Customers say Santa Rosa should seek more user-friendly technology
By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Four years after Santa Rosa started replacing its aging coin parking meters with pay stations, some downtown merchants say the system continues to frustrate their customers and the city should explore more user-friendly technologies.
Bernie Schwartz, owner of California Luggage on Fourth Street, says he’s collected about 200 signatures from people who overwhelmingly support individual “smart” parking meters over the current kiosk system, which requires people to purchase a ticket and return to their vehicle to display it on their dashboard.
Despite an education campaign by the city and improved signage to explain the so-called pay-and-display system, Schwartz says he continues to receive a steady stream of complaints from his customers.
“These things have stayed universally unpopular, and we have enough challenges to trying to do business these days,” Schwartz said.
City officials defended the downtown parking program, saying usage of the kiosks is up, complaints are down, and the city’s investment in its 80 solar-power pay stations is substantial.
“From an operational standpoint, I would think we would want to get the most return we can from the equipment we have out on the street now,” said Kim Nadeau, city parking program coordinator.
The city has spent about $700,000 on the installation of the kiosk system to serve 850 downtown spaces, she said.
Key benefits of the system over the coin meters are the convenience of being able to pay with a credit card, the ability of parking officers to offer a 5-minute grace period, and reducing the number of coin collection points for city employees, she said.
The smart parking meter technology wasn’t available in 2008 when the city initiated its pilot project, Nadeau said.
“The technology is advancing really quickly and every year meters are doing things that they couldn’t do a year ago,” Nadeau said.
But cost is a major issue, she said. High-tech parking meters cost $700 to $1,000 each and would likely be more costly to install, operate and maintain, she said.
Schwartz contends that individual parking meters would be superior to the kiosks in the core downtown shopping district because they would be easier for shoppers to find, faster and more intuitive to use and easier to add extra time to, Schwartz said. The meters are in use in major cities such as San Francisco and Oakland, he said.
He plans to submit the signatures he and other merchants gather to the City Council in September in the hope of convincing council members to spend some of the $10 million the city parking district is holding in reserve.
The owner of the downtown business estimated that several hundred of the new meters could be installed and the existing kiosks moved to other locations.
Pete Mogannam, owner of the 4th Street Market & Deli, had gathered 13 signatures in favor of the smart parking meters and none supporting the existing system.
He recalled one woman who didn’t have a credit card received a ticket in the brief time it took her to get out of her car, get change from Mogannam and return to her vehicle.
“She was furious.”
Other merchants said customers complain about how slow the machines are, the lines that can form, and the need to return to their car to display the ticket, all of which can be a hassle for mothers with children or in inclement weather.
But Wednesday afternoon, as she sauntered the 40 feet back from the pay station to her car before shopping at a clothing store on Fourth Street, 17-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student Mel Rumple couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
“I don’t mind the exercise,” she said.