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Meter experiment tests city drivers

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The Reino Inc. system uses one meter for several spaces. A driver pulls into a numbered space then adds money to the meter nearby. The system monitor shows red lights for spaces where time is up.

Meter experiment tests city drivers

April 19, 2004

BY MARISOL BELLO

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Listen up, cranky city drivers: The "Pay to Park" signs popping up on Detroit sidewalks are not a sign for valet street parking.

And no, it doesn't mean the city generously forgot to install parking meters on the sidewalk.

The meters -- some look like phone booths, others like ATM machines -- are part of a 90-day experiment with battery and solar-powered, online-operated parking meters.

Some spit out receipts that drivers leave on their dashboards to show parking enforcers how much time is left on the space. Others can be programmed to accept credit cards or allow someone to pay by cell phone.

They still take nickels, dimes and quarters, too.

But change is rough for some local motorists.

"How does this one work?" said Robert Blackwell, who parked at a new unit so he could run an errand at a credit union downtown.

"You need a master's degree or something," he said, staring at the black box on in the middle of Randolph Street in front of the Courtyard by Marriott. "All I'm trying to do is not get a parking ticket."

Blackwell has time to figure it out. The city is testing the multispace units through June.

The Municipal Parking Department has installed three different models in nine locations throughout downtown, New Center and the Central Business District. There are 12 units in all.

One of the new meters can cost up to $7,000, depending on the manufacturer, and can cover anywhere from six to 10 spaces.

Linda Harris, a parking department administrator overseeing the pilot program, said each unit can download information by cell phone or Internet to alert workers about malfunctions or the amount of money it contains.

The city is testing two types of park-and-display models popular in Franceand other parts of Europe, where a driver deposits money and the machine prints a receipt with the expiration time. The receipt goes on the dashboard for the meter reader to see.

The city is also testing a pay-by-space model in which drivers deposit money for their numbered space.

A red light by a number on the monitor shows parking enforcers which are expired.

Other cities, such as Boston, Houston and Washington, D.C., have conducted similar pilot programs.

Detroit has no plans to convert permanently to the new meters -- yet.

"We're looking at ways to improve the technology," Harris said. "We just want to see how the concept is received."

But if local drivers are any indication, the city might want to stick with the old meters.

"I hate them," said Loresa Robertson, a massage therapist who parked in front of the Courtyard by Marriott downtown. "You have to pay for parking, take the ticket, go back to your car, keep the ticket. This is confusing."

Karen Zarza was lucky she had her 10-year-old son, Joshua, with her when she parked on West Fort Street near the federal courthouse. He figured it out in a snap.

Zarza said she stared at the silver box and didn't know what to do. "I think they're silly," she said. "I like the old ones. I'm old-fashioned, I guess."

Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or [email protected]

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