By Chris Dazen
Point Park News Service
In the last year, Pittsburgh Parking Authority has begun installing new parking meters in the city designed to accept credit cards and simplify parking in Pittsburgh. The technologically advanced meters now allow motorist to pay by both credit card and coins and will track vehicles by their license plate number.
“The meter was easy to operate and it was very user friendly” said first timer user Rick Romano.
The city has been replacing the single space street meters, installing the first round of new meters in July. Pittsburgh however, is not the first to install these new meters. Places such as Washington, D.C., Flint, Mich., Calgary and Amsterdam use them. Pittsburgh will be the first to use them on a massive scale, becoming the largest pay-by-plate system in the United States.
In April, the Parking Authority was able to secure a contact Cale America Inc. to purchase the 554 meters and all related installation costs. The plan has a seven-year warranty and will cost approximately $7 million.
In an e-mail, Pittsburgh Parking Authority executive director David Onorato said that “this initial phase will install 554 new pay-by-plate meters. We are currently in the installation stage and as of today there are 300 installed and operating.”
The new meters are replacing 3,000 single-space on-street meters in the North Shore, Downtown, Oakland, Southside Works, Uptown and many metered lots city wide. Meter hours will remain 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with rates ranging from $0.50 to $3 an hour. Downtown and Oakland will be the most expensive because of various factors, including limited parking spots.
The change of system has been well-received. According to Onorato, “public reception has been positive”.
One of the main reasons for positivity is the ability to now pay with a credit card (Visa and MasterCard are accepted). While the old single-space meters accept only quarters and would frequently jam, the new machines will accept credit cards as well as the standard quarters. If they break down, a notification will alert the Parking Authority and a notice recommending customers pay at another machine.
“I prefer the new meters,” said Oakland parker Tom Koral. “It’s very rare that I have coins. It’s a lot easier to have a credit card, put my time in and be on my way.”
After parking, customers will head over to the machine where they input their license plate number, desired amount of time followed by either cash or a credit card number. Payment data will be transmitted electronically to parking enforcement officers with the metering devices printing out receipts if customers want them.
The new system however, does appear to have a few flaws. Koral explained that he always recommends taking the receipt since he almost had a predicament.
“I’m still a bit weary of the system that it could malfunction and did have a problem. A few moments after paying [with a credit card], the meter maid wrote me a ticket and from the beginning I got a receipt. I showed her my receipt and she took a picture of the receipt and ticket and just voided it. It reaffirmed there are still kinks in the system that they are working out.” described Koral of the situation.
Convenience is something the new meters are being praised for, but at times customers may have to walk a bit farther to get to the pay meter. Romano did not have this problem but sees it as something that could become one.
“Luckily I was close to the meter, but if I was further away it would be a pain because there is nothing there to tell you, you need to know your license plate number. I would have had to walk back and check and if the weather is bad, who wants go and do that? At least there was a sign that indicated you did have to go and pay” explained Romano on his experience.
His preference still remains with the old meters, but with time can see himself growing accustomed to the new system.
“I think for the city it’s beneficial for the people. I can see positives but it will take some time getting used to it.” states Romano.
The new meters main focus is on the ability to accept credit cards but one drawback is they do not take paper money. While the use of coins remains unchanged, many assumed “new technology” would also include acceptance of paper money. Onorato states “There is no plan for the meters to accept paper currency.” and that is something many see as a missed opportunity.
“I’m little disappointed by that.” said Amanda VanDerau, “I do have change, but to have $2 to $3 dollars in coins [for every hour] is not something everyone always has. I think more people tend to carry cash than coins.”
There was also the concern of giving out private information such as a credit card or license plate number, but Onorato insisted that there are no privacy concerns to be had and all workers are compliant with the Parking Authority.
While the new meters plan to make day to day operations less of a hassle, the transition seems to have mixed results with suggestive room for improvement.
“There’s obviously flaws, but overall it’s a better system than the one they had in the past.” thinks Koral.
The new pay by plate system is a fairly new concept that is still being perfected. Pittsburgh will soon be the foreground for modern day parking and residents will need to adjust. Not everyone will understand why these meters are being installed, but just like the memorization of their license plate number, they will learn.