500 new 'pay-by-plate' parking meters planned

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The Pittsburgh Parking Authority voted Thursday to spend $6.8 million for 500 new metering devices that will give motorists the option of paying by credit card but require them to walk a bit farther than they're accustomed, and punch in their license plate numbers, to purchase time.

Cale Parking Systems USA of Tampa, Fla., beat seven other companies for the seven-year contract, which includes maintenance and a marketing campaign to acquaint drivers with the new technology.

The firm and authority have done business together in the past. Cale was the second-lowest bidder for the new contract but the one that best balanced price, experience, technology and other factors, David Onorato, authority executive director, said.

The authority said it's bringing cutting-edge technology and convenience to customers.

The multi-space devices primarily will be used to replace 3,000 single-space, on-street meters Downtown and in Oakland, the South Side and the Strip District.

The single-space meters accept only quarters, and that's been a complaint of motorists hit with two city council-ordered rate increases since June. The cost of an hour of parking now ranges from 50 cents to $3, depending on the neighborhood.

The new devices will accept quarters and credit cards, but not paper money.

Each device will cover as many as 20 parking spaces. That means motorists will have to walk to a pay station to purchase time.

In addition, they'll have to punch their license plate numbers into the machines, which keep track of each vehicle's time. Payment data will be transmitted electronically to parking enforcement officers. The metering devices will print out receipts only if motorists want them.

While most of the machines will be used to replace on-street meters, some will be used to start charging for 500 on-street spaces where motorists now park for free.

According to project documents, the soon-to-be metered areas include sections of Fourth and Fifth avenues, Downtown; sections of Sidney and South 21st streets on the South Side; sections of Penn Avenue in the Strip District; and sections of North Craig and Robinson streets in Oakland.

The contract also locks in a price for additional machines in case the authority decides to extend the meter modernization campaign to other neighborhoods, Mr. Onorato said. The authority also can program the devices at some point to allow motorists to purchase time with their cell phones, he said.

Pay-by-plate technology "is still pretty new," said L. Dennis Burns, a member of International Parking Institute and senior practice builder/regional vice president with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. in Phoenix. Calgary in Canada and Amsterdam in the Netherlands are the biggest users of the technology, and a handful of U.S. cities have begun trial projects, he said.

Mr. Burns said the biggest drawback is requiring motorists to memorize their license plate numbers. "You eventually learn," he said.

City council has been prodding the authority to install new devices since December 2010, when it passed a five-year schedule of meter rate increases as an indirect part of a pension bailout. Council correctly predicted that motorists would complain about carrying extra quarters for the single-space meters.

The authority in the fall invited firms to compete for the meter modernization project, saying it anticipated awarding a contract in January. The vote was postponed because officials said they wanted more time to vet proposals.

In March, the authority changed project specifications -- such as adding the requirement for pay-by-plate technology -- and delayed the vote until Thursday.

For $6.8 million, the authority will get 500 metering devices, maintenance, a marketing campaign, staff training and new signs, among other services. The authority also voted Tuesday to pay an additional $187,500 -- a deeply discounted figure, Mr. Onorato said -- for 60 more devices that will replace multi-space pay stations already used in Market Square, Downtown, the Schenley Plaza area in Oakland and neighborhood lots across the city.

Cale provided the existing devices, which accept credit cards but do not use pay-by-plate technology. Rather, the machines print out a receipt, which motorists put on their dashboards for parking enforcement officers to see as they walk by.

Mr. Onorato said he wants to use only one model of multi-space metering device in the city.

neigh_city - Transportation

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published April 20, 2012 12:00 AM


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