COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- At a time when budgets are tight because of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is investing a considerable sum in replacing old parking meters with new, smarter versions.
The City Council has given preliminary approval to allocating $1.1 million to finish the process of upgrading 3,000 parking meters downtown and in Old Colorado City.
The money comes from revenue reserves of the city's Parking Enterprise. Installation of the old meters started earlier this year and is expected to be finished by early next year.
Parking Enterprise Director Scott Lee said by getting the money now, workers can complete installation before next spring and summer when meter use is heaviest, thereby avoiding any loss of revenue then.
The meters allow users to pay by coins, by credit cards or on a smartphone app. The meters also have a graduated pay scale which costs users $1.25 per hour for up to two hours of use, and slightly higher charges for longer periods.
Lee said the new meters have resulted in a "significant" revenue increase, mainly because of the ability to charge higher rates. The meters also accept nickels and dimes, which the old meters stopped accepting around 10 years ago.
Technology allows each meter to communicate with a sensor in each parking space and connect with a nearby device. The system lets the meter know when a driver leaves, and resets the meter for the next driver.
The technology also allows the Parking Enterprise to monitor parking demand on certain streets at certain times, and follow parking trends more accurately.
Each new meter costs around $600 while it can cost between $700 and $800 to repair and maintain old meters which lack the available technology and have a shorter span of usage.
Around 300 of the new meters are currently being installed in the southwest downtown area that is being redeveloped around the Olympic and Paralympic Museum.
The total project will cost around $2 million, and Lee said it should pay for itself within two years.
"Parking revenue is down 15% because of the pandemic but it's recovering better than we expected. The question is how the upcoming Christmas season will affect the overall numbers."
Lee said that parking generated $5.2 million last year and will probably increase slightly to $5.8 million by the end of the year.
"Next year we project revenue of $6.6 million, which we would have had this year without the pandemic," Lee said.
The most common complaint has been that the new meters don't easily read credit cards.
"Be sure to read the instructions on how you insert your card," he said. "It doesn't insert the same way that it does for an ATM or a gas pump."
Some drivers said they like the meter upgrades, if it means increasing the availability of parking spots. But one driver is skeptical.
"A lot of people who are under pressure trying to get to the courthouse, worry about a parking meter and they miss their court dates," he said. "I think the city should use the money for something else."