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September 4, 2013

City reviews first four months of Park+ system

So far, a third of Park+ customers use credit cards

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Ferndale Chief Innovation Officer Joseph Gacioch said if the city had installed individual credit card meters to replace the more-than 900 old meters, it would have cost the city almost $1 million. The current Ferndale Park+ system’s implementation cost was $550,000, with the system bringing in almost $294,000 since February.

FERNDALE — The Ferndale City Council listened to a report on the first 120 days of the Ferndale Park+ system Aug. 26, and heading forward, city officials seem to be satisfied with the direction of the program, despite some public complaints.

Chief Innovation Officer Joseph Gacioch gave the presentation to City Council on the first four months of the system, after the initial rollout was stalled by public outrage, and free parking was established through March.

Common complaints during the initial rollout dealt with long lines due to a lack of pay machines and rate increases in busy lots. Lighting was another concern, and hours were changed to keep the enforcement hours only in the daylight, with lights expected to be installed this month.

The biggest benefit of the new system, Gacioch said, was allowing patrons to use credit cards to pay for their parking. Almost 343,000 transactions were made over the 120 days, with 33 percent of them being credit-card based.

“The implementation cost was $550,000, but since February, we have brought in $293,703 in revenue, covering more than half the cost in a short time,” Gacioch said. “Of the total transactions, the most significant were the number of credit cards used. The number is steadily increasing, and in most cities that have this system, within 18 months, that number is up to about 75 percent credit-card based transactions, and trends indicate we are trending that way.”

If the old parking meters, which numbered more than 900, had been replaced by individual credit card meters, it would have cost the city about $1 million, Gacioch said, and transactions would have been slower and monitoring would have been more difficult for the city.

Gacioch also highlighted Park Mobile, where users can add time via their cellphones and pay for parking at any station in the city. Alerts were also a big factor, as it reduced downtime on machines and helped security at pay stations.

“We get alerts when we need to collect from the station or if something is wrong, so the machine doesn’t sit there for a time period unable to be used,” Gacioch said. “Before, our individual machines would sit broken until we stumbled upon them for collection; now, we can be proactive about keeping them maintained.

“We have also had zero instances of meter theft, as the alarm system makes it difficult for anyone to get away unnoticed, and the new machines are just more difficult to get into.”

One of the other big changes since the first implementation was a change in networks for the Park+ system. Before, the system was using AT&T, but the city changed to Verizon in late July, which has made payment times quicker and easier, combined with fewer screen prompts.

City Manager April Lynch spoke to council about keeping focused on why the city moved to the system in the first place and that problems arise in any new system, but she said things have gone in the right direction over the last 120 days.

“It is important to keep remembering why we moved in this direction, and it may not seem like it to some people, but customer service-wise, we are offering a wider range of ways to pay for parking and that allows us options in expanding parking. We would have no options if we kept the meters we had,” she said.

Heading into the next year, Gacioch said the city would look into 30-minute parking spaces at the request of several businesses. The spaces would be free and allow businesses to get customers in quickly and easily without paying for an extended amount of time.

Lynch said everyone involved wanted to get through the summer months and the Woodward Dream Cruise to collect substantial data and see what the next move is.

“We needed to get through the summer, making tweaks where we could, but we felt we could take a look at the pattern that showed during the summer so we weren’t just moving machines all the time,” she said. “We wanted to look at trends during the day, during the night, and see where the traffic was going and what machines can be taken a look at.

“I think it is going fairly well with just a few tweaks to be made.”