need to stock pile coins for a trip downtown.
The driver can pay for set periods of time, or can choose the No-Fine option, which allows him to be billed just for the time used. The parking meter can be set to call a phone number to warn the driver that his time is about to expire, and he can add more time by phone. If the driver selects a set period of time, and is a little late getting back to the parking meter, he has the option to pay for the overage, without getting a ticket. If the driver does receive a ticket, he can pay it at the meter, at a discounted rate, but if he drives away without paying, the camera takes a picture of his license plate, and a ticket is mailed to him, and he must pay the standard fine.
This system not only solves all of the inconveniences with the current downtown parking system, it increases parking revenue dramatically. It does this by utilizing its sensors and cameras. As soon as a car pulls into a space, the sensor starts the clock running, and if the driver doesn't pay within 3 minutes, he is in violation. This system does not allow "waiting", at no cost, in a parking space. Collection is achieved for all the time used. In addition, when a driver leaves a space, with time remaining on the parking meter, that time is deleted! The next driver doesn't get to use any time that is left over by the previous driver.
Finally, ALL violators receive tickets! With the sensors and cameras, there is no need to rely on meter maids to catch just a portion of the violators. Since all violations are captured with a photo, it makes it difficult to challenge tickets in court. Whenever a meter goes out of service, due to a breakdown, its out-of-order status is transmitted to central operations, over the wireless network. Less down time means less lost revenue.
These meters can also be programmed for special events where they notify drivers that parking is not allowed on certain days and times, or allow free parking for promotions.
Photo Violation Technologies installs a Wi-Fi system to operate its parking meters which can be accessed as a free Wi-Fi network, for computer users, in the area of coverage. This network can even be used to drive electronic signs showing the location of vacant parking spaces!
The PVT system has been featured in the media in a variety of ways, but most prominently in "Business 2.0", the "New York Times", "Time Magazine", and on "CSI Miami". It is currently being tested in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Niagara Falls.
The only potential objection to installing this new system, in downtown Galveston, might be its cost. PVT believes that buyers can recoup their total investment in about six months, but they will also lease the meters, or install them using a revenue sharing arrangement. After installation, the customer can run the system themselves, or hire PVT to do that for them.
Ideally, the downtown merchants could contract for the PVT system, rather than the City of Galveston, and retain the parking fees for their use in maintaining and promoting their shopping district!
For more information on this revolutionary parking system: Photo Violation Technologies
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