Traverse City News and Events

Downtown TC Prepares To Move To Smart Parking Meters

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 30, 2021

The Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is planning to start transitioning to smart meters at downtown parking spaces – a move that will use sensors to gauge real-time usage of spots, zero out meters after cars leave spaces, better manage overtime parking, and allow drivers to use credit cards and reloadable smart cards to pay for parking time.

The DDA is seeking city commission approval Monday to enter into a $126,572 contract with vendor CivicSmart for the purchase and installation of nearly 300 smart meters in the downtown area. That number represents roughly 25 percent of the total single-space parking meters in use in the city. The initial batch of smart meters will be located in “premium zone or core downtown streets” such as Front, Union, Cass, Park, and State streets, according to DDA Transportation Mobility Director Nicole VanNess (pictured in blue). “This zone includes the majority of storefront retail spaces, which are highly utilized for customer convenience,” VanNess wrote in a memo describing the proposal.

The smart meters will allow drivers to pay with both coins and credit cards at parking spaces and will also integrate with the city’s current parking app, Parkmobile, to display paid time on meters. As another new feature, drivers who park frequently downtown will be able to buy reusable, rechargeable smart cards for use at the meters. The cards can be pre-loaded with funds and inserted into meters at the start and end of parking sessions, with the exact time used deducted from the card.

While that feature could save some drivers money – particularly those prone to over-feeding meters to avoid parking tickets – other changes could potentially cost more. No longer could drivers sneak a free 15 or 30 minutes at a meter from a previous parker who left time behind; smart sensors are able to zero out transactions as soon as a car leaves a space, “which will increase revenue by not allowing incoming cars to utilize unused time from prior transactions,” according to City Manager Marty Colburn.

The sensors will also allow the city to charge increased hourly rates for overtime parking. “These features aid with space turnover,” VanNess says – a DDA goal on core downtown streets, where staff are looking to encourage a rotation in the most in-demand spaces to encourage a flux of shoppers and diners throughout the day (the DDA aims to direct longer-term parkers to outlying/permit lots and garages).

Smart meters will also assist the DDA with one of its main parking focuses that came out of its 2017 transportation demand management (TDM) study, which provided recommendations for parking goals and solutions downtown: data collection. Sensors allow for collecting real-time occupancy data, according to VanNess, as well as real-time usage in the Parkmobile application. “This information would allow for automated reporting and greatly reduce staff time to capture occupancy counts and compile for reporting,” VanNess says. Sensors used in particular on the 78 parking spaces in the 100 and 200 blocks of East Front Street will allow the DDA “to begin capturing data on two of the most utilized blocks downtown,” VanNess notes. That data could eventually be used to set parking rates and maximum times based on demand, as well as inform decision-making on things like whether to extend meter enforcement hours.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy says that pending city commission approval of the CivicSmart contract – plus associated agreements for software, communication, and credit card processing fees – the DDA plans to have the new smart meters installed before this summer. Future expansion phases would upgrade even more city meters to smart meters, with phase two potentially coming as soon as next year depending on budget factors like parking revenues, Derenzy says.

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