Cary Redd, associate director of the Hartford Parking Authority, is a happy man. A little more than a year ago the city did away with 1,600 single-post meters and replaced them with 250 parking "towers" at a cost of about $3.3 million.
"In terms of performance, [the new system] has been extremely well received," said Redd.
The parking towers, supplied by Parkeon of Morristown, N.J., accept coins and American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Discover credit cards, spitting out a receipt with the time your parking will expire, which you place on your dash. Since parking spaces are no longer tied to individual meters, Redd says eight cars are now parking in the same amount of space that used to accommodate five.
Most downtown visitors are purchasing the maximum amount of time available in one transaction from the new system, according to Redd, which is two hours for $2.00. He points out that's a 33 percent reduction in cost from the pre-parking-tower price of $1.50 per hour. And you can take your parking time with you as you move around the downtown.
"We find citizens come in, purchase the max, go to a meeting, stop at an eatery to get a cup of coffee. They utilize that two hours within the city," said Redd.
Combined with an enforcement program to push downtown workers into parking garages or surface lots rather than taking up on-street spaces all day, Redd says a typical downtown space now turns over 3 and a half times rather than the 1 and a half turns they were getting before the new system was installed.
That increase in "turns" has been good for the bottom line, creating about a 10 percent bump in parking revenue. From Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 2, 2008, the year prior to the new system being installed, Hartford Parking Authority took in about $523,000 in on-street parking revenue. From Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 2, 2009, the first year under the new system, which was phased in over several months, the same revenue figure was $570,000, or $47,000 more.
At the same time, the number of tickets issued for parking violations has dropped dramatically, from nearly 11,000 tickets per month in 2006 to about 7,000 tickets per month today. That means that the revenue generated from parking tickets has dropped, but it still far exceeds the dollars generated by parking fees. From October 2008 to September 2009 the city collected $2.53 million in parking fines. Redd did not have the number for the previous year readily available.
Maintenance costs are also way down with the new parking system. The old single-post meters were at least 10 years old and some of them still operated mechanically. They broke down constantly, and often repair parts were not even available except in the used market.
The new towers, being fully electronic, are virtually maintenance-free, says Redd, except for refilling them with paper and replacing printer heads.
"It's more or less the same way you would try to manage a PC. What's driving this is a small microprocessor," said Redd.
Although it's unrelated to the new parking system, Redd says the Parking Authority is also making progress in reducing a tremendous backlog of unpaid parking tickets the Advocate reported on in September 2007. At that time there were 203,000 outstanding tickets with unpaid fines and penalties totaling $12.8 million.
Redd says that figure is down to about $10 million today, but he cautions that the total outstanding may not drop much lower.
"A lot of that [$10 million] is very old, back to 1996 and 1997," he said. "The chance of getting a return is very slim."