Forgot change? Alameda's meters will soon take credit cards

Forgot change? Alameda's meters will soon take credit cards

Michele Ellson

Alamedans who drive – and park – in Alameda will soon be free to leave their bags of change at home.

The city is set to replace all 822 of its analog parking meters with digital meters that accept both change and credit cards. The new meters could be in place by the end of June.

Earlier this month, the City Council okayed a $567,000 contract with IPS Group, Inc. to purchase the meters and for service. The meters will cost $435 apiece to purchase and another $121 per meter per year to service – the cost of wireless service, credit card transaction fees and cloud access.

The city opted to add itself to the City of Sacramento’s existing meter contract in order to save money, a staff report to the council says.

The City Council voted in 2013 to triple parking fees in the Park Street business district, to $1.50 an hour, and double them around Webster Street, to $1 an hour, forcing visitors to carry more change to feed meters. The city also boosted enforcement to ticket scofflaws.

The city had previously installed a handful of multi-spot kiosks along a portion of Park Street, which – along with the increased parking rates – generated complaints, Robb Ratto, executive director of the Park Street Business Association, told the council before it approved the new meters on March 3.

The boards of the West Alameda and Park Street business associations expressed their approval of the meter purchase.

A survey taken by 800 Alameda residents found that they preferred single-space meters that take credit cards over the kiosks, so the city tested 41 of the meters on Park and Webster streets this past fall. Over the course of three months the meters handled nearly 27,000 transactions without a glitch, the report says, and the majority of people who reported using them had a good experience.

The meters may also be more profitable than their analog forebears: During the three-month pilot, credit card users made 17 percent of the transactions the meters handled – and paid 36 percent of the parking fees they received. In Berkeley, one of several Bay Area cities already using digital meters that take credit cards, card users contribute half of the city’s parking revenue.

“Credit card users are more likely to max out so they can avoid a ticket,” Liam Garland of the city’s public works department told the council on March 3.

The meters feature LED screens, offering a clearer display of the time purchased and remaining on them than the current digital view. Also: They’re solar-powered.

The meters could also be easier for the city’s parking enforcement staff to use: They’ll display a green light if parking time has been purchased, and a red light if it hasn’t or if the time purchased has expired.

Money to pay for the meters and maintenance of them will come from the city’s parking meter fund, which holds a balance of $3 million and earns about $3 million per year.

One feature the meters don’t yet support: Payment by cell phone, a feature council members said they’d like to see added. Garland said city staff could bring a recommendation to add the service when it reports back to the council on the meters this summer.

Related: City considering parking changes


Al Wright's picture
Submitted by Al Wright on Wed, Mar 25, 2015

While this welcome news to merchants and shoppers, it seems that the kiosks mentioned in the article that are used in the lower Park Street area are not scheduled to be replaced with meters at this time. They may be replaced in the next fiscal year.

Submitted by Bill2 (not verified) on Wed, Mar 25, 2015

Though these type of meters are efficient, it does allow a shopper/visitor to eventually pay by smartphone. With that feature, a person can park in that spot all day long if they choose to, and simply update their meter by phone. This may cause stagnation with shoppers (i.e. no new parking spots available for those who are looking to shop on Park Street. We park in SF for example in a neighborhood far from the hustle and bustle and have someone else drive us to Union Square. We simply update our meter by phone. I'm sure we are taking up a parking spot that someone else could use, but we figure - first come, first serve.

Submitted by Park Jee (not verified) on Wed, Mar 25, 2015

What's wrong with the kiosks???

Submitted by Pat (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

I wonder how long it will take the "bad guys " to get our creditcard information from the wireless service and cloud access in the new meters?

Submitted by Nicholas (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

This is a huge and costly, needless waste of our hard earned tax dollars.

Kiosks or an app would have saved these millions instead of propping up Visa and other middlemen.

We need to see who voted for this fraud and reprimand them.

Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Fri, Mar 27, 2015

I'd love to see them accept Apple Pay. It's secure and makes use of our current credit cards, but without exposing their account number or information to hackers. They would work the same as with a credit card and require one to select a duration for parking. There'd be no necessity to update them remotely for more parking time, though that could be added if desired.