The New Downtown Street Parking Model: Stay Longer, Pay by Credit Card

There is a new street parking model for downtown Austin. New solar powered "pay stations" will soon replace the City of Austin’s 3,800 single space parking meters. One of the most significant changes to customers will be the ability to pay for on-street parking with credit or debit cards, in addition to coins. The first new pay stations will be rolled out on North Congress Ave. on July 22, with the remaining meter replacement complete by Thanksgiving.

The new pay stations are accompanied by a new parking ordinance which includes an incentive to reduce carbon emissions of motorists in the urban core. Now two-wheeled vehicles, including motorcycles, mopeds and scooters will be allowed to park for free for up to 12 hours per day in parking areas at all City of Austin meters and pay stations.

To use the new pay stations, simply insert coins are a credit/debit card and choose the amount of time you want to park. Print a sticker and affix it to the inside of your windshield on the side closest to the street. The pay stations operate in multiple languages.

According to the city, the new pay stations will offer multiple benefits:

- Payment flexibility – Stations accept Master Card, Visa, and debit cards or coins
- Instructions in multiple languages – English, Spanish and Chinese
- Printed receipts provide a convenient record of expenses for business purposes
- Receipt can multi-task - allows the user to take the remaining time on the ticket to another parking spot with City of Austin meters
- Longer parking time – customers can pay for up to three hours at most locations and up to five hours at other locations versus the current two-hour limit
- Credit card safety – the built-in security features provide for an instantaneous credit card transaction and does not store the card information to prevent fraud
- Increased parking availability - parallel parking spaces will not need to be defined so cars can squeeze into a block as space allows. Cities normally see a 10-15% increase in parking availability.
- No more broken meters – customers can obtain a parking receipt from any pay station. The City will save time on repairs and have a predictable revenue stream.

Like every change, this one also has a few negatives:

- The new pay stations will eventually allow the city to more easily raise the price for street parking. With meters, it is difficult to go beyond the current price of $0.25 per 15 minute interval.
- Longer parking intervals, 3 hours v. 2 hours and up to 12 hours for 2 wheeled vehicles, means that fewer spots will be available at any one time
- 3,800 Fewer places to lock up bicycles downtown although the city plans to compensate with the installation of new bicycle racks downtown.

Why the change? An Austin Transportation Department analysis of the current Parking Meter System in Summer 2008 found the system to be in failing condition. Approximately 3,800 single space meters, with expected operational life of 10 years, had been in service 13 plus years. More than 18,000 meter failures were predicted for 2008-2009, increasing city staff labor costs to repair meters and forfeiting hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the City.

The City Council on March 5 approved the replacement of 3,800 single-space meters with pay-and-display (Pay Stations) and authorized a purchase of up to 750 stations for $8,399,743. The City will use parking revenue from the Pay Stations to pay off the purchase in approximately eight years. The new pay stations have an expected operational life of 15 years.

The Parking ordinance passed by the City Council on June 11 maintains the existing fees and hours of operation previously established. Free parking privileges are continued for former Prisoners or War, Pearl Harbor survivors, and Purple Heart recipients. (State law provides free meter parking privileges for persons with a disability.)