Pockets run deeper with meter debit card

by Heather Fors

University students will no longer need to search their empty pockets to dig up extra quarters for parking meters along city streets in the campus area.
But officials say increased prices and inconvenience could deter students from using the new system, which accepts credit as well as coinage.
The new meters, located along major Minneapolis streets, will soon accept special debit cards sold throughout the city. Installation of these new digital meters on and near campus will be complete by the end of the week. Half of the 6,400 meters in the Minneapolis area have been converted.
Debit cards will go on sale starting April 27 at City Hall, Leamington Municipal Parking Ramp and Gerry Haaf Garage.
These digital meters will replace those along Washington Avenue, Oak Street and Huron Boulevard on campus. In Dinkytown, the meters have been installed on 13th and 14th avenues as well as 4th and 5th streets.
Other meters on campus are owned by either the University or the Minneapolis Park Board. Although the University has had digital meters for years, these newer machines do not accept the debit card, and probably won’t any time soon, said Mike Ramolae, project manager for Parking and Transportation Services.
Ramolae said he doesn’t foresee University officials adopting the new debit card system, unless meters accept the U-Card. However, slots on the new city machines are too small to accept U-Cards.
The University also will not replace their meters to fit the new debit cards. “I don’t see where it would be a real benefit at this time,” Ramolae said.
He said changing the new meters to accommodate the debit card would not be advantageous to students because buying the separate debit cards would be inconvenient and expensive.
Price is a major concern for students about the new debit cards. So far, city officials have slapped a $50 price tag on the cards — a steep price for some University students.
Benjamin St. Ores, an engineering junior who used meters frequently in the past, said he thinks the debit cards should be sold in smaller increments such as $15 or $20. Officials say the card should last for about two weeks worth of parking.
But city officials said they had professionals in mind when they established the price.
William Bruneau, supervisor of traffic equipment maintenance for the Department of Public Works, said for people parking their cars at meters all day, $50 goes pretty fast. However, many students say they don’t park at meters all day because it’s not convenient or affordable.
These prices are not yet firmly established.
“If customers tell us that $50 is too much, we’ll probably take that into account and review it,” Bruneau said.
Meters that accept debit cards register how much money is left on the cards when a user inserts them into the meter. The meter will eventually start subtracting money at 25-cent increments until the card is removed. The meter can subtract enough money from the card for at least an eight-hour day.
These digital meters are more accurate and cause their care takers a little less hassle in maintenance and money loss, officials said.
The old machines ran on a spring system and were calibrated to give motorists a few extra minutes just in case the clock on the meter was wrong. Users could also trick the machines by inserting foreign coins, fake coins and coins on strings.
But the new machines are programmed to assess the exact weight, shape and size of the coin.
“It seems like one out of ten times I use one of those old ones, it doesn’t move or it doesn’t work,” said St. Ores.
Another new feature of the digital meters is the red top, such as on those along Washington Avenue. The colored tops were installed to warn motorists that they cannot park in that particular spot on Washington Avenue between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Some say it is not the most attractive design.
“Red means No Parking,'” said Bruneau. “The whole idea was not to make it aesthetically pleasing.”
Since their introduction, the digital meters owned by the University and the city have been more efficient and accountable. “They’re more accurate,” Ramolae said. “There’s good revenue control.”
Although digital meters seem to be here to stay, the debit card system is still under a critical eye.
“We’re really not sure what the demand will be,” said Dennis Bechard, traffic operations engineer for the Department of Public Works.