NORMAN — Competition to earn a city bid for high-tech parking meters is heating up, and Norman could benefit from that healthy touch of free enterprise.
Campus Corner merchants have asked for new parking meters that will accept credit cards and are programmable to adjust rates according to changing needs on the corner.
The project will be bid before any purchase is made. Campus Corner merchants are hoping for installation as early as next May. While being low bidder is important, the quality, capabilities and features various companies offer will weigh in the city’s decision about which vendor to use.
“We will develop a document for them to bid on, based on what capabilities we want to see in the system and what the recurring costs are,” said David Riesland, city traffic engineer. “There are charges associated with running the system whether that’s credit cards or cell phone payment — whatever that may be.”
The primary goal expressed by the Campus Corner Merchant’s Association is to make parking easier and more accessible for customers. By using meters that accept payment by credit card — many of which also can renew with a smart phone if shopping takes longer than anticipated — means people don’t have to hunt for change or risk getting a ticket.
But merchants also want to increase parking fees. Currently, the charge is only 25 cents for an hour. With increased rates, Campus Corner merchants hope to deter employees using the on-street parking spaces as well as students who have parked there to attend class rather than patronizing a business.
“The primary goal to improve our parking for Campus Corner customers,” said H. Rainey Powell, a Merchants Association Board member. “With modern technology, we have a number of options of things we can do in the future. These new meters offer a number of features which will be advantageous.”
This week, the IPS Group Inc. demonstrated the capabilities of its single-space parking meter. The city had been looking at multi-space meters available through Duncan, its current provider. Duncan is also the provider for the modern, multi-space parking meters on the recently expanded parking lot on Gray Street.
“We hope to receive shipment of the new meters for the Gray Street parking lot by the end of December,” Riesland said.
Campus Corner merchants believe single-space meters will be much less confusing and more convenient for the on-street parking needs of the corner. Duncan also has been installing single-space meters and has made installations in at least three cities recently.
IPS Sales Director Johnny Waldo said the models will fit into the base and pole of the existing meters. In addition, the city can install sensors that detect metal in the parking space without disrupting the street. A hole is cut in the asphalt, the sensor is dropped into it and the hole is sealed with a special epoxy rosin, Waldo said.
Those sensors will recognize when a car leaves and will reset the meter, meaning the next person must pay and cannot benefit from the time left on the meter. This means more money for the city to maintain the system.
The sensors also can alert parking enforcement if someone parks and does not pay. Sensors also enable the city to track parking demand over time. The sensors are optional, and the city will have to decide whether the benefits they bring warrant the investment.
“We’ll do enough research to figure out exactly what it is we want in our system so that we can obtain bids from qualified vendors,” Riesland said.
IPS meters use solar power to charge batteries. There is additional battery back up, but the solar is reliable, Waldo said. The meter accepts coins, tokens, credit/debit cards and smart cards. It is wirelessly networked to a web-based management system and communicates with IPS sensors.
Credit card information is not retained in the meters once they are read. They have a secure track record. The system provides a comprehensive set of financial and technical reports, Waldo said.
A Tax Increment Finance District implemented on Campus Corner over a number of years paid for the street upgrades, sidewalks, trash bins and street lights. That beautification project was covered by the approximately $1.3 million collected in the TIF fund. Of that money, more than $100,000 is left and could be used to pay for the parking meter upgrade.
“It is an eligible project because it’s improvements on the property,” Powell said.