Meter matters

‘Smart’ parking meters get varied response

Cindy Johnson of Marquette feeds one of the meters in the Marquette City Commons parking lot. "I'm here two or three times a week and I don't like (the meters)," says Johnson. "I'm just running in to drop off mail." (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Reactions range from anger to resignation to applause over the latest roll-out of “smart” parking meters set to be installed in downtown Marquette over the next month.

It’s part of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority’s strategic parking management plan, approved by the Marquette City Commission in 2013, to improve parking turnover and generate revenue.

At a rate of 50 cents per hour, the new meters will affect current two-hour parking spaces on Washington, Front, Main and Spring streets, as well as Baraga Avenue and South Third Street. A new pay station will also be installed at the North Main Street parking lot, like one installed earlier this year in the Bluff Street parking ramp.

In addition to replacing old meters, there will be about 230 newly metered spaces, for a total of 400 new smart meters.

DDA Executive Director Mona Lang said the DDA is spending about $207,000 on the new meters, which are expected to break even in 1.5 years. Projected revenue generation is $250,000 annually, she said, up from current meter revenues of $57,000.

One of the new meters is shown. (Journal photos by Rachel Oakley)

Right now, Lang explained, the downtown parking system costs more than $100,000 more per year than it generates. The DDA is also paying $150,000 per year toward a $1.2 million bond used to restore the Bluff Street parking ramp.

Most DDA revenue is generated through tax increment financing, but that won’t last, and it needs to be replaced with a sustainable revenue source, Lang added.

Everyone has to pay for services, she said, and this is just another service.

“Do I wish that we could continue with free (parking)? I wish we could have no parking regulations at all, right? But it’s just, I’ve never been to a downtown anyone wants to go to that doesn’t have parking meters,” Lang said.

Some people have raised concerns.

Chet DeFonso, an associate professor of history at Northern Michigan University, said he frequents a number of downtown businesses multiple times per week. While he doesn’t mind paying, he said it’s an inconvenience that may affect how often he and other customers patronize those businesses.

DeFonso said he’s not against the meters.

“But I’m concerned on behalf of the businesses,” he said. “I hope that there’ll be an evaluation of the parking meters in a few years to see what impact they’ve had, and if it’s a negative impact, that the DDA would consider removing them after a trial period.”

Kim Danielson, owner of Babycakes Muffin Co. on West Washington Street, said she’s a huge supporter of the DDA “and how beautifully they keep the downtown,” but speaking for her customers, she knows they won’t approve.

“I know what my customers will say because people have been grumbling already, and in my opinion, it’s hard when something is taken away that was granted to them previously,” Danielson said. “So I’m torn as a businesswoman.”

Danielson said she doesn’t think it will deter people from coming downtown, but it will affect perception.

“It’ll just take some time for the public to adapt to the change,” she said.

Lang said some issues with the vendor are pushing back installation a couple weeks, and city maintenance and public works employees will have to replace signage, so it could be three weeks to a month before the system is functioning.

The Marquette Police Department will help educate the public, she added, and will be lenient as people adjust to the new system.

Once installed, the next step will be to incorporate pay-by-phone technology, where customers can download a phone application that allows them to pay for parking remotely on their smart phones, Lang said.

Other payment options include coins, credit and debit cards. Stay times will range from one-, three- and 10-hour parking limits, depending on location. Parking time limits, rates and enforcement hours will be stated on each meter’s digital display screen and through signage, according to the DDA newsletter. While the parking rate will remain 50 cents per hour, users may insert 25 cents and receive a half hour of time for shorter stays.

Permitted parking won’t be affected, so parking lots like the one next to the Marquette Commons will retain free two-hour parking, with the option to purchase a permit for $300 per year, Lang said.

“Once this is up and running as a system, we’re (going to) monitor it and evaluate it, so a lot of (future plans) will depend on outcomes,” Lang said, adding the DDA will be reporting outcomes to the city commission. “We’re working through this also, so, you know, we are hoping that the public is patient with us, because this is a learning curve for us too.”

On social media, reactions were varied.

Rosemary Fields of Chocolay Township said she works in Marquette and is “all for it.”

“I don’t mind walking a bit farther knowing that the out-of-town folks are paying to park,” Fields wrote. “I also don’t mind paying because I want to support my local DDA and all they do for our community.”

Stephanie Dupre, also of Chocolay Township, wrote, “I’m happy to support the city and grateful it’s convenient to do so (with) card readers.”

Others were less enthusiastic.

Kris Wierenga of Marquette wrote, “just another shakedown.”

And Ray Bush, of Ishpeming, who co-owned a business in the Masonic Square back in 2004, said he thinks it’s the wrong way to handle the parking problem.

“But I suppose as businesses leave it will take care of itself,” he wrote.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.