By autumn, drivers will be able to use their credit cards to feed meters in about 175 of Columbia’s parking spaces.
If motorists like the new meters and the pilot program succeeds, the city might convert all 4,700 street and parking-garage meters to the next-generation devices, some of which are solar-powered.
The solar-powered meters cost in the range of $10,000 but cover multiple parking spaces, print credit card receipts and have color displays that can carry messages from city government, John Spade, the city’s director of parking services, said Tuesday. The other new meters cost about $500 each.
All the new meters are to be purchased from the city’s parking revenue, he said.
The experiment is to be tried on 38 spaces along the high-volume block of Main Street between City Hall and the Richland County courthouse and 138 spaces in two garages: on Taylor Street and the soon-to-open garage at Taylor and Sumter streets.
The upscale meters also will take other forms of payment available across the city: coins, tokens and SmartCards. Parking fees for using the new meters will stay the same and handicapped drivers will continue to get free use of the spaces as they do at conventional meters, Spade said.
“We’re trying to do things that are more convenient to the parking public,” he after presenting the plan to a City Council committee.
The multiple-space meters to be used in the pilot program are being provided by Southern Time Equipment Co. of Wilson, N.C. Southern Time will provide those at no cost to the city during the 90-day test period, Spade said.
The city plans to open the selection of individual meters to competitive bids.
The program puts Columbia among a handful of S.C. cities that are testing or using credit card-fed meters, Spade said. Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Charleston are among those experimenting with them.
Columbia’s plan calls for using two types of meters – those that handle between 20 to 30 spaces each and 18 individual meters along the east side of the 1700 block of Main between Laurel and Blanding streets.
The 20 spaces on the western side of the block will be controlled by two new solar-powered meters that will be positioned so that motorists do not have to walk to the end of the block to feed them, Spade said. Drivers will designate a number for their parking space then insert their credit cards.
During the busiest parking times, the city will have workers to assist drivers to get used to the new meters and to gather user feed back, Spade said.
The Main Street meters are to be ready by late summer or early fall, Spade said.
Three new meters will control 78 spaces on the first floor of the Taylor Street garage while two meters will control 60 spaces on the first floor and first ramp of the City Center garage at Taylor and Sumter streets, he said. Those devices are to be in place sometime in July.
Merchants who want to offer discounted or free parking in the garages may negotiate an agreement with the city. The city would then provide the merchants a special code that stores would give to patrons to use at the meters, Spade said.
The placement of meters in the garages was selected because those are the most heavily used spaces.
The city and the University of South Carolina will evaluate the meters late in the year to determine whether to go with the solar-powered devices the individual meters or a combination, Spades said. USC is considering next-generation meters for the campus.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.