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‘Smart Meter’ Trials Planned

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by Ed Sutherland

Photo by Carla Occaso
Photo by Carla Occaso

MONTPELIER — Aside from finding a parking place in downtown Montpelier, the biggest hassle for motorists can be dealing with the parking meter. Since the first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City back in 1935, the ‘no-armed bandit’ has changed little. Now, however, Montpelier officials are looking to update parking control devices. Consequently, town officials are on the verge of selecting one of two different types of parking meter, each of which would ideally be more convenient for motorists to use and make collection and enforcement easier for the municipal fathers.

According to Montpelier’s Planning and Community Development Specialist Kevin Casey, the man in charge of reviewing the new meters, there are two basic ‘smart meter’ versions under consideration: Single-space and kiosk. Each has its advantages, Casey told The Bridge.

For the downtown core of Montpelier, a single-space smart meter is being considered. In terms of transition, the single-space option presents less confusion for motorists, because the meter will look the same as the meters currently in place except for the addition of a credit/debit card payment device. For the city, the single-space meter can be fitted into the existing housing, literally offering a “plug and play” capability.

When it comes to city coffers, an updated single-space meter provides a number of benefits, says Casey. A single-space parking meter is “ideal when you want to encourage a high rate of turnover and enforce two-hour maximum parking limits, particularly in the downtown retail core. The smart meters with sensors can limit the ability of someone to ‘feed the meter’ all day, thereby limiting parking opportunities for other people in those spaces,” he says.

The opportunity to increase city revenue from parking is also an attractive reason to switch to smart parking meters according to Casey. “Data in most cities show that because of the convenience of the debit/credit card payment system, most people err on the side of caution and pay for the maximum amount of time for the meter as opposed to a coin transaction requiring up to eight quarters, which most people do not have readily available,” Casey said.

Then there is the advantage for collecting fines. Instead of patrolling downtown parking spaces, looking for red “expired” flags, a meter officer can simply look at an electronic map (on an iPad or other tablet-like device), which shows the number and location of time violations. With kiosks, parking enforcement officers must still go from car to car, inspecting “tickets” displayed on each car windshield.

Finally, single-space smart meters cost less to purchase than kiosks. A single-space meter costs between $500 and $800, while a kiosk meter can be as much as 10 times that: $7,000 to $10,000, according to Casey.

As for kiosks, the main advantage is their ability to support large numbers of parked cars, such as in lots in other areas of the city. Montpelier currently uses parking kiosks at Blanchard Lot, Capitol Plaza Lot, Heney Lot, and on Stonecutters Way. “The kiosks are very visible because of the limited number of visual distractions (i.e., Blanchard, Capitol Plaza, and Heney are parking lots in the traditional sense and Stonecutters Way is very flat and the kiosks are well signed and can be seen from all the parking spaces,” Casey says.

A 90-day trial of the products of three smart meter vendors was expected to begin in October and run through December, but the test encountered unforeseen delays, according to Casey. The vendors taking part in the trial include IPS Group from San Diego, Calif.; Duncan Solutions from Milwaukee, Wis., and McKay Meters from Nova Scotia.

Casey and Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos are working to get the products of the three vendors shipped as soon as possible. “Each of the three vendors products fit into our existing meter housings and are solar/battery operated and wirelessly connected,” says Casey.

Following the 90-day trial, the Casey and Facos — along with the city’s parking committee — will make recommendations to the City Council. When the trial begins, the smart meters will be placed in front of The Three Penny Taproom on Main Street and in front of Capitol Grounds and DMV on State Street.

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